Pandemic Reflection by Cheryl Thompson

Aaron Austin | November 23, 2021

Sunday School on March 8, 2020 started out like every week. Jeff always asks for celebrations and concerns. Concerns are usually illnesses and problems, and lots of times celebrations are trips that are coming up. That day, there was lots of talk about the upcoming SEC basketball tournament. UK had a great team and was expected to go far in the tourney. A few in the class were planning on making the trip to Nashville to watch the games. At that time, COVID was something we’d heard about, and it was a little worrisome, but hadn’t affected life in KY much, if at all.  Jeff, though, cautioned us all to be very careful. Should we go? Well, if you do, be VERY careful. Even if you’re healthy, be careful.

That was the last time we had church in person for well over a year. No in person choir the next Wednesday, March 11. No in person church the next Sunday. Other signs of the how bad this pandemic was expected to be-basketball tournaments were canceled (GASP!), schools closed, preparations being made in case COVID infections overwhelmed our hospitals. We (or at least I) had no idea that things would change so quickly.

Central had already been streaming church online for home bound members and others who couldn’t come in person, so it seemed like the church service part of ‘church’ would continue-I’d never watched   the streamed services, but found myself looking forward each Sunday to being able to ‘see’ everyone at church. It was something normal and on schedule when everything else was so bizarre. We were even able to still have Sunday School and choir practice thanks to Zoom!

I am a loner by nature, and would have thought that having lots of time, with no expectation go out or really DO anything, would be enjoyable. Not really. I found that I really kept track of time by our church activities. My weeks were planned around Sunday School, then the Church service, then on Wednesday, choir practice. Somehow the church staff also were able to get Vespers via Skype. Then there were other ways to connect us-travel Zooms and cooking Zooms were some that I watched. It was fun to keep up with other families, and learn how they were handling COVID, to visit the world through others’ vacations, and find out how we do Thanksgiving dinners.

In the beginning, I was sure this would be over by the summer, then surely by the time school started in the fall, then SURELY we’ll be able to have Thanksgiving dinner with our families, Candlelight Communion and Lessons and Carols during Advent. COVID didn’t care about in person activities, so we were still not seeing much of family or meeting in person.  But, we did have Candlelight Communion! Not in person, but it was beautiful and meaningful watching from home. Listening to members of our congregation share their music, celebrating Communion, then watching as the candles were lit in every pew-definitely a light shining in the darkness that would not be overcome, a very silent and holy night.

Lessons and Carols was different too. It was weird watching songs from previous years knowing we hadn’t been able to practice in person, wondering how this special service would be pulled off. The combination of live music, recordings of past choir pieces and the readings made the service just as special as other years.

At Easter, Raleigh wanted the choir to perform ‘in person’. He said we could do it, everything would be set up for us-we’d come in, sing (ALONE!), then Aaron would put it all together. He picked an easy hymn for us, made sure each part was available for us to listen to and practice. All we had to do was come in, each of us, sing by ourselves and let Aaron record it. What?! Just practice, then pick a time to come and sing. Easy peasy, right? I can’t really describe the feeling when I went into the church to sing. This was my first time in the building in over a year. I had to just walk around and take it all in for several minutes. It was overwhelming and emotional.  After each of us sang our parts in the vestibule, we were to go into the sanctuary wearing our robes to sing again while Aaron videoed us. Going into the choir room to get my robe was emotional, too. I wasn’t really expecting that feeling.  Then, being in the sanctuary, looking out over the pews and picturing everyone there-well, that was hard. After it was done, I was glad to have braved the ‘solo’, and the emotions, because I knew the congregation would enjoy the choir ‘in person’ after so long. I sang ‘Alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord’ many times even after Easter, the descant particularly can still bring me to tears.  Many thanks to Aaron and Raleigh and everyone else who made that happen.

The past year and many months have been so stressful. I know there are many other moments that have spoken to me since March 2020.  We’ve lost so much-there are empty spots in the pews, people have moved, some have lost parents and other family members-and we haven’t been able to comfort one another in person. But we’ve gained at least a little bit- I’m very grateful to our church staff, and everyone else who has worked so hard and been so creative. I’m grateful that we have the technology (and people able to figure it out!) to be able to keep in touch with each other, even if not in person. One constant I could count on was Church being there, every Sunday, every Wednesday, and other times in between. This has made me realize that we can get through this, together.

This reflection is part of our church archives project to preserve records of our life together during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though we still find ourselves in the midst of this exceptional time, we hope these reflections will serve not only as accounts of where we’ve been, but as reminders that we are not alone, and encouragement that we journey forward together. We’d love to hear your reflections too!  We will only publish reflections to our blog with the authors' consent. To submit or find out more, contact Pat Ingram (patingram609@aol.com).

3 months

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