The Coronavirus Stay-at-Home Spring 2020 began on March 12. We left the building but the church was alive online.
We had our first Drive Thru Food Drive in the parking lot on March 22. Nico and Elise Eisenberger were among the helpers.
We celebrated Easter online. Wynn and Walt Herrmann brought life to our Chancel cross in front of the church
We took advantage of the lull to start renovation of the Meetinghouse. First step was packing up our 1964 pipe organ and sending it to New Jersey for restoration. It will be back in the fall.
Sunday School took place on Zoom, and youth groups, Bible Study, women's group, prayer circles, and committee and staff meetings. The Confirmation class even took a virtual tour of the Gillespie Center with Helen McAlinden of Homes with Hope to see how people in need are supported here in Westport
We did more food-raising. Allison Allot loads up with basics donated for Mercy Learning Center in Bridgeport
We celebrated communion at home - together at the table via YouTube, even while apart. Here are Rick Benson's preparations for communion with Totney on Mother's Day.
Being present doesn't require being in person
Rev. Jeff Rider Senior Minister
If you’d told me back in divinity school that one day that I’d be conducting services of remembrance on the internet, I’d have sworn you were crazy. For one thing, I didn’t own a computer, and the internet had yet to created. (Yes, I’m that old.) Yet here we are, three plus decades later, and not only are we gathering online to mark important milestones, but everything else as well. Worship, Sunday School, Bible Study, youth group, confirmation, prayer groups, and virtually every committee you can think of, is now meeting on Zoom.
What have I learned? Being present doesn’t require being in person.
That’s an incredible realization, but it’s nothing new. It’s been true since the start of the church. When Paul couldn’t be with a church he had planted, he didn’t say: “Wait till I get there and then we’ll do church together.” Instead, he used the technology of his day and wrote incredible letters. His message: “Even though we can’t be together, keep going. I’m with you in spirit.”
It’s the promise Jesus made at the Last Supper, that we celebrate every time we take communion together: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s life, death and resurrection, until he comes again.” Jesus promises to be present. Those words uttered by Jesus, written down by Paul and repeated every time we gather at the table remind us that being present doesn’t require being in person.
I have experienced this so many times during the pandemic lock down. In services of remembrance held by families over Zoom where stories were told, tears were shed, laughter was shared, and comfort found. In our youth meeting online and exploring questions about what it means to grow up in a world fighting an invisible enemy. In the consulting work members of our men’s group are volunteering to local businesses. In Drive Thru Food Drives, meal trains for our mission partners. In our amazing staff that flew into action when shelter at home went into effect, and never looked back… or missed a beat. Love shared.
And in the midst of it all we proved our faith in the strength of our community by starting our Church of the Future project with the renovation of our building. We took advantage of the lull to start the work. And we activated our commitment to going Beyond the Building by making substantial matching grants to four mission partners, in recognition of the need they face.
Loved shared, comfort found, commitments kept. We can be God’s people together even when we can’t be with each other face-to-face. Just as Paul encouraged the church: Keep going. I am with you.
Three truths the pandemic has revealed
Judy Hlawitschka Chair of Deacons
The pandemic reminds us we are all connected. A virus comes all the way from China and affects us so powerfully in the US and around the world. To respond, we all have to act in concert with each other – everyone has to be locked down and do the same things in order for it to be really effective.
It also reveals and reminds us of the inequalities and injustices in our world. It shows us who is truly vulnerable, like all the nursing home patients who have been so hard hit. Surely we will have to overhaul the regulations for those places in the future. And people of color have a disproportionate rate of death from COVID 19. Hopefully, the fact that these issues are highlighted now will pave the way for addressing them in the future.
Personally, something that has made me reflect on the way we live our lives is the quiet. Many people have commented on how much we can hear the birds now the traffic noise has died away and we have more time to listen.
I have more time to appreciate nature now. So what was I so busy doing before? Perhaps we will rethink the amount of travel we do and the length of our commutes,, then cut way down on driving and the pollution it causes.
In the future, I hope we can continue using technology to reach more people, both in our work and in the church – for example, continuing to use Zoom and YouTube so people can take part in church life even if they can’t make it to the building. I’m a physician and, when my practice started seeing COVID patients, I was assigned to tele-medicine and began consulting with patients by phone. I was skeptical. How could you really help a patient if you could not be with them face-to-face and examine them? But now I’m quite in favor and have trained to consult via video call and, in the future, expect to do that a lot. The pandemic will change how we practice medicine – and how we run our church.
A new appreciation
Matt Smith (with Carrie Smith) GFC member in Switzerland
What have I learned from the coronavirus lockdown? A lot about a number of things I hadn’t taken the time to fully appreciate.
As background, my wife and three daughters and I were active members of GFC before moving to Switzerland in 2016 for a work assignment. Living here has been an adventure and we feel extremely fortunate. The coronavirus crisis left us scattered: two daughters in the US at university can’t return home; my wife was visiting her elderly mother in northern CT when the lockdowns began and we agreed that she should stay with her mom who would have otherwise been alone and struggling to safely deal with isolating. So I’m here with my youngest daughter and we’re handling work and school remotely from home (needless to say I know I got the better end of the deal being with her than she did being with me). There are challenges from the crisis to be sure, but I know we’re so fortunate to have safety, health and continuing employment.
So, what have I learned?
I’ve learned that regularly taking note of the things I’m grateful for is important. Some people in this journal have commented on silver linings during the crisis; one that jumped out for me is GFC going online. I stopped going to church and my faith has waned since moving from Westport.
I’ve felt the gap in my life but now have a newfound appreciation for church, community and faith with this chance to connect again.
I better understand what really matters. Who in my life is important, how do I spend my time, what do we really need (particularly materially, but also mentally and spiritually), what am I committed to? I hadn’t always considered well enough how the choices I’ve made or not made in the past have affected the answers to these questions. Though I have a lot to learn I better appreciate these questions and at a deeper level.
Lastly, and taking note of not just the coronavirus crisis but the shocking events, civil unrest and responses in the US, I’ve come to more fully see the chasm between my family’s lives and the lives of so many others. I generally consider myself a generous person who tries to be appreciative of the service and effort of others; I aim to give back and to recognize others. But that’s not enough. People deserve a fair chance, justice, equality and many other things that I take for granted, but which our society is not able to offer to all. There is a lot more to consider on this one. What can I do? What can any of us do? I have a heightened appreciation for what Jesus has been patiently trying to teach me all these years about loving my neighbor.
A sense of loss, then ways to stay connected
Jeff Booth Trustee
It’s so easy to take things for granted. Next year will mark my 50th year attending GFC. Over the years I’ve gone through the confirmation class, been married by former minister Bill Bryant, seen our daughter baptized and, more recently, been comforted by memorial services for my mom and dad.
I’ve always assumed GFC would be there for us. And then in mid-March it wasn’t. Our family quickly relocated to our New Hampshire home 185 miles away. It’s a town that’s nearly twice the size of Westport, but with less than 800 full time residents. Social distancing up here is second nature. But come Sunday mornings, I had a profound sense of loss not attending services. Thankfully, that was soon resolved. In short order I was able to receive the comfort and spiritual wellness of GFC via YouTube. Listening to the reassuring and insightful sermons from Jeff, Dave and Allen has been incredibly inspiring.
Hearing Rick play the organ and the watching the mighty soloists warms my heart week after week. And the regular communications, video messages and church trustee Zoom meetings have helped me to remain connected to GFC.
Being “away from it all” and taking a step back from the craziness of Fairfield County has also continued to show me the importance of family. Kathy, grown daughter Katie, and I have dusted off the old board games and jigsaw puzzles, listened to music in front of the fireplace, shared our inside jokes, and talked about the future. The pandemic has brought us even closer together—a special joy that will never be forgotten. I’ve also learned an important thing about myself: growing a beard was a really terrible idea. I look forward to being back in our regular pew in the refurbished meeting house. Clean shaven.
New principles for the age of coronavirus
Dr. Allen Hilton Consulting Theologian
You won’t be surprised to know there are 613 commandments in the book we call the Old Testament, although you might be startled by to learn there are 1050 different commandments in the New Testament, which is so much shorter. But none of them gives guidance on what to do in the event of a global pandemic that stops the whole world. Of course, as Jesus tells us, love is the answer, but how do we figure out what that looks like right now? When we can’t do what we usually do to express the great love God has put in us, how do we proceed? I have three principles to guide us as people of faith.
First principle save your energy for what helps. There’s a whole lot of energy being used in the public square on take-downs. Don’t waste your energy on that but focus instead on the many important questions facing us now. What will your life look like after lockdown? The economy? The church? Focus on what helps.
Principle two Choose with the other in mind. This one sounds most like Jesus. Starting with those we are at home with: How do we put the other first, instead of grabbing what we need as a primary concern? Introverts and extroverts alike discover our ‘love language’ changes in coronavirus time. As the economy opens up again, faithful folk may pause to say: “All things are lawful but what is the most helpful?” Faithful folks think first of the other; it’s one of the things that sets us apart from how the rest of the world rolls.
Principle three Apply ‘Yes, and…” Instead of bemoaning our circumstances, try “This is the way things are…and what’s next? How will I make things better?”
Teresa of Avila reminds us that: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands and feet on earth but yours.” The God who gives us those bodies and hands and feet continues to hold the world. And whether we’re reaching for screens or normalcy, we are God’s plan for how to hold the whole world in his hands.
Teaching kids to have hearts that show God's love
Anne Lawton Membership Co-Chair
Time at Home. With two little ones ages 4 and 6 the idea of weeks at home staying inside would have been terrifying. Not because of the virus but because of coo-coo crazy kids. But I was so wrong. Being “stuck” at home has taught me my family doesn’t need to go anywhere or do anything. We just love being together. Making forts in the living room. Playing soccer on our front porch at sunset. I even have them cooking with me and they think cleaning is fun! I know. I never dreamed that would come out of the pandemic. Slowing down is a gift. COVID has made me see how “doing” is not as rewarding as just “being”. My husband can’t believe his get- out-and-go wife is one hundred percent happy to have no plan and just be. And for Chris, not commuting to NYC has lifted a big burden and given us back so much time together.
Time with God. Trust me, time at home hasn't been all fun. The days seem to have lasted far beyond 24 hours and adding the roles of full-time teacher and three meals a day chef, on to mother and wife has felt overwhelming. I have always enjoyed my morning devotions. But now I crave them. I need the silent alone time with God. I need to fill my cup so that I can give to my family. When I start my day with God, I have the energy, attitude and faith to fuel the day for whatever comes our way.
Time with Friends. The women who I have met through Greens Farms Church have become some of my closest and dearest friends. It’s been so wonderful to be together over Zoom to share all the range of emotions and lift each other up in faith. I cherish these precious friendships now more than ever. I have learned so much from these women that I hold closely in my heart. Being vulnerable with this group has made me feel safe and loved far beyond the walls of my home in such an unsettling time.
Time for Others. My kids know this is an usual time. We stopped going to the grocery. The playground. Having playdates. And I’ve been able to teach them through all these changes, to think about other people. Families who can’t put food on the table. Elderly neighbors who can’t safely get out to run errands. We packed up groceries for the GFC food drive, have made homemade soup and cards for our elderly neighbors, and delivered spring flowers to those we thought could use a boost. Teaching our kids to have hearts that show God’s love has been the greatest lesson of home school.
What the plague is teaching me
Diane Parrish Church of the Future Co-Chair
These coronavirus days are unlike any we’ve ever experienced. They’ve brought us uncertainty, isolation, worry—and according to psychologists —an epidemic of nightmares to accompany our day fears. These days we’ve come to love our technology as Zoom, video phone calls, texts, gifs and YouTube become our only means of connecting. Technology helps, but it most definitely does not replace the warmth of an actual hug or snugging on the couch for a story with the grandchildren. There are a lot of silver linings to this enforced isolation, but let’s be honest, they exist because there are a lot of dark clouds.
As the reality of the pandemic bears down on me I find myself praying more than ever. I’m praying for specific persons I know who are sick, or whose loved ones are sick, or are on the front lines caring for the sick. I pray for scientists trying to understand this virus, those working to devise new tests, therapies and vaccines. I pray for the political leaders who have to decide what to do and when to do it. I pray for those who are all alone, who are facing economic ruin, who just happen to be especially vulnerable because of their health issues, living circumstances, and as seems to be case, even the color of their skin.
One prayer I pray repeatedly is, “God, show me what you want me to learn from this.” He’s given me lots of ideas, but one day he sent me reeling. I was praying this prayer when the thought formed very clearly in my mind “I want you to take care of each other” and, as that thought crowded out all my other thoughts, I knew yes, that was exactly right. Then something quite unexpected and amazing happened.
I have for a long time been aware intellectually and morally of Christ’s commandment that we love one another and I’ve tried to do what I could to follow it. I’ve volunteered and given money and prayed for others, because knew it was what I was supposed to do. If I did something for someone I knew and loved, it was easy and brought me joy. If I did it for a stranger, I might take some mild pleasure from the act, but mostly it was more an item on my to-do list, like making sure there was food in the pantry and gas in the car. But the day God helped me know what I needed to learn, he also gave me an incredible gift. He cracked open my heart just wide enough to admit for a moment the terrible pain and fear of the strangers in my prayers. What I’d been unable to feel because it was so far removed from own life pierced my soul. It was searing. It broke my heart and I understood in a completely new way my mission to “take care” of the other.
I think God also wants that to be the mission for GFC’s Beyond the Building. Whatever the specifics, at its core it simply must be about serving the other, those children of God who know every single day of their lives the pain I only experienced for a moment. He’s given me, and us, the tools to address that pain. Now I’m praying to learn how he wants us to do that.
Wally Hansen GFC Poet Laureate
How do we perceive the men and women who are carrying out their journey in life by following the words and mission of Christ?
These are obviously our clergy amongst many religions and faiths.
These are principally the medical professions who serve in hospitals, and fields, and institutions.
These are people in their own individual calls to God’s service who are found everywhere.
Is God sending the world a message with the COVID-19 crisis?
What do we capture in the year 2020 as people of planet earth, in the underlying consideration of what is happening?
Well, this episode in our lives suddenly makes us sit up and think.
Actually, more often, we strongly consider there is a world-wide conflagration, not in flames but in need for both personal and overall reaction to recapture a movement or spirit that is widely missing.
Am I reading too much in this reaction?
No, I am sitting up and recognizing there have been many occurrences over the centuries that called for our attention by former faith believers on this planet.
This is our Christian’s time for the explosion of faith, action, and recognition of God, the Father Almighty in our midst.
We have to acknowledge this in our hearts and minds.
This is the word and spirit of God!
Necessary and sufficient conditions
Peter Kralovec-Kirchherr Andover Newton at Yale Intern
There is no question as to how difficult this time has been. To not be able to gather on Sundays and Wednesdays with the Middle Schoolers strikes a chord of grief in my heart each week. This is particularly poignant as I prepare to leave Greens Farms Church, my church home for these last three wonderful years. It is immeasurably hard not being able to say proper ‘goodbyes,’ or sing the praise music we have all come to know and love.
However, there have been some unexpected joys through the process of moving to virtual youth group. We can’t run around in the church, so we tried ways to engage the kids beyond sitting in front of the screen. We started to do a scavenger hunt of through their houses. Each week, we ask them to find an object that is meaningful in some way; perhaps something they are grateful for, or something that reminds them of friends or family, and so on. Online youth group has allowed us all to learn about one another in ways that we never would have by meeting each week in the church.
In philosophy, there is a method of defining concepts called “necessary and sufficient conditions.”
If something cannot be without a particular thing, that is a necessary condition. For example, you need gas in your car to drive. A sufficient condition means that that thing is enough. For a long time, I believed that being physically present with one another was necessary for building strong community. Without being able to worship in person, we could not truly be the “church.” Oh, how wrong I was. One of the lessons I have had to learn from this pandemic is rethinking what is necessary, and what is enough when it comes to being the church. Having worship and youth group in person is not necessary. Food and coffee after the service is not necessary. Perfect live streams are not necessary. Instead, this time has taught me to see the sufficient conditions to be the church. I have learned to see what is enough. An earnest heart is enough. A desire to love God is enough. A determination to find meaningful forms of connection is enough. Each one of us, is enough. There is no question that this time has come with grief and anxiety, but we may rest in the assurance that to God, what we are doing is enough.
Being together fills me with hope
Caroline Barney Women's Ministry Leader
Is it just me or is it almost impossible to put how you feel about this time into words? Do you feel caught between the pain and suffering around us and the blessings of the silver linings that squeeze into your days? Is it just me or are there so many complicated emotions to work through that finding peace and hope can feel like a mountain too high to climb?
It is these questions, it is the truth that our time is not easy, that answers are not quick to come by, that reminds me how grateful I am for our community. It reminds me, just like always, why being with each other matters.
When we come together, we have a place to doubt, to struggle, to speak our truths, and have it be okay. We don’t need to all agree, we don’t have to have it all figured out, or know the answers. It’s about being together in a place filled with love and acceptance that matters. In a place where we can bring our real selves and find the grace that is present in our community.
Together, we carry each other’s faith, we shoulder each other’s burdens, and we show the world what it looks like to keep on loving, keep on being together, even when it’s hard to do or we don’t understand.
As we walk together, I know God walks with us, especially in this dark valley. I love that it is by the hands and feet of our congregation that we can feel the tangible presence of our God who loves us extravagantly.
Our community is a holy place that stretches beyond our building. It is a grace-filled place full of God’s holy work. And it is a place that provides the sustaining love we need when we can’t find all the answers or know what is next.
For me, it is our being together that fills me with hope for what will be made anew. And it is the being together that is a constant call to keep being the hands and feet of love to a world that is calling for our help. As we gather virtually, I’m struck by how close we really are still. It’s that divine gift that still sparks joy and I pray fills all our hearts as we take each day as it comes.
How do you galvanize your church? Close it down
Claire England Operations Director
In March we pivoted rapidly to weekly worship services online and meeting by Zoom. Participation in everything has increased. How do you galvanize your faith community? Apparently, you close the building and allow everyone to connect in their pajamas. For decades, mainline churches have fretted about how to make church more meaningful for more people. Now we know. Go where the people are. Suddenly, ‘church’ can drop into the family room, at any time the family is willing to engage with it, and bring community, comfort, and a sense of calm. Online, on social media, Christianity and its eternal wisdom stands out in sharp relief against the craziness of current events and political posturing. We can be a beacon…wait, where have I heard that before?
You can get from Fairfield to Westport in less than 10 minutes on I95 these days. I’ve done it several times. It’s like driving in the 1950s (only with a better car) because, suddenly, the impossible traffic has just gone. Like long commutes and business travel and pollution, the coronavirus lockdown has made some things disappear faster than you can say “see you on Zoom.” And it’s made evident other things we may have known in some part of our brain but now we’ve experienced them and won’t be able to forget. For me, that includes:
- How much I value home.
- That technology brings us together when we’re not afraid of it.
- There’s a chasm between what I have – health, shelter, resources, family, identity – and what many others have. The fragility of many people’s tenure in a place of safety is smashed by a lost job. I wake excited to find out what the day and week and year will bring. Others wake in dread, not knowing how they will feed their kids, let alone pay the rent. I am humbled by that daily.
- How much people want to be together, and to help others.
- That nature conquers all. If we were shocked and awed by the coronavirus, we certainly are not ready for continuing climate change. We mess with nature at our peril, and we are in peril.
Seeing the Holy Spirit at work
Carlos Garcia Worship & Music Chair
Having many hours of family time with our adult children has brought me energy in the last six weeks. Since they are both working from home, the morning breakfast chats or family dinners give Stephanie and me more joy and happiness than the stress created by being quarantined. On Sunday May 10, our family worked together in our yard for about five hours. Steph said it was best Mother's Day ever!
Technology has allowed our faith to grow even more. I have access to several bible studies - and not just on Sunday. Technology gives us so many opportunities to experience how other churches worship. I now can have ‘church’ during any part of my day. I have no excuse why I can't attend church or study our faith. Most importantly - I can still use ‘with’ in my walk as now I can walk with many more people - not just my church. And I can share GFC with others around the country!
Our church (as usual) and our community have contributed in so many ways. From making masks to food drives to ordering from local restaurants - all to help people in need. Some will say people naturally are generous or supportive. I can't disagree with that, but I think that inherent instinct to help people is the Holy Spirit. We now can see the Holy Spirit in action - regardless of how we classify ourselves.
Another way I have seen God at work is the ability to join a service or bible study online. People have no excuse now. I think this is a revival!
And how will things be different when we finally get back together at church? Well the first thing I will do is wear a mask as I greet and usher at GFC! And thanks to Claire, I have always had plenty of Purell! Something that I miss, that I never thought about is a simple hug. A hug to/from a friend was just a simple act - but that human touch to express joy from seeing them will be greatly missed.
Rise up, take courage, and do it. Ezra, 10:4
Erica Winkler Deacon
This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The highs are so high: lots of family time, long walks with the dogs, no hustle and bustle. However the lows are pretty awful. I miss visiting with my parents, people are passing away, the economy is tanking. When will it all be OK? What does our ‘new normal’ look like? When will the kids go back to school? There is so much uncertainty.
During this time, I keep thinking to myself, ‘I’m so thankful my family is rooted in faith.’ These are the roots of the tree that are allowing me to rise, survive and even thrive in a time where there are storms all around me. Without these deep strong roots in Christ, I’m not sure I would survive quarantine and COVID-19. I’m starting to feel like I’ve been training for this pandemic my whole life (or at least the last five years)! The women’s group at Green’s Farms Church has been my ‘spiritual gym’ with its members as my coaches, trainers and teammates. We have pushed each other to be better, dig deeper, look for Christ, and act out of love in all we do. This training and faithfulness has given me the Hope and Faith to know that I am not alone in any of this and I’m not intended to handle any of this on my own. We have God, we have each other!
What does God want me to learn from this? How does he want me to show up during this time for my family, friends and community? These are the things I ask myself while trying to drown out the noise and negativity. I feel there is a calling here and I’m so proud to be part of a community that takes our Christian responsibility and puts it into action. There is so much goodness all around us! Our food drives for the needy, making masks, ringing bells, birthday drive-bys, painting rocks. I even let Emily paint on my windows at home making a stained glass cross for Easter and rainbows, rainbows, rainbows! There is so much goodness happening all around us, and this is because we have the ‘Roots to Rise.’
I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day!
Dave Kercher Trustee
This is crazy! I feel myself wanting to shout that aloud several times a day. There are few things that affect every person in the world, especially all at the same time! While the Coronavirus has touched everyone in some way, the “how” has been significantly different and in many cases deeply personal for each of us. Ranging from serious health situations; people who have contracted COVID-19 or those who remain most at-risk, to people less at-risk but whose normal day-to-day lives have changed drastically and maybe permanently. While my life has changed relatively little as I go to work and spend time with my family at home, I worry more about others and feel at different times hopefulness, despondency, frustration and something akin to what Bill Murray felt every morning in Groundhog Day!
My family and I have been lucky; we are all healthy and remain at low risk. However, we have not escaped the effects of the virus. For example, our high school senior is missing her final tennis season, the prom, graduation, and the GFC mission trip. What an exciting time in a young person’s life; many of these transitional events happen only once, but in her case, they won’t happen at all.
A nation of seniors shares this sad reality. The cancellation of the GFC mission trip was especially difficult for her and her friends. It was to be their last chance to come together and serve; a treasured bonding opportunity and fun way to start the summer, but most importantly a way to say goodbye as they move on to the next stage in life.
Everyone is dealing with a challenge that is important and meaningful to them and their family. I believe it is the support of community, the ability to reach out to others in need and one’s faith in God that provides the strength to endure and overcome. GFC was custom-made for this pandemic. As a church we continue to support each other with kindness and understanding while reaching out to the wider community. And while we cannot be together in person, I feel the full force of GFC’s faith community in every email I receive and on every Zoom call.
I hope there will be more kindness
Kirsten Horton Moderator
The Time of Coronavirus has reminded me that faith and love are the strongholds that overcome fear and struggle. I am not powerless and can choose to embrace the Spirit of God, trusting His will and believing that His grace is greater than any obstacle. God has a plan for me and to bear suffering is a part of it. Through it all, I believe that God will provide a rainbow on the other side.
Coming out of this, I hope that there is more kindness. Walls have come down between people as we surrender to what we cannot control. I hope we can see that we are all God’s children and that we can love each other if we let go of fear and judgement and resist putting up walls again. I hope we see each other on an equal playing field, not just as jobs, zip codes, political/religious affiliations or ages to compartmentalize. I hope we smile more at each other. I hope that we help each other more often, think of the other person first and do more for others.
Things to carry with me 'when this is over'
Jennifer Putman Administration Manager
I was probably more surprised than I should have been by the sudden change in life as I knew it. I spent the first few days insisting it was no big deal, we would all deal with it. It might even be fun! The next few days came the slow realization that I would now be handling so much more than I was accustomed to. In addition, my kids (particularly my two college aged kids) were very unhappy. And who could blame them? Ripped from the world they love and cherish, to be home and not able to see friends, attending classes on-line and spending too much time with their parents! And then, of course, the fear of getting sick.
Next stage was "getting used to it". Following a new schedule, learning how to be a teacher (and so much more) to my 14 year old with cerebral palsy, getting creative with the food on hand, trying to let go of my worry (and resulting nagging) of my young adults, and learning how to be safe, to name a few things.
Luckily, the next stage was learning to appreciate and embrace this new life (at least most of the time). We ALL eat family dinners together every night (and have not done this for a long time due to college, schedules, etc). I appreciate the "little things" more than ever, for example time spent outside and finding that one item we have been looking for at the grocery store. I have learned (anew) how much so many people do for us every day. No traffic, no need to rush, connecting with old friends, and the list goes on and on. I am hopeful that I can carry all of this with me when "this is over".
I believe my faith has played an essential part in reaching the last stage. Knowing church services were continuing, as well as confirmation, women's group, prayer groups, and more, reminds me that faith never has to change. The many people at GFC that have reached out to others (as I write this I received a "checking in" and offer to help text from one of my favorite people, Jane Steiger!), the food drives, the bell ringing. In case I might forget, I am also reminded that there are many people in our community who are struggling much more than I.
Imagine what it was like for the disciples
Tom Banks Outreach Co-Chair
Covid-19 has impressed upon me the importance of resilience and a positive attitude in our daily life. In times like these, at least for me, the possibility of darkness and despair are ever present and I need to be constantly vigilant to avoid falling into their morass. Instead, I focus on trying to be resilient, to acknowledge the serious challenges and the risks we face while still moving forward, getting the job done, caring for others, and not being paralyzed by fear. Our attitude is so key to allowing us to carry on with hope and faith, with the knowledge that God created man in his image, that he endowed us with amazing gifts and resources, and that we can collectively harness those resources to meet and overcome the adversity facing us.
When I reflect on resilience, I think of the disciples after Jesus went to the cross. I think of how scared, disappointed, and full of despair they must have been to see the man they knew to be the Messiah crucified. Yet they were resilient, they stayed together, kept their faith, and were able to welcome the resurrected Christ back to them. I reflect on the tremendous reserves of resilience that Paul required as he spread the Gospel and helped build Christian communities in the face of a multitude of threats and enemies. These early Christians faced great challenges but yet, they kept going.
During this crisis, I have good days and bad days. Days where I am full of hope and strength and days where I feel the fear of the unknowns created by this pandemic begin to grow. On these bad days, I ask God to bless me with greater resilience and courage and a more positive attitude. It is also during these times that I find staying in motion and doing what little I can to help others strengthens my resolve. These small acts of caring remind me that we are all in this together, that there are so many people facing far greater unknowns than I do, and that we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world, even a world with Covid-19. To accomplish this audacious task, I believe we must draw upon the resilience God has embedded within our souls and keep moving forward with hope and faith.
It has been an inspiration to witness the resilience of GFC during this period – to see people organizing and contributing to drive-thru food banks with masks and gloves on, to read the long list of people volunteering to provide dinner to the men of Pivot or Homes with Hope, and to observe the construction progress at the Meetinghouse as we prepare for a brighter future where we will be in worship together again. These actions remind me that we have faced many challenges before as a congregation and as a nation and, with God’s help, we will overcome this one as we have all others.
Be present. Be curious. We will find our way
Cindy Cornell Member at Large, Church Council
It was a seemingly simple request to pen my personal reflections about these recent, crazy months in a few hundred words. Those who know me well would say that I am rarely without something to share. On important topics, while I don’t always profess to have answers, I usually have an idea (or several) about how we might adopt different perspectives to expand our personal views in search of a solution that makes things better for everyone, improving our collective experience as members of the church, God’s children, all.
This request? I was without words.
More accurately, I had too many words. Too many thoughts swarming around my head, not unlike I imagine a swarm of murder hornets might behave. Who would have thought that a single, normal conversation in 2020 would include the merits of different statistical modeling methods, pros and cons of green screen backgrounds in Zoom meetings, where to find toilet paper, best techniques to get your sourdough starter to rise, and how many more or fewer people died today than yesterday.
I started writing this a few times. It was difficult. I even at one point chose giving my son his second pandemic haircut over trying to make sense of my thoughts. (By the way, he gave me a thumbs up.)
Through this global pandemic, God has presented me with yet another opportunity to practice patience, express gratitude, lean into faith, and show others His way by my example. It is my choice to focus on what is important and create space, putting aside my constant business to exhale – to BREATHE. To carve out time for myself to recharge so I have something valuable to share with others when they need it. In short, to heed my own advice – we can’t pour from an empty cup.
We have been sheltering in place AND working at home WITH our families in the middle of a global pandemic. While my immediate family and closest community are healthy, I have personal relationships with people who have both survived and succumbed to COVID-19. And through it all, I am so incredibly grateful. When My son recently shared that his faith was wavering and he wasn’t sure he was ready to be Confirmed, I embraced that opportunity to meet him where he was. Be present. Be curious. This is a lot to take in, for all of us. This is part of his faith journey and he will find his way through this, just as we all will.
In fact, he already has. In the last paragraph of his Faith Statement Project, he shared Joshua 1:9, a verse that gives him great comfort: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. He concluded his writing with this, which seems a suiting way to end my thoughts, as well. “This is meaningful to me because when I am not having a strong relationship with God, I know that He is still with me, even if I am not with Him.” Indeed, He is with us all.
I'm so blessed but want to do so much more
Jane Steiger Clerk and Deacon
I just didn’t realize, before all this started, how much I took for granted – like just being able to go shopping, plan a vacation, get together with family. It’s been very isolating, though technology has made a huge difference. I’ve been overwhelmed by how connected we’ve been as a church. Our prayer group is still meeting, and the Sunday Bible Study, the women’s book group, and then the worship. It’s amazing how we have adapted that way.
Overall, my feeling are mixed. I am blessed because I have much but I’m so sad because I’m not able to help so many people who are suffering right now. I made masks but I’d like to do so much more. It makes me think back and wish my career had suited me to help more, but I know that everyone has a way to give. We just have to dig deeper into our skill set to find it!
Looking ahead, when we finally get back together as a church, we are going to have what will feel like a brand-new building. It’s going to take some thinking to work out how we are going to make the most of that, and adapt to these new conditions. We’ll need to be more respectful of the physicality of the world – we will have be be mindful of that. Until we have a vaccine we have to be cautious.
While we figure out how we will interact socially in person, we can still take advantage of the technology in the future. It’s been great to have people who moved away taking part in the Sunday Bible Study. I hope we can continue to do that. Then people who have health issues can join us, or people at home for family reasons. Technology will prevail.
From an Outreach perspective, I think there will be a new emphasis on providing food for some time to come. We will have to focus on the basics.
The day everything changed
Rev. Dave Stambaugh Faith Formation Minister
In my mind March 10 was the last "normal, typical, usual" day of work, ministry, and life. We had a staff meeting, I met with my prayer group, Becky and I led a Confirmation class, and we had a Church Council meeting. We woke up the next day and everything had changed. We all went through it together, but we all experienced it differently. There was the steady stream of restrictions on the size of gatherings, the run on toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and now face masks. There is no doubt that we are in a different time and place.
One of the ideas that has impacted me most profoundly over the last few weeks is the idea that, when we were physically close to one another, social media and technology tended to divide us. Our faces were buried in our phones, music was playing in our earbuds, and we were sitting right next to people at coffee shops hardly noticing one another. Now that we are required to stay physically distant, social media and technology is able to unite us, in powerful, meaningful ways. We used to ask kids to give up their phones at confirmation and youth group; now we hope they have them so they can join the ZOOM call. We used to be sad that people who moved away couldn’t join us in the Parlor for Sunday morning Bible Study; now we are seeing faces and hearing voices that we haven’t seen or heard in years. It’s clear that we are indeed in a different time and place. We have experienced a paradigm shift.
As we look into the future, and try to imagine what’s next, let me encourage you to lean into everything that helps you avoid ‘spiritual distancing.’ Take advantage of the ways we can all better connect to God, each other, and ourselves. Be proactive about self-care, and reach out to those around you with love compassion and grace. In one of our digital gatherings the other day someone encouraged us all with these wise and sacred six words: be present, even if physically distant.
Allow that social media and technology that once used to separate us can unite us in new, strong, and powerful ways. Be present and be mindful. Take nothing for granted. Connect with friends, family, and loved ones. And keep these words from Deuteronomy close to your heart in the days ahead: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified…for the Lord your God goes with you; and will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
The chance to readjust to the presence of God
LaQruishia Gill Director of Children's Ministry
I'm finding it nice to be reminded in a very tangible way that not everything is within my control and that can be good news. As Christians, we believe in a God who is powerful and active and that God not only knows more than we do but knows better. But sometimes there isn't so much in our lives that testifies to that. Most of us have a ton of freedom and ability to shape our daily experiences, and often, we cling to that freedom and ability more than anything else. But now we have this unexpected virus. Something that, try as we might, we just can't fully get around to maintain some version of "life as we know it". Despite all of our abilities, advancements, resources, and technology, here we are shuttered in our homes because of this tiny force of nature.
When I think of nature as something set into motion by God, I see the nature of the COVID-19 as a reflection of God’s own nature and movement. While you and I may be brimming with capacity and creativity, God has even more. While we are all going about our business, God is also free and doing what God does. And when those freedoms collide, we are the ones who are swept up in a current that we can’t quite wrap our heads around. Like God, COVID-19 has its own business to be about, and we are pushed to adjust for our own benefit in response. Thankfully with God, though this derailment can be a hard thing, it is always for the best.
My mind goes here not because I believe that COVID-19 is God or an act of God, but because its true to how I’ve experienced life in its wake. Though the ramifications are uncomfortable, and the adjustments frustrating, I’m largely doing just fine and in many ways better than I might have been had my own business simply carried on as usual. Many of us have had to slow down and change the ways we live, eat, shop, work, socialize, care for one another. We are driven to be more attentive and thoughtful and careful in all things. And I think this is an important humbling experience for the Christian. Our current predicament has created an opportunity for us to not only adjust to the presence of this new illness but also to readjust to the presence of God. I once had plans, rhythms, and a full calendar – now I don’t. And so I find myself turning to God like we’re two comfortable friends in a quiet house, used to enjoying one another’s presence, but not always speaking. With fewer things between us, I’m driven toward renewed curiosity: What have you been up to over there? What are we going to do today? What have you been trying to do with me that I have been too busy for, for far too long?
Fear is eclipsed by awe and excitement for renewal
John Carroll, Treasurer, and Carla Dietz, Interim Pastor, Center Congregational Church, Torrington
Carla: I have learned how to be still with myself while in the midst of a crisis that affects all of society. Stillness is the child of patience and trust in the One who is greater. That initial feeling of “oh no!” has given way to a sense of well, what’s up for the future? How can we improve on the comfy life we knew, to include people in our lives that had been cordoned off by our habits, our routines, and a sense of “the way is has traditionally been.”
I am excited about how church and our world have changed and grown during this time and hope we, as global church, keep offering our worships and sororal/fraternal groups in the virtual online world in addition to in person. It’s clear that more people are taking advantage of church and other forms of faith offerings online than were actually coming in the doors.
Those faith-curious people are telling us something and the message should be heard and exercised. The building was closed but worship was not! Or as someone on social media said, “Church has left the building.” Talking about it is good but true action in accessibility (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) is what I believe God would have us practice, always. Here we are in a new world, isn’t it great?
John: When viewed with an electron microscope the COVID-19 virus is surrounded by a halo, hence its name. This takes me back to the solar eclipse in 2017 when Carla and I traveled to South Carolina to view it. Using solar filters we saw the sun in a very different “light.” It revealed flares and other solar behaviors not visible at any other time.
The pandemic eclipses anything we can remember or imagine: the numbers infected, the continuing death toll, the exhaustion of our medical community, pain, sorrow, massive unemployment, economic distress, loss of medical coverage, long lines at food banks, physical distancing, schools and businesses closed, the inequalities in this world and, of course, being quarantined to the confines of our home.
Staying within our residence is really a form of “home schooling” where we learn the painful reality of it all. Seeing it is one thing but living it is another. We find we can’t look the other way; others’ problems are our problems to address whether it be donating food and meals, medical supplies, blood, masks, moral and spiritual support, and more.
We are also more aware of the simple joys, in our relationships, and in the beauty of the earth. Conversations are more meaningful and caring, walking the dog is something you look forward to, we return to reading books, we Zoom with friends and family. Sitting quietly in the backyard watching and listening to the birds is like meditation. We pass the time with creativity.
In an eclipse the moon passes away from the sun and darkness turns to light again. So it is with this pandemic. There will be light again. In our faith we have hope.
Disasters can bring out the best in people
Rick Tripodi Director of Music Ministry
Who knew what was right around the corner? There have been so many disruptive events through history that we have survived and come out stronger. From pre-Christian times, plagues, locusts, religious persecutions, political tyrannies, wars and many other disasters have brought the best out in people.
At the outset of the current crisis, our Chancel Choir was beginning its musical and spiritual journey through the great liturgical season of Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Then the virus hit like those disasters our ancestors survived: No rehearsals, no church as we know and cherish, no socializing – nothing. We were in the desert without a navigation system or even a compass. All the planning for this great time went right out the window. Did we feel disappointment, depression, anxiety, frustration over the situation --- YES. How could this happen? Why us? Why now? We’ve worked so hard and have so much more to do….all is lost.
Fortunately, we are not lost. We are blessed to have so many multi-talented people on the professional music staff enhanced with the talents of our GFC volunteers in the Chancel Choir and the Praise Band. The virus-induced social distancing made us all closer, stronger, and more appreciative of our God-given gifts and the gifts we are to each other.
Jennifer Porretta’s audio expertise enabled the Chancel Choir and Praise Band to join a ‘studio session’ recording and mix separately-recorded tracks so we could all ‘virtually’ sing together. While time-consuming, the results are 5-Star quality. Our Chancel Choir section leaders, Janelle Robinson, Bill Hall and Joseph Brewer have stepped up to the plate in an exemplary way, filling in the gaps in many capacities far beyond what any job description could detail. Our many volunteer Chancel Choir and Praise Band vocalists and instrumentalists who have worked together so well for years have come together in a truly special way.
Looking to the future, we are anxiously anticipating our newly-renovated Meetinghouse, revitalized and expanded pipe organ, and more user-friendly space to “Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord.” AND WE WILL.
Same storm, different-sized boats
Bill McCutchen Outreach member
It’s been said quite a lot about the pandemic, but it is clear that, while we are all enduring the same storm together, we are not in the same boat. In fact, we are in many different-sized boats.
There have been some encouraging things about the way our church has responded, and spending what is now a couple of months at home has its benefits, but the hardest thing is knowing how many people are struggling just to get food and other essentials.
We’ve appreciated the way the church has pulled together and how we have all been able to stay connected though online services and Zoom. We are glad to be able to still have Jeff lead us in worship and to hear Rick’s music and the singing of our musicians.
I hope that, in the future, we can continue to use the technology to allow people who move away, or who can’t make it to church, to participate. It has been great to have people who don’t live here any more join Dave Stambaugh’s Sunday morning class, for example.
Renie and I are happy the church has advanced the Beyond the Building program to give matching grants to four local non-profits. We’ve moved up our own support where we can, including overseas, to the Indian Gospel Mission where they are working hard to keep the children safe during India’s very long lockdown.
It’s very concerning that so many people are without work and without hope, so we have been focused on how to help those in need where we can.
In the meantime, Renie and I are walking a lot more and we’ve enjoyed getting out in our neighborhood. There are many more people out and about, families doing things together, and we’ve met a lot of people we didn’t know before.
The virtual world can give us a vulnerability shield
Becky Stambaugh Director of Children's Ministry
I’m sure when we all take a moment to reflect and process on what we are learning through this strange reality of Coronavirus, we come to realize understandings of ourselves and the world around us. One of those things for me is the realization that sometimes virtual connection can be as, or even more, meaningful of an experience than a face to face connection.
What? I know. Why, I wonder? Is it because there is a vulnerability shield in place with the virtual world? I’ll need to ponder on that, but I can honestly say I think what has pleasantly surprised me the most in the midst of the lock down is the incredibly deep and thoughtful conversations that have been had with our youth.
Let me be clear: It doesn’t surprise me that we can have this level of conversation, but rather when everyone is stuck in a ‘Zoom room’ in the midst of a pandemic, there is less time dedicated to a game of GROG, and more time that understandably lends itself to topics that might not normally get discussed. Like what CAN we control in our lives when we can’t control what used to be our normal?
If we can’t take that mission trip in another part of the country, how CAN we be God’s hands and feet to those right here in our own backyards?
In the coming days, I’m looking forward to the creative opportunities before us. My mind is already pinging with possibilities. For instance, when we all can’t get together due to a snowstorm, a Zoom youth group or confirmation class can certainly be a great option. Or when the ‘time suck’ of car shuttling and sports programs won’t allow a youth to make it to a gathering, perhaps ‘Zooming’ from the car between grabbing dinner after basketball and homework time, is a way for some kids to stay connected even if they can’t be physically present in our new youth room with really good wi-fi!
So, let us take what we have learned and go even further to stay connected in the best of ways. Whenever physical distancing is the ‘rule’, may our exception to that rule be to think outside the box, and continually find ways to remain spiritually connected.
No shortage of need - and GFC responded
Alex Horton Outreach Co-Chair
As you would expect, these last few weeks have shown you can rely on GFC. Every time we made an ask on behalf of our partner agencies, members of our congregation said ‘count me in.’ Food drives, funding meals, supporting fundraisers – GFC families were there. And you can see how the relationships we’ve formed over years and decades allow us to respond in special ways. For example, we know Pivot Ministries in Bridgeport really well. One of the staff, Kevin Covington, told me about growing up in a group home where having a six-foot sub was a big treat, like Christmas. So when we had the chance to provide a weekly meal for the 40 or so guys locked down in Jane Street, we provided four-foot subs and sides, so the guys could have a ‘party’ on a Saturday night. We wanted to go beyond delivering the obvious stuff and let them know we are thinking about them and we care. Kevin was hospitalized with COVID, and is now recovering.
It was clear immediately the lock-down began that non-profits would have to get creative with fundraising. If they rely on in-person fundraisers, they need an alternative. Some of them put on a good show with virtual events. We brought GFC’s yearly giving forward ($140k a year across a dozen organizations) and then we added $100k in matching grants from the Church of the Future/Beyond the building program. There’s no shortage of need and GFC, as always, responded.
Personally, the lock down was a win for us as a family. My son, James, 13, and I set to work on landscaping our yard and now he knows how to swing a shovel and run the lawnmower, and we’ve had quality time together. Same for Kirsten and Grace, who go for a drive together every night after ‘work time.’ It slowed everything down. I can definitely see the kids have gained from all the Zoom calls. The way the church held the ship together so some of the first calls they were on were ones with the church youth group was great. They’ve responded really well to the relaxed two-way communication on Zoom – it’s not like a boring webinar, it allows people to be who they are. Everyone has just adapted in a way we never thought we would.