If ever there was a time when we needed each other to survive, the time is now. Isolation and social distancing have taken a toll on people’s psyches and mental health. As a global pandemic rages on, gathering as a community seems like a forbidden idea as we are unable to gather outside our homes, in churches, in restaurants and bars, or in sports arenas. There is a sense of longing, unfulfilled, to engage and interact with others in meaningful and purposeful ways.
People are social beings created to be in community with each other, and yet many of us find ourselves alone. However, if we are confined by what shape or form a community must take, then we will find ourselves feeling hopelessness and despair. This past year showed me that there are many ways to be community, to share love, and to care for one another without being confined by isolation or social distancing. My faith teaches me that the true measure of a community of faith is not found inside the four walls of the sanctuary. The true measure of a faith community is boundless, without walls. It stretches as far as God’s love.
During this time of isolation and social distancing what has kept me, a single woman, from hopelessness and despair is God’s love that is shown through the women of Refresh. Refresh is a woman’s group I started at Westminster Presbyterian Church a few years ago to give women in the community a safe and supportive space to be together, share questions and ideas, and grow in faith. It began as a small group that would meet one Saturday morning a month in the church social room. By the grace of God and the wonders of modern technology, the women of Refresh now gather as a virtual community, no matter the distance between us. As a virtual community, we continue to explore our spiritual faith formation. Our numbers have actually grown, and we now welcome many for whom in-person meetings were impractical or impossible.
I have found that belonging to Refresh has done just that — refreshed me. When I started Refresh pre-pandemic, I could not have imagined how important this community of women would be to my overall mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual health. Through reading the word of God, studying topics of faith, hope, love and the church, and holding each other in prayer and love, we strengthen, encourage and inspire one another to grow not only in our relationships with each other, but with our lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Although we miss the days of gathering in the social room at Westminster Presbyterian Church praying, studying, fellowshipping and drinking coffee together, we know that God is with every one of us whether we gather at our kitchen tables or sit comfortably in our favorite chairs.
Currently we are completing a study on the letter to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. We will collectively discern our next topic of study. We have been meeting virtually approximately twice a month (still on Saturday mornings) during the pandemic to encourage, nurture, strengthen and care for one another as we talk, share our concerns, pray, study and, yes, drink coffee. Despite our distance and physical separation, we can continue to hold each other in prayer and love. God’s grace and love sustains in our absence from one another. We carry that grace and love with us through the days and weeks we are apart.
If you are interested in learning more about Refresh, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shavonn Lynch is an ordained deacon and elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Auburn. She is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College with a Master of Divinity. For more information about the church, visit westminsterauburn.org or facebook.com/westminsterauburn, or call (315) 253-3331.