The parish I serve is situated in a crossroads. In our community are two very different populations: one is retirees who have fallen in love with the greater Williamsburg area and have settled here to enjoy their retirement; the other is families with young children, who have found a relatively affordable place where they are excited to raise their children. In both of those populations, the moves to our area often mean people are leaving behind familial systems of support. In that crucible of our community, Hickory Neck has worked to ensure that our faith community is a community for both populations: that doesn’t try to just serve each unique group but tries to bring them together so that they can care for each other – surrogate grandparents for young children, and surrogate children and grandchildren the elders can love. It has been a joy to watch our community embrace our context and thrive.
Then, 18 months ago, our world imploded. Throughout that time, our parish has tried to be attentive. Our younger families offered to pick up groceries for our elder members to keep them safe. Our elders send cards to families encouraging them during these difficult times. We all figured out new technologies together and laughed along the way. And when there were times that we could gather, there was joy and hesitation among both populations. Many of the elders needed to be careful about their health, even if vaccinated. Many of the young parents were happily vaccinated but then have been forced to wait for vaccines for their children. In so many ways, it has been the best of times and the worst of times.
Eighteen months later I find a community of parishioners who are just exhausted. Parents have been pushed to the point of breakage at times. I cannot tell you the number of times this article came across my desk when talking about the impact of this pandemic of families with school-aged children. And our elders are breaking too. Many of them have been pushed into lonely isolation, maybe having figured out technological ways to connect but missing human contact horribly. Having ridden the rollercoaster of being rushed to be vaccinated, being told they are now safe, many of our elders now are being asked to mask and distance again, and they are terrified of the isolation they thought they had defeated. All of us are carrying a heavy burden but in very different ways.
Having watched our faith community love and care for each other for so long, I sense now that we are at a new crossroads – one in which our love and care for one another is being tested. When a crisis comes, adrenaline kicks in, and we move mountains to care for the “other.” But when a new wave of crisis hits in the form of the Delta variant, our now wearied minds, bodies, and spirits are being pushed once again. This is the moment when our community will shine. This is the moment when superficial questions like “how are you?” are being transformed to, “No, really. How are you?” This is the moment when emails, texts, calls, and cards that simply say, “I see you,” mean so much – to both generations. This is the moment when the light of our love is not done out of instinct but out of a deeply rooted baptismal identity that says, with God’s help, I will respect the dignity of every human being. I am so grateful to be a part of our faith community now – not in the first days, weeks, and months of a pandemic, but in the heart of a long crisis whose crucible will reveal something more beautiful than I ever imagined.