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The most common question I’ve received since suspending my sabbatical in response to the spread of COVID-19 has been: how is everybody at Grace and Main doing? Part of the reason I keep getting this question is because of how kind and thoughtful our supporters are. It is a privilege not only to receive your prayerful and loving support but also to receive your care and compassion. The other big reason I keep getting this question is because many people sense that our deeply relationship-driven life and work is substantially harder and more complicated than before. So, what follows is the truth about what life together is like in our neck of the woods during COVID-19.
It’s hard to sing as a group on Zoom. There’s a delay in the audio that isn’t immediately obvious when you’re just chatting. But, when you’re trying to do something in unison like singing or praying the Lord’s Prayer, the delay presents a challenge. Our little community gathered to pray a couple times each week before things changed with COVID-19 and that commitment continues now, though we’re still figuring out how best to do that. So, it’s harder to pray together now than it was before but we’re still doing it – we’re still being formed and molded by the commitments we’ve made.
It’s hard to make sure people have enough of what they need when social distancing precautions make sharing space and objects tricky. Most of the community is sheltering in place and self-isolating, but need for things like food, medicine, and urgent transportation sometimes brings us out of isolation briefly and carefully. Regardless of what is happening in the world, people are still hungry and still in need of shelter. So, it’s harder to share our possessions, time, and resources with our neighbors than it was before but we’re still doing it – we’re still being formed and molded by the commitments we’ve made.
It’s hard to find and provide medical equipment like masks and gloves or cleaning supplies like soap, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer to folks in our community when the pressure from COVID-19 leads some to buy far too much either out of panic or greed or some other motivation. So, we’ve been sewing masks and engaging volunteers (like some folks at West Main Baptist Church) to do the same. We’ve even worked with a local professional with a 3D printer to print face shields. Most of what we sew and print has gone to our local hospital and EMT crews, but we share the rest of the masks and shields with our neighbors. Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Ascension Lutheran, we even got some toilet paper to share when it’s needed. So, it’s harder to share necessary things with our neighbors than it was before but we’re still doing it – we’re still being formed and molded by the commitments we’ve made.
It’s hard to make sure people are staying in good shelter when looking in houses and meeting with landlords is a risky, if not impossible, prospect. Our community has recently received the resources from the CBF of Virginia to buy a house to add to our network of spaces but we can’t tour houses in the middle of this “grand pause” in which we all wait. We keep providing hundreds of nights of shelter every month through hospitality spaces and subsidized rent and emergency hotel stays. We can’t really move forward but we’re not falling back because it’s still true that “folks need a place to stay.” So, it’s harder to provide shelter than it was before but we’re still doing it – we’re still being formed and molded by the commitments we’ve made.
It’s hard to handle the kinds of isolation that are being asked of us. Some of our people are much higher risk than the average person and we don’t want to do anything that will endanger them further. Some of our people work in healthcare and give much of their time to holy service alongside the sick and the frightened. Others are desperate for social contact or a feeling of something like normalcy. In the face of separation, we meet online and find ways to play games together. We text more often and we talk through the storm door. Some of the extra time generated by the isolation we give to prayer and silence. So, it’s harder to be community than it was before but we’re still doing it – we’re still being formed and molded by the commitments we’ve made.
None of us would choose for things to be the way they are, but we’re trying – just like you – to figure out how to keep the promises we’ve made. It is the keeping of promises and the consequent building of trust that molds people together into community. Over our more-than-ten years of life together, we’ve learned from our neighbors what life together actually means and we’ve found time and time again that God is at work in a thousand places in our neighborhoods, homes, and lives. We still get to be a part of that good and holy work even if it feels different and looks different in light of the way the world tilts and wobbles day to day. So, we’re still doing it because it’s more important than ever to find, be, and offer community.
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