Deacon Reflection: Going with the Holy Flow (Reframing Service During a Pandemic)
“Nobody told me there'd be days like these. Strange days indeed.” John Lennon wrote and sang these lyrics back in the late 1970s, and they have been lingering in my head for most of this year.
The reality is that none of us knew we would experience a year like this – and not be out of the woods yet. Calling 2020 “strange” is putting it mildly. These days are characterized by disappointment, uncertainty, ramped-up anxiety and fear, boredom, isolation, divisiveness, illness, and an alarming number of COVID-related deaths across the country and world.
January 4, 2020 seems like a lifetime ago. I was ordained into the Sacred Order of Deacons on that Saturday at Holy Comforter in Charlotte. After years of wondering and discernment, ordination day had arrived. That morning I remember feeling effervescent, being both excited and nervous (in a good way). During our walk through before the service, I saw that a diocesan staff member was there to take pictures. As much as I tried to be mindful about staying present in the moment, I realized these images – like our wedding pictures – would be a lasting visual reminder of that beautiful, spirit-filled day as memories blur over time. I am thankful to have them.
There is one image that stands out in my mind. It was taken from the center aisle at the back of the nave looking towards the altar, showing the backs and profiles of the gathered congregation and Bishop Anne Hodges-Copple at the end of the procession. I remember walking up the aisle that morning and having a powerful and holy sensory experience – the sound of one of my favorite hymns ‘Alleluia! Sing to Jesus’ being sung with great gusto, the smell of incense floating above our heads, the sight of many faces that I know and love, and the feeling of connection, warmth and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst.
I love this image for its ability to help transport me back to January 4. But since COVID-19, it has taken on additional layers of meaning. When I look at this picture today through the lens of the pandemic, it gives me pause to see that many people shoulder to shoulder indoors. I am grateful that we were able to experience that beautiful day in-person as a full gathering of family and friends, as joyful members of the body of Christ.
While COVID-19 has turned our realities upside down and created personal and collective disorientation, it has also allowed opportunities for creativity and reorientation. Part of what the Rev. Dr. Marion Thullbery spoke about in her sermon on ordination day was the invitation to look and listen beyond the immediate, to seek new possibilities, and to be open to reframing how we think about service and ministry.
The word “reframe” has been lingering in my head this year right alongside those John Lennon song lyrics and has taken on additional layers of meaning since ordination day. After all, the ministry of a deacon can be described as having a foot in the church and a foot in the world. The pandemic has complicated, limited, and in some cases halted, our ability to serve in both the church and the world.
For me as a new deacon, this step into newness combined with being in uncharted territory due to the virus has required me to acknowledge and honor how I thought I would be serving in the church and the world (being with the sick and dying as a hospital chaplain, visiting seniors who may be homebound and lonely). An important part of my ongoing formation this year has been to take time to name and grieve disappointments and losses, including not being able to serve as I had envisioned.
This is where the invitation to reframe service comes in. Focusing on what can be done – albeit differently or in a modified way – to strengthen and care for the body of Christ instead of what cannot shows the spirit of love, resiliency and creativity in the face of uncertainty, and the power of the Spirit in action. Reframing service can also mean discerning possible new areas of ministry to explore and live into, right in the midst of disorientation.
COVID-19 has reinforced several life lessons, including the importance of being self-aware enough to loosen my grip when it gets too tight, to consider my feelings and reframe my thinking when a situation is beyond my control (and this is a regular occurrence). Making time for silence amid chaos, asking God for guidance, strength and courage, naming what I am grateful for, finding community, and nurturing new and longtime relationships have helped keep me oriented during these wilderness days. Amen.
The following prayer came into my life earlier this year and has been helpful when I want to let go and go with the holy flow. It can be found in the Book of Common Prayer on page 461.
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be.
If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.
If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.
If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.
And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.
Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.
The Rev. Emily Parker serves as a deacon at Christ Church, Charlotte.