2020-2021 were difficult years for many reasons. So much illness and loss of life. So much isolation, not only for businesses but also organizations like churches. We felt it at my parish in Memphis, St. John Orthodox Church, even with the wonderful technology provided by Zoom and YouTube for church services, Bible studies, and other virtual gatherings. But I think we all agree, there’s nothing like being TOGETHER in person to nurture our communities, our friendships, even—on some level—our souls.
My husband is a physician (in addition to being an Orthodox priest, and Associate Pastor at our parish) and is very involved in clinical trials, publishing, speaking, and until 2020, traveling to meetings all over the world. Working from home for over a year, and then a “hybrid” situation where he works from home some days and at clinics and his office on other days, has been hard for him. He loves being with his colleagues in person. After using Zoom even for events like the annual meetings of the American Heart Association, he has enjoyed being back in person for some of those meetings recently.
And of course we both love being able to worship at St. John in person, and hope and pray that new variants of Covid don’t change that in the future.
Recently I’ve been blessed by the creative scheduling of in-person events for the Women of St. John at our church. Just last week, I attended THREE such events! I’m so thankful to our pastor, Father Philip Rogers, and our women’s council, for working so hard to make these events possible. (In addition to weekly vespers, Bible studies, and inquirers’ classes led in person by Father Philip for the entire parish.) Here are the three events I went to last week:
Monday—Women’s Book Club.
I was honored that the book club chose PILGRIM INTERRUPTED as their book for January, and they invited me to join them for their monthly meeting to discuss the book, together. Of course the evening included delicious appetizers and wine, and plenty of time for visiting before we got down to the discussion. I was a little nervous about the discussion, since there are some very personal essays in the book, which I’ve never read aloud at any of the presentations I’ve given since it launched last June. But the women were so supportive, and it blessed me to hear several of them say how much the book helped them. Some members read their favorite excerpts, and I left the gathering refreshed by the fellowship, friendships, and support. And I also really enjoyed their discussion about the books they were choosing for future meetings.
This is a weekly meeting, but it’s on Zoom most weeks, and only an in-person gathering once a month. It’s led by our pastor, and we are reading from a spiritual book and discussing it together. Our current book is A VOICE FOR OUR TIME: RADIO LIBERTY TALKS, Vol. 1 by Alexander Schmemann (d. 1983), former dean and professor of liturgical theology at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. This is a collection of talks given by Father Alexander, who had been raised in the golden age of the Russian emigration of Paris and was deeply involved with the Russian Christian Student Movement. These broadcasts on “Russian Liberation Radio,” were never propaganda. They were conversations in which he spoke as a Russian to Russian. His last book was THE EUCHARIST. He died of cancer before he could visit Russia, and wrote these words about the book one month before his death: “I wrote this thinking of Russia, with pain and at the same time with joy. We who live out here in freedom can discuss and think. Russia lives by confession and suffering. And this suffering, this faithfulness, is a gift of God, a source of divine help.”The book itself is a great blessing, but reading and discussing it together with women from my parish and insights from Father Philip makes it even better.
The first time I attended this gathering was a couple of years ago, when we were only meeting outside and/or wearing masks. It was so intimate being in a cozy home with, again, delicious snacks and coffee and a beautiful fireplace on a chilly January night. First of all, here’s a disclaimer: I don’t knit. At. All. I tried it years ago and failed miserably. But the invitation on the St. John women’s Facebook page said you didn’t have to knit to join in. You could do other handwork, or simply visit. So, I decided to try (again) a craft I had done decades ago—counted cross-stitch. First I purchased a kit that had an image of an icon of the Mother of God, which was beautiful. But when I opened the kit and looked at the complicated design and instructions, I knew it was over my head.
So then I ordered a simpler kit—this one of a sunflower, which was the favorite flower of my Goddaughter Mary Allison, whom I lost to a fatal car wreck in 1998. I took the kit with me to the gathering and made a fairly good start on the design. But the best part of the evening was, again, being together in person with my sisters in Christ. We each shared things that were going on in our lives and the lives of others. It was a way of “keeping up” and enhancing our community.
I’m looking forward to more of these in-person events as 2023 continues. In addition to on-going gatherings at St. John Orthodox Church, I’m excited to be speaking in person at two universities this spring, also about my book PILGRIM INTERRUPTED. And hosting our neighborhood social club’s monthly party in our home, on Valentine’s Day. (I’m having fun gathering some seasonal decorations to cheer up our house since taking down our Christmas décor.) And dressing up for our annual “Dinner and a Show” at St. John on February 10. The theme is the “Roaring Twenties.” It’s been several decades since my husband and I attended a similarly-themed party, as you can tell by these photos from the late 1980s back in Jackson, Mississippi. (I was 37 and Father Basil was 39. It was a murder mystery party, and he was one of the actors.)
So, as the year gets off to a great start, let’s all enjoy the blessing of doing things together.