Pandemic Ponderings of the Transitional Executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley.

May 18, 2020

Dear friends,

At our presbytery gathering last week we talked about issues regarding reopening our physical spaces. Three things became apparent to me:

  • The vast majority of the people on the call, while doing their due diligence with their sessions on how the buildings might safely reopen, do not intend to open those physical settings – and certainly not for worship – anytime soon. Overwhelmingly they cited concern for vulnerable people and an attitude of, “We can’t any of us go back until we can all go back.”
  • The grief was palpable. Even as they talked of reopening their physical spaces, so much of what makes worship meaningful is lost – fellowship time, congregational singing, six feet spacing, no hugging, no shaking hands, wearing of masks which cover much of our facial expressions to express love and joy and concern for one another.
  • This very practical catalog of the things we have lost were symbolic of the much deeper losses – loss of plans, family reunions, celebrating milestone together, sense of safety and well-being, vacations, health, life and the reality that the whole world is deeply hurting. As the poet Warsan Shire put it, “later that night, i held an atlas in my lap and
    ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered where does it hurt? it answered everywhere
    I read an article recently that posited that one of the reasons we become so fatigued on numerous zoom gatherings is because they reinforce what we have lost and our fatigue is actually a world-encompassing grief.


Maybe my reaction to the Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020 on TV on Saturday night is illustrative of that low level but constant grief that marks this time. Did you watch it? In addition to moving tributes to and by the graduates themselves and heart-wrenching stories of overcoming obstacles, and lots of great music (I was in tears a number of times during the show) President Barack Obama gave the commencement address and I am going to let him have the last word. He offered 3 pieces of advice to the graduates:
“First, don’t be afraid. America’s gone through tough times before — slavery, civil war, famine, disease, the Great Depression and 9/11. And each time we came out stronger, usually because a new generation, young people like you, learned from past mistakes and figured out how to make things better. Second, do what you think is right. Ground yourself in values that last, like honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others. And finally, build a community. So be alive to one another’s struggles. Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us — sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed — and set the world on a different path.”

Amen to that!



With the world awash in grief as it is, it’s important to remember that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The following link gives strategies and resources for attending to your mental health:


As congregations continue to weigh the merits of opening their sanctuaries for worship, epidemiologist, Erin Bromage, throws additional light on the matter:


And a reminder that if you registered to attend the Festival of Homiletics (and it may not be too late to register) begins today at noon:


Next Monday is Memorial Day and our home offices will be closed. The next Pandemic Ponderings will be published Tuesday, May 26th. And may I encourage all you pastors out there to close your home offices that day, too. More about taking vacation and study leave next edition.

Finally, even though Zoom kinda let the zooming community down for a few critical hours yesterday (and I have to add that you all adjusted swiftly and well) our presbytery will be meeting by Zoom this Thursday at 10:00am. Tammy will send out a link reminder. But a couple of things about it:

  • Joe Genau is hosting two trainings for the meeting – May 18 (today) and Tuesday, May 19 from 2:30pm to 5:00. Drop in to learn the etiquette of conducting the presbytery’s business: Here’s that link: (And thank you, Joe!!)

Meeting ID: 832 5145 6198

To call in, dial –

  • Because the presbytery will have just met earlier that day, I am cancelling our regular Thursday at 4:00pm presbytery gathering this week and will resume the following week.
  • And a little bit of zoom whimsy:

As ever in prayer,

Sue Westfall

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