A note from Rev. Eleanor B. McCormick: Ecumenical Pastor in our partner church in Baden (Ekiba)
By necessity, we are distancing ourselves from each other and we know we aren’t the only ones in the world affected by this reality; this is a global pandemic. In KO, we have the opportunity to hear directly from our partners about how the church on Germany is experiencing and responding to COVID-19. Our own Rev. Eleanor McCormick, sent this letter.
Dear Beloveds in the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference,
Last evening I took a walk – alone. I feel lucky that I still can.
I walked mostly in the name of anxiety reduction. It was a means of calming my mind, moving my body, and sending prayers up to God. My body, as is true for many of you reading this letter, is spending more time in my desk chair on video chats, on the phone, on social media and my body is resting less when evening comes. It is a daily struggle for all of us to manage our fears, worries and a general sense of overwhelm in this time where none of us have a map to follow.
Walking in my neighborhood tells a story. Posters and placards on bus stops, kiosks and windows read “verschoben” (postponed), “findet nicht statt” (will not take place), and the hardest one of all “abgesagt” (cancelled). One “abgesagt” plastered across a theatre poster brought forth the tears that I had been trying to suppress. The face on the poster is of Marvin – one of my confirmands. He has spent many months preparing for a leading role but now his face – on the poster all over town – is covered by a cancellation notice .
These days are full of grief and disappointment – and the grief of human disappointment – and not just illness. I am sure you have long lists of personal and professional disappointments too.
I walked by the pharmacy that now has a system for limiting the number of clients seeking care at a time, and even how far apart people should stand when waiting in line. I collected the prescriptions I would need to move into a quarantine (that seems more like a question of when instead of if), the pharmacist gave me my medicine from behind a newly installed plastic barrier and I handed two bunches of tulips back beneath it – a small way to say thank you, I see you, I need you. And as I walked away – more prayers for all those who are going to work or working overtime like my brother-in-law who is a doctor in a hospital in Bavaria and my sister-in-law who has her own pharmacy and must now work from behind a plastic barrier, too. I have the privilege of being able to continue my ministry from home.
The playground stood empty and quiet – the seesaw stood still, the tire swing was still full of yesterday’s rain, a few sand toys sat at the end of a slide – as if awaiting a pair of small hands to pick them up. We don’t know how long this ban on playground use will last. A prayer for the children with questions, their parents without answers, the grandparents yearning for hugs that in many cases must wait now.
I left town and wandered into the hills behind my home – hills that are just beginning to show signs of resurrection. The budding trees, spring flowers, and the orange hue of a brilliant sunset gave me a moment of much needed sabbath. It was an invitation to stop.
An invitation to rest and for a moment to delight in the world’s beauty. As I walked down a dirt path – approaching home – I began to collect Bärlauch (commonly called bear leek or wild garlic). I decided to fill my coat pockets with the new leaves. I took them home, found olive oil and walnuts in the pantry and parmesan in the fridge. I channeled what my mother-in-law had taught me and began to make pesto. Just after WWII, she had learned how to gather the plants from her own mother. As a young girl she would forage in the woods as a means of extending the fresh food resources available to her family. My pesto was added to pasta and I began to eat while listening to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s address to the nation where she said: “The situation is serious. Take it seriously. Since German unification, no, since the Second World War, there has been no challenge to our nation that has demanded a degree of common and united action.”
Common and united action, for the church, looks like cancelling all church sponsored events and in-person worship until at least June 19.
It also looks like taking action and connecting with our communities online in a movement called #digitalkirche (which pre-dates the Corona virus). In scrolling through social media, I am seeing a church that has been slow to adopt digital means of communication taking big steps and walking into new territory with courage and creativity (I appreciate that so many churches in KO are doing the same!).
So what’s giving me hope – and where am I finding encouragement?
First, the balcony singing project organized by the Evangelische Kirche Deutschland (EKD) – because we know that singing together helps against fear and uncertainty. Beginning last night, at 7 p.m., all were invited to sing together one of the “classics” with folk song status in Germany. Almost everyone knows it, it reminds one of childhood, conveys protection and security: The verses to “The moon has risen” by Matthias Claudius are “full of confidence and trust”, writes the EKD in its appeal. From these verses speaks a trust in God that can let many breathe a sigh of relief even in times of the current Corona crisis while also having words that address illness, threat and death.
People in Italy and Spain have shown how it works: they spontaneously stand at the open window or on the balcony and start singing. In the neighboring houses others join in, and thus community is created across the forced distance, feeling, comfort and human warmth without direct contact. And what else? Youth group organized grocery store runs for the elderly and at risk, zoom calls, colleagues wearing funny outfits for work in their home offices, neighbors checking on neighbors, reading the Bible, the medical debt relief that continues in KO despite this time of adversity, reading your social media messages, cuddling with my Kansas-farm-cat, a church building that is and will remain open for individual prayer, and connecting with family.
There are many resources and stories worth sharing. There are messages and images that can give us hope. And I am confident that our partnership can help us in this time to find strength, ideas and connection.
Therefore, to help facilitate our conversations we will be launching our first Kansas-Oklahoma (KO)/Evangelische Kirche in Baden (Ekiba) Partnership facebook page. Please look out for announcements. In the upcoming days I will be doing my best to translate materials from German into English or refer you to the original content where it may be useful to you – in your personal life and in your ministry with others. I hope you will join me! I will also be posting resources and thoughts from Baden on my instagram feed (which is now public) eleanor.mccormick. I hope to connect with you soon and more often in these difficult times. Know that my prayers are with you and I am grateful for the prayers you are sending back across the ocean.