When the pandemic began in early 2020, if someone had told me that in a year I would be a deacon at First Church I doubt that I would have believed them. Although I became a member of First Church in May 2018, my attendance between then and the start of the pandemic was somewhat sporadic, coming in fits and starts. Although I have met so many kind people at First Church, as a natural introvert, Sunday service with a large mass of people has never been the most comfortable way for me to connect with others. Similarly, it is not natural for me to find someone in the crowd at coffee hour to strike up a conversation with. What I really did love, though, were the many Faith and Life groups, which allowed for more intimate conversation among small groups. I ended up consistently attending at least three of them and I am probably forgetting one or two. So when the pandemic started and everything shifted online, my sense of connection to the church was more or less limited to the small, relatively short-term groups that I had been part of.
It only made sense, therefore, that such small groups would be the best way for me to stay involved with First Church. So relatively early in the pandemic when I heard that Carlyle Stewart was facilitating a Bible Study group on Zoom, joining seemed like a logical step. I had admired Carlyle’s passion in his sermons and when he led parts of the liturgy, so I was especially drawn to the opportunity. I was somewhat nervous at the beginning, becoming acquainted with mostly people I did not know, but over time felt more comfortable seeing a lot of the same faces week after week every Thursday evening. Before Carlyle had for the most part moved on from First Church, he set up an excellent system for the group to transition to a new model where the members started taking turns as facilitator each week. And now it’s been about a year and we are still meeting Thursday evenings, sharing our thoughts, feelings, and perspectives on the Bible, and have become closer to one another, including new people that have joined over time. We have even been blessed with having adherents of the other Abrahamic faiths as regular members, whose insights have added wonderfully to the richness of our discussions. While I have attended just about every Sunday service and usually have joined coffee hour, the Zoom Bible Study group is where I found my deepest connection to First Church in the past year.
With this deeper connectedness in mind, last August I ventured to run my own Faith and Life group on Paul Tillich’s sermon entitled “You Are Accepted,” as it has and continues to be rather foundational in my own understanding of God. It was a small group that only met twice, but nonetheless a way I could contribute to the church.
Then this past winter, while I was shoveling out my driveway after a snowstorm, I was listening to a podcast about the emotional benefits of providing service to others. It was incredibly inspiring and I thought to myself “I would really love to find a way to give beyond myself. It would give me a greater sense of purpose in my life.” And a few hours later an email arrived asking if I would be interested in being considered for a position as a deacon. Given what I had just said to myself, I knew it would be hard to say no. So once I learned more about what the role of a deacon was, I very quickly said yes. And you, the church, responded with your kind invitation.
What it means to be a deacon in a time of remote church is a work in progress, but I am feeling guided to continue taking steps forward. I was blessed with the opportunity to help facilitate healing prayers in a Zoom breakout room as part of the church’s healing service, as well as offer a brief recorded prayer on compassion for Palm Sunday. I know there will continue to be additional steps, and then another, and then many more. But as challenging as the pandemic has been for all of us, I consider myself fortunate and blessed that the past year has brought me closer to First Church in ways I never could have imagined. As my connection to the church through the deacons deepens, I look forward to the special role of service that has been entrusted to all of us. And on a more basic level, I am eager to meet all of you!