ALONG THE PATH
By Robert M. Chapman, II
For the first summer since our arrival, our grandchildren were not able to visit us this year. And thus, minus the frogs on the reservoir and the choir of cicadas, it was a quiet August at the parsonage. A short, wonderful tradition has now ended. COVID-19 strikes again. On the last day of each visit, they would assemble a photo album featuring the pictures I took throughout their Virginia journey. And so, this year, 2020 will be empty. If for some odd reason you drove by the church, you may have noticed the absence of croquet wickets, sticks and balls, along with the make-shift water slide. Something has been amiss without sharing games of putt-putt, or being stung by jellyfish at Yorktown Beach. They have missed me cooking my famous waffles couched with a secret recipe in the morning and root beer floats in the evening. As our oldest grandchild says, “It’s all very sad.” Mr. Dozer has even noted how things have seemed a bit skewed this summer, minus all of their shenanigans. Many of you would be surprised how much they have grown. And come to think of it, we will likely be surprised ourselves, as we wonder when we will actually be able to see them in person again. Given the progressive nature and situation of the pandemic, more than likely, we will not be sharing Thanksgiving with them this year either.
All of us are adjusting to this strange era. As we enter the sixth month of the pandemic, complete with the accoutrement of facemask, life is so different. No hugging or handshakes as we keep the decree of social distancing toward a minimum of six feet. Avoid large crowds, don’t sing except in the shower and keep washing your hands. The effect of all of this has been incalculable on our lifestyle and relationships, our children and their education, the economy, travel, industry, not to mention the emotional toll placed on our psychological health and spirituality. Weddings and funerals are postponed while families are struggling to make ends meet, are losing their jobs, are trying to put meals on the table, are paying the bills and a mortgage. Additionally, there is the continual concern of either spreading or contracting the virus ourselves. Our seniors have taken direct hits in nursing homes, while the prison population is suffocating in crowded cells. I have spoken to a number of people who are experiencing difficulty in relation to low concentration levels, restlessness, screen fatigue, insomnia and just plain feeling lonely. If this has been your experience, you can underline or check one of these off in an imaginary box, take comfort in knowing you are not alone.
If there were ever a group of believers within Christendom who choose a lifestyle of deliberate solitude, it was the desert fathers and mothers of the fourth century. Some of them lived alone as hermits while others lived in small communities of three or four. The attributes that have been remembered about them are their simple approach to life. Benedicta Ward SLG writes: “Often, the first thing that struck those who heard about the Desert Fathers was the negative aspect of their lives. They were people who did without: not much sleep, ragged clothes, hard work, no leisure, absolutely no sex, and even, in some places, no church either — a dramatic contrast of immediate interest to those who lived out the Gospel differently.” These faithful and practical souls adopted a disciplined approach in their lives toward simplicity, purity, goodness, love and charity, while always waiting for the ushering in of the Kingdom of God. Additionally, Ward notes: “It was because of this positive desire for the Kingdom of Heaven which came to dominate their whole lives that they went without things: they kept silence, for instance, not because of a proud and austere preference for aloneness but because they were learning to listen to something more interesting than the talk of men; that is, the word of God.” Their ancient writings offer words of wisdom for us today.
Whereas we have not experienced community in our sanctuary since March, we are still alive, serving God and the church through different means of grace. Our children, youth, church school classes and small groups have been virtually meeting with each other, choirs and fellowship groups are also meeting on Zoom. A class on Rick Warren’s “The Purpose-Driven Life” has been offered in addition to another installment of Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University,” coming in September. The cast of the Mystery Dinner Theater have begun rehearsals, hoping to bring us a slice of theater like never before. Our finance committee is meeting regularly, looking at our numbers, while the Church Council has been discussing and voting on difficult matters, such as wither or not to allow the opening of the Chestnut Pre-School in September, a vote which passed by a slim margin of 9-8.
As in the days of an old-fashioned telephone tree, the work area on witness has recruited members to call and check-in on our church members. And recently, our own Volunteers in Mission Service team, along with some other church members constructed an access ramp at the home of one of our church members after a serious surgery and extensive rehabilitation care. Regardless of the pandemic, many of our members continue in a spirit of faithfulness and thanksgiving, working ever diligently and as ever before. Your being able to read this newsletter is another example of the continued work of another labor of love, by our faithful editor of The Lamplighter. Despite our absence in our building, many folks are quite intentional in staying connected with each other, like the branches of a Chestnut tree, waving in the wind.
I am pleased to announce, beginning Friday, Sep. 18 from 11 a.m. – noon and consecutive Fridays, I will begin a new one-hour class online, through Zoom (identification numbers and passwords will be forthcoming). The featured book is titled “Soul Feast,” by Marjorie J. Thompson. We will be using the revised 2014 edition, which can be ordered directly to your home through either Amazon or Cokesbury. I will lead our discussion, while inviting your participation as we prayerfully consider gifts and graces of the Christian life in relation to prayer, spiritual reading, self-examination and worship. This classic book is not only a good read in relation to the Christian faith, but has also proven itself as an excellent resource toward personal growth and development of ones’ spiritual life. Additionally, I will continue offering our Koinonia Kitchen Fellowship on Zoom on Tuesday evenings at 8 p.m. and Wednesday Morning Lauds (prayer) live on Facebook at 6 a.m. every Wednesday morning. If you would like any further information regarding any of these activities I have mentioned, please call the church office.
Like many of you, I am finding the day-to-day rhythm of living in this pandemic quite challenging and stressful. It is lonely, scary, uncertain, challenging, very uncomfortable and at times unsettling. I continually miss the activity of the “Chestnut Mall,” the pace and rhythm of our church life and needless to say, our being together in person within that beautiful sanctuary on Sunday mornings. Several weeks ago, I referenced Moses in one of my messages.
In Deuteronomy 30: 11, 14, 19 we read: “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away … No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe … Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
As we continue to live in the midst of this pandemic, it is necessary for us to make safe and careful choices every day, such as wearing a mask, frequently washing our hands and avoiding large crowds. In doing this, we are choosing life, which can be as challenging as hitting a croquet ball all the way through, without touching a wicket. And as I recall, croquet is a game whereby you deliberately want to keep your distance from your friends and your grandchildren. I wish they were here for a game, and it is very sad they are not.