"Coronalone". It's like "Home Alone", but without Macaulay Culkin. And without the burglars (we hope). It's our ridiculous name for the surreal and strange circumstances in which we currently find ourselves. And we currently find ourselves amazed that we have just passed the one month mark of our self-isolation.
For the past few weeks I’ve been sharing some of the lessons that Mike and I feel we’ve learned during our self-isolation. Today I’d like to share with you a memory of my very own and my musings on it, as well as an explanation of why it seems significant to me at this particular moment in time. For anyone who knows me this remembrance might seem a little odd, since I try never to be a “preachy” person and would never dream of suggesting any one faith or doctrine (other than kindness and compassion) should be followed, but here we go:
When I was a little girl, I would collect all of my stuffed animals in rows on my bed and hold church services for them. It may clarify things for you a bit to explain that my grandfather was a retired minister whom I would see preach once a summer at a little seasonal church in our town, and that my mom taught Sunday school and was the church secretary at our “regular” church, so I was pretty well immersed during my childhood. I didn’t “preach” to the stuffies, exactly—that was a bit beyond my area of expertise—but I was relatively proficient at reciting the prayers and singing the Doxology, and I could pull off a fairly convincing communion ritual using a small juice glass and some Wonder Bread. (Of course, I had to drink the grape juice and eat the bread myself, since my stuffed animal congregation didn’t seem interested in the sacrament. They could sometimes be less than cooperative.)
What appealed to me back then, I think, was the solemnity and the cadence of the prayers, the call-and-response between the minister and the congregation, the beauty of the music, and even the sense of belonging to a larger group with a purportedly noble cause. Later in my life I would begin to listen to the prayers and the hymns and the sermons with a more discerning ear, and it is true that not everything in the services I now sporadically attend continues to resonate with me. For my annual appearances as a soloist-- in that same little seasonal church where I first heard Grandpa preach—I make it a point to choose only hymns with messages with which I feel I can wholeheartedly agree. The themes of love and acceptance and service that I learned decades ago in Sunday school have stuck with me, but I strongly reject the idea—not taught in the Sunday School I attended, but sadly held by many people of varying belief systems and including some self-described Christians-- that a particular creed or way of life makes any one person better or worse than any other person.
Does this mean that I no longer see any value in church gatherings? Simply put, it does not. And during this surreal and potentially divisive time in which we find ourselves perhaps I see the value even more than I usually do, which is ironic considering that congregations aren’t currently allowed to— well— congregate. But as I learned in Sunday school, the church is not the building; it is the people, and church leaders are getting pretty creative with how they are “being the church” right now. There are Zoom services being held, and a friend of ours who is an organist for a nearby community church is taking to Facebook Live each Sunday morning and performing the hymns he would have played if live services were still being held. And me, I am receiving weekly emails from the Pastor of my mom’s church—the same church where I participated in Christmas pageants, sang in choir, joined my mom in teaching Sunday school, and was even confirmed during my teenage years as a Congregationalist— and those emails contain a copy of each week’s order of service and sermon, and I am reading the prayers and the sermon to Mom over the phone each Sunday morning.
Just as it was with my stuffies, I am not “preaching”—Pastor Cathy is handling that part expertly—but I am delivering the prayers with their comforting cadences, holding sacred space, and even sometimes singing a little bit for my “congregation of one”. Once again, I am the little girl with a Bible, a juice glass and some Wonder Bread, realizing that the most important part of pretending to be the minister all those years ago was the idea that I could be helpful to someone else when they were in need.
Mom said last Sunday that I read Pastor Cathy’s sermon very nicely, and my response was, “Well, I guess those church services I held for my stuffed animals all those years ago really paid off!” Who could have known that, years later, I would discover that I had been training for this my whole life?