Churches Provide Hope and Community in Creative New Ways

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Signs, decorations, and the loving wishes of many friends greeted Frances Young on her 100th birthday. Submitted photo.

It takes more than a pandemic to keep Crozet’s faithful from gathering in whatever ways they can. Local congregations have found many ways to preserve their ties with each other and their religion despite ongoing threats of disease, freezing weather, and multiple losses.

“These challenges make it more important than ever for us to get together,” said Rev. John Thomas of Emmanuel Episcopal. That’s why he was glad to have something joyful to celebrate in January when he heard that long-time Emmanuel member Frances Young was about to celebrate her 100th birthday.

“Everyone knows her,” he said, “and we all know how much she loves this church.” Once her birthday drew near, he said all he had to do was mention it to some key members of the congregation to set the wheels in motion for a festive celebration. “They know how to throw a party,” he said. Thomas played another role in the surprise, but he said it was fairly easy to pull off.

“She comes here many Sundays for a blessing and a visit to the cemetery,” he said. “So, all we had to do was get her here for a blessing.” Everything was ready: flowers, a couple of heaters, cupcakes and signs. Thomas knew she wouldn’t be ill-prepared. “She is always dressed beautifully,” he said. Young was surprised, but took it all in stride. She’s traveled the world and lived for years in post-war Japan.

Frances Young celebrates her 100th birthday at Emmanuel Episcopal. Submitted photo.

Emmanuel has been offering Zoom services, but like some other churches, has also continued with parking lot services through the cold weather, with the congregation listening, thanks to a transmitter that broadcasts the liturgy and sermons through car radios. “It’s different,” Thomas said, “but I know for sure that more dogs are attending.” Those who drive up are able to receive communion offered in muffin cups.

Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, poses some logistical problems, but Emmanuel will go with a kind of do-it-yourself ashes ceremony, where people are given “carry out” ashes on card stock and, whether at home or in the Greenwood parking lot, can anoint themselves at the appropriate time.

At Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Batesville, the new priest in charge, Marion Kanour (see photo and caption below) said the congregation will kick off Lent with a drive-by Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper this year. 

As of Jan 1, Marion Kanour is the priest in charge at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Batesville. The Rev. Kanour has been an ordained priest for 28 years and most recently served as Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Massies Mill. Submitted photo.

Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, is February 16 this year, and from 4 to 6 p.m., volunteers will be serving pancakes, syrup, sausage and homemade chunky applesauce in eco-friendly to-go containers.  

Also, said Kanour, there will be “Lent-in-a-Box” for those interested. “It contains a small packet of ashes for use during our Zoom Ash Wednesday service, and five small bags, each containing a focus for meditation during the five weeks of Lent.”  There’s no charge, she said, but donations are always welcome.  

Kanour invites the community to the Ash Wednesday service. It’s February 17 at noon, and will feature music as well as a meditation led by her. The service is offered by Zoom only. Anyone interested can find the details on the Holy Cross website. 

At Tabor Presbyterian Church Pastor Liz Hulme Adam followed up the popular Ramadan dinner the church held last year in conjunction with the Rumi Forum by offering “Abraham’s Table,” an online forum featuring both male and female speakers from each of the Abrahamic traditions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism). Of course, she had hoped it would be an in-person event featuring food and community, she said, but the virtual event turned out to be inspiring and moving, a good way for everyone to learn more about each other in these troubled times. The addition of the breakout rooms to the Zoom format meant there were many meaningful and intimate conversations, she said. 

For Lent, Adam said she’s adopted the theme “recovery.” “We all need healing, physically, emotionally and intellectually,” she said. She noted that Matthew, who recorded the first book of the New Testament, not only has a truly comprehensive account of the life of Jesus, but also wrote the most about healing. From him we have the account of miracles involving healing from both physical and spiritual diseases, including Jesus healing a man with leprosy and restoring two men possessed by devils. 

Adam plans a Lenten service that will also involve Tabor’s book group. “For Lent, I’m recommending ‘My Grandmother’s Hands,’” she said. “It’s a book about healing from trauma of all kinds.”

Crozet United Methodist Church will celebrate the beginning of Lent with its “Drive Through Ash Wednesday.” As in previous years, Crozet UMC welcomes those who observe Lent to receive ashes in the convenience and warmth of their own cars.  To ensure the health and safety of all, Pastor Sarah Wastella will remain masked and gloved, changing gloves for each individual. All are welcome, and the church asks that every individual wear a mask.   

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