Through it all Through it all
I’ve learned to trust in Jesus
I’ve learned to trust in God
These words from the lyrics of the hymn Through It All, in their sweetness and simplicity, with the assurance of its beautiful and hopeful melody, speaks to our condition during this year of change and challenges. It is a hymn of hope and promise written by, as well as recorded, and made famous by the American gospel singer, songwriter and pastor Andraḕ Crouch, often called the `father of modern gospel music.'
I've had many tears and sorrows
I've had questions for tomorrows
From our experiences during 2021, these words ring all too true, overshadowed throughout the year by the COVID-19 pandemic. A Meeting that at our very core values community, fellowship and gatherings, we were forced apart, to be separate, to be near each other at times but yet so far apart as we struggled through the many stages and variants of the pandemic that have changed us all.
Following the guidance of our Ad Hoc Health and Safety Committee, our Meetinghouse closed for a while, along with so many sacred places of worship adhering to national, state and local safety and health guidelines. We gathered with each other each First Day on computer screens and phones through this thing called Zoom, not the same as sitting next to each other, or even being in the same room or the same building, but at least still connected, still in community. We still had our meetings for business and even time for spiritual nurture and gatherings, albeit again on computer screens and phones.
When community health guidelines changed, we adapted. We came together again in the Meetinghouse, those who were comfortable enough in doing so, while still being open for others to worship from home on Zoom. We all were required to wear masks. We had no hospitality, our sacred fellowship time together, at least for a while. We then tried modified fellowship outside as the weather permitted, with volunteers setting up a tent and providing limited food and drinks. As 2021 nears its end and we are forced inside out of the weather, there will be no food or beverages for fellowship after meeting for worship. There will be time in the Fireside Room for short visits, with masks required for all, as they continue to be required as we come together to worship.
The giving spirit of who we are at Cincinnati Friends was strained by COVID, as our Peace and Social Concerns looked at ways to continue to meet our ongoing commitments, as well as address new concerns brought about by the pandemic.
We could no longer prepare food and take it to serve at Tender Mercies, sharing our food and our time with those who are homeless and in need of both nurturing food and nurturing moments with friends. We stopped our monthly collections of food for the Free Store as they were unable to process them due to the stresses of COVID on them. Bethany House and other outreach had to be reduced, modified or stopped.
The need to adapt and to respond to ongoing changes has tried our patience, at times even with each other. Uncertainty has become a constant companion as we meet in worship, an unseen force seeming to sit right alongside us on the benches made empty of human companionship because of it. And so it continues as a new year approaches.
Through it all, we’ve learned to trust in God.
I’ve had many tears and sorrows.
So I thank God for the mountains
And I thank him for the valleys
And I thank him for the storms he brought me through
And so we end 2021, this year of COVID, this year of faith …. faith tested …. faith enduring.
We came through all the valleys, even the ones visited upon us by a pandemic. With the technical support of Kristin Lally and Deidre Hazelbaker, we have found a middle ground that gives us the option of coming to worship at our Meetinghouse or worshipping together on Zoom, allowing us to continue in community while growing that community, reaching out to those who are homebound and who now can continue to be a part of our worship …. reaching out to those who come upon us through the internet, joining their spirits with ours from across the miles.
We thank God for the mountains, for the moments of appreciation and for the times of celebration.
Through it all, we watched three young people we have nurtured achieve milestones. Alex Myers graduated from Wilmington College, the fourth generation of his family to become a Wilmington College alum. Lily Barney graduated from Ohio University and took on new adventures in Los Angeles. Christian Page graduated from high school and is now a college student.
Ray Geers followed his leading and completed all the requirements to be recorded by Wilmington Yearly Meeting as a minister of the gospel. As clerk of our Ministry and Counsel, he is continuing his leading to become a chaplain. “I am excited to be a part of a living spiritual tradition,” Ray shares, “one that not only encourages its followers to transform their dreams into actions for good, but that equips them to do so. Friends love …. therefore we do.”
While the spirit of giving was hampered by COVID restrictions, meeting needs through our community outreach ministries continued. Where we could not provide and serve meals, where we could not take boxes of food into the FreeStore Foodbank, where we could not collect household items for Bethany House, we provided financial support instead, under the leading of our Peace and Social Concerns Committee. When individuals and families came to us in need of kindness and money for rent and food, we were there.
With the support of the Meeting, there will be additional undesignated funds at the end of this year to meet more needs, to make the holidays a little brighter for some. There will be holiday gift cards for mothers and teenagers served by Bethany House who are often the forgotten ones during the holidays. In a season of Thanksgiving, it is we who are filled with gratitude for the opportunity to serve.
We had reason to celebrate as we welcomed four new Friends into membership, including Vicki Culler; Deidre Hazelbaker; Bill Williams; and Mary Wittrock.
We participated, via Zoom, in the 4th Annual Festival of Faiths, with Jim Newby sharing a Quaker message and Sabrina Darnowsky presenting a slide show about the traditions of Quaker weddings.
We welcomed Mark Minear as he co-presented a Sacred Chaos workshop with Jim Newby in September. Patricia Thomas presented a workshop on Quaker practice. There were Quakerism 101 classes, walking meditation on our grounds, pumpkin carving, Saturday evening gatherings around an outside fire pit. Our Daytime Spirituality group continued to meet on Zoom.
We hosted the closing session of Wilmington Yearly Meeting in person and on Zoom from our Meetinghouse and listened as Ray Geers presented his first message as a newly recorded Quaker minister.
So we thank God for the mountains and we thank him for the valleys and we thank him for the storms he’s brought us through. Through it all … through it all… through it all …. we’ve come to depend upon his word.