“We didn’t wring our hands and say, ‘Oh boy, we're gonna have to take a timeout for six months.’ The church, and our Center for Wellbeing, just started doing."
“When COVID hit, I said, ‘Okay, I know what we can’t do, but what can we do?’ And I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much we actually have done. We didn’t wring our hands and say, ‘Oh boy, we're gonna have to take a timeout for six months.’ The church, and our Center for Wellbeing, just started doing.
For example, The Church of the Redeemer began daily online services, which we'd never done before. And so, literally, every day there's a service that's filmed. For instance, I do Wednesday morning, the 8am worship, and people can tune in live. It also goes on our Facebook page, so people can see it at another time if that’s more convenient for them. And what's been fascinating is that the average number of Facebook viewers is about 150 a day, give or take. And by and large, that viewership has not dropped. It has maintained itself. And that is what you're going to find with other churches as well. Viewers can come in from wherever to watch, so it’s not just Baltimore, it’s not just our congregation at Redeemer. It goes out to whoever wants to view it, which is thrilling. That's something to be celebrated.
Through our Center for Wellbeing, I offered a Zoom meeting every Monday from four until five pm when people were beginning to quarantine. I did it from four to five because that's a hard time for some people, it can be very lonely. Activities have stopped for the day and dinner has not started yet. It was a potpourri of humor, TED Talks, poetry, and discussion. Usually we'd have 25 people show up on that. I didn’t tell them in advance what we were going to do each time, so it was a surprise. I also started a weekly newsletter from The Center for Wellbeing, which had articles about coping, depression, isolation, and mental health issues as well as links to music, art and of course humor! I had cartoons in there every week.
During the pandemic, I have not shied away from talking about hard subjects. Dying, loss, depression, suicide, spouse abuse, child abuse. Fortunately, Redeemer’s Center for Wellbeing had invited our community to start having these discussions in 2019, so when COVID hit, these topics had been normalized to some extent. We just got lucky in our timing, it was not pre-planned, of course. The goal of The Center for WellBeing is to be a resource both in the parish as well as the greater Baltimore Community for a broad range of topics related to our overall health. As a certified instructor in Mental Health First Aid, I am eager to educate individuals about tough topics such as suicide, death, and trauma.
I just got through offering a four-part four week mini series called the Blessing of Sorrow and the Sacrament of Grief, which involved talking about dying and death and loss and the unexpected gifts and blessing that can be a consequence. If you fully envelop and experience the sorrow, there's potential for great growth.
We have been offering group and individual spiritual direction, over Zoom and/or outside, in person. I had been doing some of this work with the community before COVID, but now the individual spiritual direction is really important for people because of isolation and the depressive and or anxious feelings people are having.
This winter could be very hard for many people. I recently read a long article about seasonal affective disorder and the prediction that this winter, with the addition of likely quarantines, is going to be more difficult for people suffering from this condition. Staying connected will be key to our mental health, to our ability to find contentment. In one of my discussion groups the other day, a woman who has been an involved, longtime member of our congregation said, ‘I feel like I'm floating away from Redeemer. I need to get reengaged.’ That is the phrase she used -- ‘floating away.’ So when I think about the winter, I think about how long it's already been for so many places of worship, so long since we have been all together, worshipping together, feeling uplifted together. This is my motivation, to continue to wonder what can we do and not grieve what we cannot do!”
-- Caroline (November 2020). [Caroline's story is included in the book "Who We Are Now: Stories of What Americans Lost and Found During the COVID-19 Pandemic."]