Like most parishes, Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio, had to close our building to the public in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Located in the heart of Ohio University, the shut-down challenged how we could continue to minister to our neighborhood. We watched with heavy hearts as OU students quickly and quietly left campus and left town. We wondered how to minister to a community that wasn’t physically present.
Our ministry was further challenged when Ohio University started announcing hundreds of faculty and staff firings and furloughs. This caused a great deal of sorrow and worry for the city and county of Athens and the OU community. Good Shepherd’s rector reflected on how our building had become a place people could go to at any time of the day to visit our small side chapel, light a candle, and pray. Because of the pandemic, we could no longer offer the use of the chapel. But we did have a quiet yard we could use.
The Votive Prayer Hill at Church of the Good Shepherd
With help from the wardens, the rector made stakes with gold ribbons tied onto them and put these stakes in ground next to the front steps of the church. Through social media and YouTube, we invited people to stop by; and instead of lighting a candle, place one of the stakes with the gold ribbon in the church yard. They could bring their own permanent marker if they wanted to write their prayer on the ribbon. Those unable to come to the church could email their prayer to the rector or wardens who would make sure the prayer stake was planted in the hill.
People are accepting our invitation and we are seeing more prayer stakes move from the church steps to the hill in our front yard. We like to think of the light reflecting off the gold ribbon as a reflection of our love for our neighbors and God’s love for us all.
The Tree of Giving
In July, Athens County started experiencing a dramatic increase in new and active cases of COVID-19. We wanted to respond by showing our love for our neighbors, and came up with creating a Tree of Giving. Our local Habitat for Humanity donated 100 cotton face masks that we individually packaged and hung on the branches of a tree in our church yard with a sign inviting people take a mask. We shared our Tree of Giving on our church FaceBook page and people immediately stopped by to pick masks from our Tree of Giving.
We’ve heard from Athens residents and students how just seeing our Tree of Giving on social media makes them feel good. They tell us it is a little hope in these times. We see it as a way to try and show no matter what is happening in our community, Church of the Good Shepherd is still trying to be a sign of God’s Love present with us all.
The Rev. Deborah Woolsey is the rector of Church of the Good Shepherd, and also serves as convener of the Campus Ministry Collaborative. Connect with Deborah at email@example.com.