The Pandemic So Far
This past year-and-a-half has challenged all of us in many ways. At The Commonwealth, we have experienced this time as a fledgling community that was just beginning to test its wings when everything shut down. And although the pandemic ruined some of our plans, we managed to pivot in ways that still aligned with our Jesus-centered values of community, generosity, beauty, storytelling, justice and gratitude.
Today I want to share some highlights with you so that you can see some of the fruit that is growing from our little community of faith!
One consequence of the pandemic is that it created opportunities for deeper partnership with the neighborhood. Erin, having spent over a year building relationships in South Oakland, was invited to join a leadership team that included members of the South Oakland Neighborhood Group, the Hill District Consensus Group, The Corner community center, and the non-profit caterer Feed the Hood to create a food distribution program. Alongside this initiative, Erin also organized church and neighborhood volunteers to sew masks to distribute to South Oakland residents and medical workers.
We also had to rethink how we do community because of the quarantine. It wasn't safe to gather indoors, so we moved our monthly meal outside to Schenley Plaza where we distributed catered meals to residents, houseless neighbors, and students. We organized socially-distanced hangouts like walks in the park. We hosted online game nights and Lateta posted how-to cooking videos for those of us who were suddenly eating at home seven days a week. We also said some emotional good-byes as Johanna & Calvin moved to Montana and Tom & Jean moved to Costa Rica (but managed to stay in community with them through the magic of Zoom!).
The Commonwealth has been a financial partner supporting the work of SisTers PGH for a few years. And this year we were also able to contribute in another tangible way. In partnership with Pittsburgh's other Inclusive Presbyterian Churches, we raised over $2000 to purchase and install books and furnishings in the SisTers PGH community center. The library features books by Black, gay, and genderqueer authors and were purchased from The Tiny Bookstore, a Black-owned business in the Pittsburgh area. A team of Commonwealth leaders are also working together on a second project: creating a multi-faith Spirituality Room for the center which will be completed this year.
In 2020, we kept our commitment to share a portion of our resources with organizations who are dedicated to human flourishing and who we hope to partner with in other ways. In addition to SisTers PGH, we contributed to the Bukit Bail Fund and to Forward Allies Reproductive Mental Health Fund.
At the beginning of Advent, we mailed boxes of art supplies, envelopes, and postage to Commonwealth folks across the country. Then on Sundays throughout the season we gathered on Zoom to listen to an Advent reflection while creating a piece of art. After each session, we mailed our art pieces to each other. It was a fantastic way to feel connected even though some of us were separated by thousands of miles and multiple time zones. And it always feels hopeful to expect a package during the dark months of winter! Similarly, we created our own images for the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, and have gathered on Zoom for occasional Makers Meet-ups where we can chat, listen to music, and work on our personal projects while enjoying each other's virtual presence.
We are committed to listening well to each other's stories. We are also committed to re-telling the Christian story in ways that are faithful and relevant. And Zoom has worked especially well for our various gatherings where we have these spiritually formative discussions. Whether it's our spaces for deconstructing and reconstructing our faith (series like Reforming, Wayfinding, and Rereading the Bible) or Heartspace, our bi-weekly mental health check-in, these groups have thrived online. We are committed to listening well to each other's stories. We are also committed to re-telling the Christian story in ways that are faithful and relevant. And Zoom has worked especially well for our various gatherings where we have these spiritually formative discussions. Whether it's our spaces for deconstructing and reconstructing our faith (series like Reforming, Wayfinding, and Rereading the Bible) or Heartspace, our bi-weekly mental health check-in, these groups have thrived online.
Last summer, we followed our commitment to seeking justice into the streets. During the Civil Saturdays public actions, we distributed water and snacks to fellow protestors to help keep everyone safe and refreshed in the hot summer sun. Mike partnered with Gavin Walton at Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church to organize the Interfaith Vigil for Black Lives with hundreds of demonstrators representing over 30 organizations. They continue to meet with those interfaith leaders as the Antiracist Interfaith Leaders collective. After the terrorist attacks in Georgia, we fed dinner to the protestors at the AAPI Rally for Solidarity. On Sundays, we gathered online for our Justice Roundtable where we educated ourselves about systemic racism. We read the twelve demands of the Allegheny County Black Activist/Organizer Collective and studied the cash bail system. We attended bail hearings and jail oversight meetings and got involved in the judicial elections. In our own small but significant ways we are working toward actual change in the lives of our neighbors.
Like most churches, one of our pivots was to start hosting worship online. And not everything about this was bad, some of it was good, actually! People who moved out-of-state were able to stay connected. New people found us online. And sometimes the limitations let us be creative (like using tortilla chips and apple juice to represent the body and blood of Christ). Even though worship was different than what we were used to, our ability to gather online with friends who were in different time zones highlighted for us the universality of Christ. The monthly rhythm of grounding ourselves and attuning ourselves to the work of the Spirit in the world has been a touchstone for us throughout the uncertainty and pain of the pandemic. For this we are grateful to God.