I like to joke that I moved to Florida to get out of serving on the Board of Trustees at my home congregation in Tennessee.
It isn’t entirely true. What is true is that I had just been elected to the Board when I got an opportunity to move to Florida to serve a congregation here as DRE. What is true is that it wasn’t quite official and I didn’t plan to talk about it at the Board dinner party I attended last June, but that went promptly out the window when one of my friends leaned over as we made our plates and whispered, “I heard you have quiet good news.”
I couldn’t help but share my no-longer-quiet good news, and in minutes the fact that my child and I would soon be moving nearly 500 miles away hung in the air like a bittersweet perfume.
What is also true is that night I heard my minister do a truly hilarious valley girl impression, that I didn’t have to be on guard about being a non-drinker, that I won a round of a teambuilding game where we had to avoid eye contact; I’m still learning to hold someone’s gaze without fear of them really seeing me. And around the time we were getting ready to go, my child told me they wanted to stay at church. I started to correct them, to say that this was not church, this was the clubhouse in somebody’s neighborhood and that the church is across town – but I stopped. Because that night was church, because we were with our church people.
At the time that I moved last summer, my offer to serve my term remotely – attending meetings and voting via Zoom – seemed outlandish. Somehow, it seems so much less so now. That is definitely not to say I resent that my offer was shot down – I had no idea what I was in for moving here to take on solo parenting, college courses, and a new career without an established support system. I owe a great deal of my sanity to those gentle souls upon my path who help me step away when I am in danger of tripping over my own ambition.
However, as we enter our third month of online worship, online religious education, and online board meetings, connecting at such a distance seems anything but outlandish. It seems lifegiving, and so necessary.
Before I moved, I couldn’t fathom a time that I wouldn’t attend worship with my home congregation regularly. After, I planned my visits home specifically around Sunday mornings so that I could be with them. I have been known to solicit friends to Facetime me during the service on my rare Sundays off, and in ‘normal’ times, I count the days until I can be back home. It is home to me, in so many critical ways.
And I do not want it to reopen anytime soon, which was a shockingly simple position for me to take.
In this strange time, I struggle with the day-to-day. I struggle to wrap my mind around what doing my job online for a year might look like, what my first year of seminary will bring if I am simultaneously working from home and homeschooling my child. The next year or so seems very fuzzy and uncertain, but if I look a little further, the picture becomes more clear.
In a few years, or maybe more than a few, I will be ordained at my home church. I am estranged from my parents, so they will not be there. Due to the estrangement, I have only been able to maintain a relationship with one of my three brothers. Very few of my friendships survived my becoming the first parent in my friend group and then my move to Florida. My home congregation lost two founding members early this year, before COVID-19 even reached the US – two members of my church family who will not be at my ordination. To put it simply, while I know that to grieve loss is the price of loving, I cannot fathom anyone else missing that day because we rushed and chose to reopen too soon.
It feels selfish to put into words. This crisis isn’t remotely about me – and yet it is, because it is about all of us. It is about the profound and inescapable impact we have on one another, the interdependent web of existence that binds us to one another in the holy obligation to love our neighbors as ourselves.
I am not unique. We all have things we look forward to celebrating and sharing with our families and communities. We all have things that we are itching to do, a list of hugs to give and not-quite-essential errands to run as soon as it is safe to do so. The weight of loneliness and isolation can be soul-crushing, even if we are not technically alone.
And technically, we are never alone. My search for truth and meaning has brought me to the conclusion that we are all manifestations of the Divine, the Universe experiencing Herself through Human life. We are players on a cosmic stage and all of our roles intertwine. What impacts one of us impacts all of us – that is just especially apparent now.
So, for now, even though my eyes are strained from looking at screens, though I lie awake at night fighting every demon and trauma this plague has brought up for me, though some days I’m just not sure how I’ll get through another day of isolation without losing my goddamn mind – I would rather face this hardship now than face the loss of one more vital player on this stage because we couldn’t wait.
So, for now, church has left the building.
For now, church is my child imparting wisdom upon me a year before I was ready to receive it.
Church is Zoom. Church is Facebook posts, phone tag, and try again, you were on mute.
Church is baked goods made with love and stealthily placed in mailboxes and on front porches, it is sweary coloring books and no good reason to put on pants. It is the photos on my refrigerator and the rose quartz in my window, the photo from Pride last year that is still my desktop background, the chalice I light on screen for my RE class every week that was a see-you-later gift. It is the promise that the good things are coming, even when we cannot see them, don’t quite believe it, and aren’t quite sure if we want to.
Church is the people, caring for one another the best ways we know how and figuring it out together, at a distance, so that when we can be together in the flesh again, we are all there to celebrate it.
May it be so.