AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
A 3-Minute Read
by Barry Grecu
I’ve recently taken notice that in conversation with others we often speak of life “BC” and “AC”: “Before Covid” and “After Covid.” At the Parish gathering on Sunday, I began to reflect on my own BC/AC experience and life in the thick of Covid, especially considering the subject of community.
Prior to the Covid pandemic my wife, Sandi, and I were settling into an apartment provided by our daughter and son-in-law. Our move had involved a circuitous return from overseas after my having been refused UK residency, where we had hoped to serve our sending church in Glasgow as missionaries.
Upon arrival back in the States we lived a couple of years in Greenville, South Carolina and joined a vibrant church community, Christ Church Episcopal, where we served as lectors and Eucharistic ministers and were part of a Centering Prayer group. Additionally, we were invited to train with a community of Christian missionaries and be certified as missions and non-profit debriefers, working especially with those who either were transitioning back to the States after service overseas or who were moving to another location in the world. Debriefing retreats were held several times a year and, combined with our church community, offered us a rich time of koinonia, a participation of sharing and intimacy in two different contexts.
Soon, however, health challenges I was facing caused my wife and me to prayerfully consider a return to Atlanta to be close to family and friends. Once we made the decision to move, things could not have been more seamless. The support we received making yet another transition was truly wonderful. Family and friends came to Greenville to help us pack our belongings and load trucks. When I drove into the storage facility near my daughter and son-in-law’s home, I was greeted by more volunteers who had come to help offload our belongings. Once again, we were experiencing the love and support of community.
We were enveloped with love by our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. Life was good… and then Covid hit! Our close-knit family was separated into upstairs and downstairs, with every precaution taken to ensure that, because of my compromised immune system, I would be protected as best as possible. Thankfully, our household was spared the devastation others encountered with Covid. Nevertheless, during an almost two-year period of isolation, I contracted an autoimmune disease that left me crippled and pretty much bedridden for nearly 18 months. I had been reduced to using a walker and my wife carried around a prescription for a wheelchair. Life became a blur as opioids were prescribed in an attempt to relieve the pain I was enduring 24/7. The loss of any sense of community, along with the isolation and separation I experienced, led to feelings of despair, hopelessness and depression.
And then, light dawned! One of my doctors suggested I try a particular drug to see if it could alleviate the pain I was experiencing. “Let’s give it a try,” he said. “If it is going to work, you will notice a difference in 72 hours.” Sure enough, within that period I began to realize the pain was subsiding. A year of physical therapy eventually got me back on my feet, just about the time Covid-related restrictions regarding gathering in groups were being lifted. My wife and I began in earnest to seek out connection, not only within our family but also with a church community. That seeking eventually led us to The Parish a little over a year ago. The first Sunday we attended an in-person service we knew we had found a place to belong. Father God heard our longing for connection and planted us amongst a people who are also seeking a greater sense of community, of connection with one another on a deeper level. Our involvement in the once-a-month house church gatherings has enabled my wife and me to get to know others in the wider church beyond the cursory “hello” on a Sunday morning. I know there is every opportunity for an even deeper level of relationship in our community, and I am trusting the Holy Spirit to make manifest that depth. I’m committed!
And considering that commitment, I’ve been reflecting on some of the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his book Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community. I offer observations that are meaningful to me with the hope that they might be a helpful springboard as we all prayerfully discern our own participation in the life of The Parish community.
“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware if being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”
“It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners.”
“Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”