On March 17, at the beginning of this “season of wilderness,” new friend of Bridgewater Church of the Brethren, Melody Pinacoli, wrote to Pastors Chris and Christy. She has granted us permission to share some of her writing with you. I hope you find it as meaningful as I did!
– Pastor Christy Dowdy
After one of life’s unplanned “detours”, I chose to reassess and reset my life. An important part of that was seeking a positive, loving, and action oriented community from whom I hoped to learn how to improve myself and my approach to life. I was drawn to your community [Bridgewater Church of the Brethren] by its courageous embrace of all people, recognizing all people as equally valuable and worthy of love. I also was very impressed and intrigued by how your community translates love and positivity into tangible, practical actions both locally and afar. What a great group of mentors and role models for me to learn from as I work to improve how I can approach life in a more positive and constructive manner. I really appreciate many aspects of your community and am humbled by all of the good works your community has engaged in over its history.
As I was exploring and learning about your community, I observed your open and transparent references to the painful division it was experiencing over differences in opinion regarding how to embrace, or not, some groups of people and individuals, and whether or not that conflicts with one’s personal interpretation of what God desires of us. While this division and struggle is not unique to your community, what did seem unique, and what intrigued me in a positive and optimistic way, was the manner in which you seemed to be addressing the issue. I appreciated the transparent, deliberate, and respectful way your congregation seemed to be approaching the challenge. I was deeply moved by the worry and concern being expressed about the division and pain that this issue was causing and by the concern about its ultimate impact on your community. I felt the worry and uncertainty about the future direction of the congregation; who would lead it, in what direction, and, importantly, who would still remain a part of it? It was clear that there was hurt and grieving over losses of leaders and community members. There was something else that was also evident, though. It was evident that, as a community, you were approaching the issue with courage, openness, love, respect, deep reflection, and also with practical, positive actions.
I wasn’t sure how long I would be a part of your congregation’s journey. For me, I believe that all people are equally valuable, equally deserving of love, and that God would not ask us to exclude other fellow humans nor hold to a spiritual “hierarchy” of some people being intrinsically inferior to others in some way. I know that I wish to walk with others who believe similarly. I would like to learn how to better express these ideals in my own life. I am not sure how your community will ultimately resolve its questions around this topic, or what its ultimate impact will be on your congregation. I am, however, hopeful and optimistic that you will find a way to come out of this challenge together as a community, stronger in your communal bonds, and with an even deeper appreciation and understanding of your spirituality and faith. I am deeply humbled to witness your community’s journey through this stretch of spiritual “wilderness”. I am optimistic because you have taught me that you are a community of individuals who approach challenges with courage, love, creativity, and a positive practicality.
I had decided to continue to walk along this journey with your community and see where it would lead. Then, an additional unforeseen challenge appeared. As the new coronavirus surprised the world community and knocked everyone off balance, and as it continues to spread and attack vulnerable individuals and communities, we have all been suddenly confronted with our own mortality, that of our loved ones, and that of all members of our community in a way that we seem totally unprepared for. How lucky we have been in this country to not have faced such a grave problem in recent decades. The majority of us cannot remember facing a worldwide problem of this magnitude or severity. How cruelly ironic it is that just when individuals most need the benefit of close human contact, it is the very thing that may endanger themselves, their loved ones, or other community members. How unfair that people who really need to feel connected and supported (our elderly, people facing illnesses, people living in institutions) will now be even more physically and socially isolated. They need “social distancing” to protect their health and safety just when they need the opposite emotionally and socially. The additional fear, worry, and loneliness that so many people may be experiencing makes my heart ache. It also makes me think of Jesus in the garden, in his time of profound loneliness, asking those closest to him to “stay awake” and to accompany him in his time of great stress as he faced what was to come with profound humanness. I wonder how we can both protect the health and safety of our community members while still helping those that are most isolated to feel comforted and connected? The uncertainties of the course of this pandemic make it difficult to predict or fully appreciate its short-term and long-term impact on each of us as individuals and on our larger communities. The media reports the numbers of critically ill and deceased as statistics, but, in our heads, shouldn’t we understand them as individual grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, spouses, friends, and neighbors? I wonder what each of their individual journeys were like as they transformed from a loved one to a “statistic”? The numbers are important for understanding the magnitude of the crisis and to plan strategies to confront it. However, we can’t let them blind us to the unique individuals behind each of those numbers or the power we have to support each other in this journey.
As I am sure your community has also been doing, I have been wondering what we can do to support each other. How can we affirm our human connection as unique and valuable persons living in community, and not just as a series of statistics separated into the categories of the “safe”, “vulnerable”, “ill”, “recovered”, and “deceased” and further disaggregated by country, region, and city. If we can’t tackle the problem with our best tool, close human contact, what creative strategies can we adapt until we can again touch and embrace those that most need it? ….
With the assumption that appropriate steps to protect physical health are taken (i.e. appropriate physical distance, disinfection of objects, etc.), here are some “outside the box” ideas that may help people feel connected and lift spirits, especially those in some form of quarantine: [Melody had several great ideas; I’ve edited in order to shorten, and many of you have already done some of these creative ideas!]
- Take a cue from Italy and hold mini-serenades for those that can’t leave their residence. One person, or a small group of people who arrive in separate transportation and remain separated by appropriate distance, could serenade from outside to those inside. Instrumental performances could also be fun and uplifting.
- Pop up art galleries. Uplifting and/or fun art could be displayed at a safe distance, but visible to those “shut-in”.
- Temporary signs of support and encouragement posted in yards of those who can’t leave their residence. I always remember when I looked outside my classroom window on my birthday and saw my mother and her friend holding up a “Happy Birthday” sign. Quick and easy, but nice to be surprised with.
- Research a few safe interactive game Apps that community members could play online with each other (e.g. chess, word games)
I do know that any strategies that help people to actively and positively face this crisis will help result in a much healthier overall outcome for ourselves and our community. The worse response is feeling that all we can do is self-isolate helpless and alone in our own little worlds waiting for the unknown to happen.
Thank you to all of your members, past and present, for creating such a positive, courageous, and loving community. You do not have to be a perfect community to be an amazing community. I hope that you never give up on yourselves or each other. “The humanity that binds us is always greater than that which divides us.” I don’t remember who first said that, but I wholeheartedly agree.