John Rice: A Reflection on the COVID-19 Year

March 30, 2021

By John Rice, St. Luke UMC, Columbia, Missouri

The COVID-19 Year
We closed in-person worship at St. Luke UMC after our service on March 15, 2020.
We thought to observe, perhaps, a brief hiatus until the rage of the virus passed over us and all, not yet understanding the longevity of the danger that would loom over our community in the months ahead.
Absent worship, we never-the-less remained the church. Our women’s sewing ministry, in partnership with Fairview UMC, immediately made 400 cloth masks and distributed them to our neighbors in the First Ward. We became a distribution site for twice-monthly food boxes and dairy giveaways. We partnered with the University Health Services to stage a drive-through, COVID testing day in our parking lot, and with the County Clerk’s office to register voters under a tent on our front lawn each Saturday in the weeks leading to the general election. 
All the while we maintained our commitment with the Loaves and Fishes ministry; preparing and serving meals once each month for our hungry and unsheltered neighbors. We were able to serve our annual free Christmas Dinner to our neighbors, offering carry-outs and delivery service exclusively. And while observing social-distancing disciplines, we kept our sanctuary open for the funerals of bereaved families.
The majority of St. Luke’s members and friends do not have reliable Internet access. An online worship experience was not feasible. Fairview UMC welcomed those of us who could attend their online services. Early in April 2020, I began to write and send daily meditations to members and friends via text and email on the Psalms, taking them consecutively from the beginning. On Sundays, I sent meditations on the Gospel lessons from the Revised Common Lectionary.
Owing to the limitations posed, primarily, by texting, the meditations were brief, free-verse compositions. I was able to reach about 60 persons each day and typically received reactions from 40 or so people when I posted on Facebook. Additionally, I have used the text network for announcements and to share prayer requests and updates.
In March 2021, we began our third book study with Fairview UMC and friends, this time using Zoom. We have 22 persons participating. Our focus is and has been on social justice and reconciliation. City-wide, near 100 persons in a consortium of churches, are participating in this study organized by Race Forward, a group which we helped found. 
As of this writing, we of St. Luke have scheduled ourselves to resume in-person worship on Easter Sunday. 
Speaking for myself, I have kept well during this year. Spiritually, I have been nourished by my daily engagement with the scriptures, book and journal reading, and frequent contact with church members, family, and friends; albeit from a distance. My spouse, Kathleen, and I logged over 1,000 miles riding on the Katy Trail during the first COVID year, and that togetherness outdoors has fortified our sense of peace and hope. 
I close with my meditation on Psalm 150, written and sent to the church on 2/2/21.
Psalm 150
Praise break!
For what God does.
Mighty deeds!
For who God is.
Surpassingly great!
Percussion instruments.
Wind instruments.
Stringed instruments.
Dance to the music!
Everything that breathes.
The wind of the Spirit.
A sheer inspiration.
Our joyful aerobic.
Praise break!
Then back to work.
To do justice.
To love kindness.
To walk humbly with God.
The Grace of Jesus Christ, the Love of God,
and the Peace of the Holy Spirit be with you.

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