I often remark that in the 27 years I have been a bishop, my all-time favorite activity is Sunday morning visitations to parishes. Mariann most always goes with me and as we drive toward each of our 73 congregations, we recall the people we look forward to seeing and as we drive home, we share what from our visit we can add to our memory bank for that parish.
Likewise, a happy event for me every year is meeting in June with the new crop of counselors at Procter, to commission them for the summer ahead. Sometimes they came to our home, sometimes we took supper to them at Procter, but hearing their stories of what they hoped to bring to the summer and feeling their mixture of apprehension and excitement was always uplifting and gratifying and I knew our kids would be in good hands.
Even after I retired officially in 2012, Bishop Breidenthal allowed me to continue in these endeavors . . . that is, until a year ago when it all ceased. No longer were our Sunday visitations in-person and we had no camping season at Procter last summer. Zoom gatherings replaced visitations. And when I came back onboard full time this fall, all our committees and commissions were meeting online. Even our staff mostly worked from home. As I have sat in my study at home and recorded sermons to be replayed or gone to churches to join a skeleton group recording the service, and as I have attended meetings in which when our minds wandered, we each looked to see what background the others had on their Zoom, there was a profound sense of isolation.
But as I look back on the past year, there have been some moments of joy in the midst of isolation. Often my Zoom visitations included Zoom coffee hours. Christ Church, Ironton, All Saints, Portsmouth, St. Patrick’s, Dublin, and St. Matthew’s Westerville’s Zoom coffee hours stand out in which the exchange among clergy and parishioners was lively. After both of my virtual Sundays in those (and many of our other churches), I came away with a profound sense of comradery that bolstered my spirit. Likewise, when I was able to Zoom into vestry meetings in many of our churches, I found the discussions lively and the interchange spirited. The only downside was when I figured my taxes for 2020, I hardly had any business travel to claim.
Although Procter was mostly silent this past year, when it came time to ordain our newest priests they asked to have it take place in Christ Chapel at Procter. Attendance was limited and I figured when it came time for all the priests present to lay hands on the newly ordained (as is our custom) only a few would come forward. How wrong I was. Each ordinand had the hand of every priest present fall upon them and suddenly some of the isolation I had been feeling melted away. I remember when I first came to Southern Ohio the joke was that when overnight meetings were held at Procter those brave enough to spend the night claimed they never slept, but only stayed awake all night until morning came. Now we have priests for whom Procter meant so much that they chose to ask that their ordination be there. I personally love it when meetings are at Procter and am delighted that we are now beginning to reschedule events there. Somehow, even social distancing at Procter melts away the isolation.
I could go on with reflections raised by this year of isolation but let me sum up by saying that although worship, meetings and events have been drastically different this year, and the isolation we have felt from each other has at times been keen, there have also been happenings worth celebrating. In many communities, people who never had been in our churches found us online. In Zoom meetings, folks still have been able to share with each other even if we all were just little boxes on a computer screen. And most all our churches have found new ways to minister to those in need in their community. This is so because we are people who are filled with the Spirit, and nothing, not even a pandemic, can keep Spirit-filled people down.
Retired Suffragan Bishop Kenneth L. Price, Jr. stepped in to serve as Bishop in Southern Ohio from November 2020 until May 2021. (Editor’s note – this has since been extended to July 31, 2021)
Now back in retirement mode, he is fully vaccinated and looking forward to traveling to see his grandchildren in Philadelphia, although he will still help out around the diocese on a more limited basis. Keep in touch with Bishop Ken at firstname.lastname@example.org.