By John Ray, Deacon assigned to Holy Comforter Episcopal Church
The day before, our vicar, Ashley Carr, was pulled into maternity leave by little one who had her own ideas of time and place.
Then, Friday the 13th, with worries about the spread of the virus rising, other of our sister parishes were closing. We had our own decision to make. Would we close as well?
The problem for us is that about two-thirds of our congregation live in personal care homes or other boarding spaces, marginalized by mental health concerns and by poverty.
We had experience with issues of quarantine. Two of our personal care home residents had to refrain from joining us a couple of months ago because of a bed bug infestation at their home. One of them, in tears, said that “Holy Comforter and the Friendship Center are the only good things in my life, and now I cannot have them.”
For many of our congregants, we don’t have seamless ways of communicating with them. Things that many of us now take for granted, like email and now Zoom, are not accessible to them.
Consulting with Senior Warden Jimmy Bailey and Junior Warden Michelle Macauley, we decided the wisest course of action was to close. Part of reason at that time was that our members who live in personal care homes may have more to fear from those of us who are socially more active and well-traveled, than we must fear from them.
As we made that sad but necessary decision, we received the joyous news of a new arrival in the world, healthy little Mary Stuart, daughter to Ashley and Megan.
Our hearts were empty and full, all at the same time.
For that Sunday, though, we felt it was important to see our personal care home residents – while taking precautions while doing so- to let them know what was happening, to pray with them, distribute communion bread, and bring Sunday lunches.
We also had to tell our parishioners some hard truths: That we didn’t know when we were going to be back together; that our love for each other led to the difficult decision to be apart physically for some time; that we didn’t know when we would be able to welcome everyone back for gardening, art, bingo, woodworking, or yoga; that we didn’t know when we would be able to simply savor the joy of being together and sharing a laugh.
As I delivered food for body and for the soul that day, I was struck that the first question so many of those I visited asked was whether Rev. Ashley had had her baby. “Yes!” I said, pulling out my phone to show them a picture. I will never forget their joyous smiles, and the priority they placed on knowing that their Vicar and her baby were healthy and safe over their own personal concern about coming back.
Our parish life has changed. We no longer send out vans to pick up people, but to deliver food. We do this with strict precautions and concern for the health and welfare of those whom we serve.
We keep up with our members as best we can, but it is difficult. We don’t always see all of them every time we deliver meals, and we don’t have the opportunity to talk to them as frequently, or sometimes at all.
A couple of weeks ago, one of our members was struck and killed by an automobile. We were saddened that we were not able to be present with the family in the way we ordinarily would.
We ask your prayers for our community, many of whom are disproportionally vulnerable to the spread and effects of this virus.
Please pray for us. If you would like to support our community in other ways, we welcome your underwriting the meals we deliver. To feed the 55 people or so we deliver to costs us about $150. If you’d like to underwrite part or all of one of our meal deliveries, we would be grateful for that gift as well. Donate Here.
There is a misconception among some, even those who know us well, that the personal care homes where our friends live serve meals. The truth is that some of them don’t serve anything, or when they do, what they offer could best be described as meager.
So, the deliveries we make are not just “essential.” They are life-sustaining.
We long for the day when our community will be back together. Every service that we have on Zoom highlights, for those of us that participate, the digital divide in our congregation. We mourn those who cannot be with us because they don’t have the means to do what so many of us take for granted, pulling up the Facebook app or clicking the Zoom link.
So, again, we ask for your fervent prayers, prayers we have always been sustained by. As we receive those prayers, we offer our prayers of gratitude for you.