The Hope Business

“Holed Up for a Year, I Hope…”

Holy Week podcast from Joani Peacock

“Hope is a feather on the breath of God.”

Hildegard of Bingen

Listen to podcast.

When people ask me what I do for a living I tell them that I am in the hope business. I usually follow that up with that I am in the love-your-neighbor business too.

It’s easier and less confusing than telling people that I am a priest. Having been ordained an Episcopal priest in 1994, being a woman and not wearing black cassocks or clerical collars, I do not look the stereo-typical part. And along with this, being bipolar, having scaled and tumbled down a few mountains, I have not climbed the ecclesiastical ladder as others have. In these twenty-six years, I’ve reinvented myself and my ministry numerous times.

Little deaths followed by little resurrections.

“Being in the hope business” describes my life and my work very well.

So, being “holed up for a year” during this pandemic, never has my priestly vocation mattered to me more. This tragic year, my colleagues and I have worked more closely together than we ever have. More collaboratively, more creatively, more faithfully and fluidly. We have risen to this grim occasion with grit and grace and humor and an abundance of God’s help. Everything about our ministry together this year just seems to matter more. And we really had no idea just what we were capable of.

Someone asked me last March, when we first began “our fast from public worship” what were the “best practices” for a parish in a pandemic. “Hmmm,” I said, “I wish there was one! We are building this airplane as we go!”

But this I did know and I could share, that Emmanuel had been through this before. Founded in 1910, the parish had weathered its way through the Great Influenza of 1918.

The Alexandria Gazette reported that year:

“The Angel of Death has intruded into several Alexandria households during the past twenty-four hours. The victim in each case was a young man… in our community.”

“Influenza is increasing … at an alarming rate. There are few houses in the city where there is not a case of the disease. The death rate is increasing daily despite those who would have the public take a more optimistic view of the situation.”

“Expectorating on sidewalks is now punishable by law.”

“Meanwhile another temporary hospital for the treatment of the Spanish flu was opened in the Westminister building of the Second Presbyterian church. There also is a temporary hospital in Christ Church parish hall.”

Unfortunately Emmanuel’s parish register dates no further back than to the 1920’s so, I have no specific names or dates or personal or poignant stories to share. I really wish I had.

But that hundred year old mortality chart printed up in the 1918 Gazette, is a distant echo of the all too familiar daily drumbeat of Covid-19 updates in the New York Times.

Somehow Emmanuel did survive and has thrived for more than a century hence. And after Covid-19, I pray we survive and thrive for over a hundred years more.

The church, after all, is still in the hope business.

Holed up for a year, I hope that when we gather again under the roof on Russell Road, we bring forth with us all the holiness and happiness and healing that we have discovered in this dark and desolate year.

Zoom coffee/happy hours in our pajamas and playdates outside. Dialing up friends and writing actual cards (the snail-mail kind.) Brewing our own coffee and cooking our own food. Driving less and walking more. Slowing down to smell the roses, as they say. And paying attention to the “blessings hidden around every corner.” (A phrase I stole from Abi Linnington!)

Holed up for twelve months, I hope to and can’t wait to — pour water over bunches of babies’ heads, preside at a boatload of weddings, celebrate communion at least a hundred times — with both bread and wine. Yes, wine!!

I also hope to sing five hundred hymns at the top of my lungs, share the peace and exchange a thousand hugs!

On a personal note, I hope very soon to jump back into the pool, make a trip to Mecca (The Library of Congress), and hang out at my favorite resurrected coffee shop: ESP Tea & Coffee. And travel to visit family and friends, of course!

When it is time; we are almost there. Keep masking up, keep keeping your distance, get vaccinated when you can and help others to get vaccinated, as well.

What a wonderful Holy Week this will be, right? What a marvelous Easter Sunday this April 4th will be! Never have I experienced the power and the poignancy of celebrating the Feast of the Resurrection so vividly.

So, holed up for a year, I hope that together we can shout,

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

The Rev. Joani Peacock is Associate for “Liturgy & Hilarity” at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Alexandria, VA.

P.S. Click here to check out other posts in this series!

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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