By Revs. Josh Sutherlun ’01 and Amy Poling Sutherlun ’00
The wisdom writer of the book of Ecclesiastes memorably said, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted …” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2).
e can hardly be faulted for failing to foresee the 2020 season, making no mention of “a time to stay home, and a time to order curbside; a time to click ‘leave meeting,’ and a time to buy or sew or scavenge a mask.”
We’ve been in ministry almost two decades and this season has, hands-down, been the strangest/hardest/most surprising and disruptive yet (you know all the adjectives—you’ve lived through it, too).
For us, as co-pastors of a congregation, it has been:
- A time to hold our first hug-banned funeral service mid-March, and then close the doors of the sanctuary for the next 25 Sundays.
- And, a time to build an altar in our living room, stacking board game boxes and books to get the webcam at a flattering angle for our faces while cropping out our children and cats sprawled on the couch in what would become their new worship posture.
- A time to make ancient rituals—hymns, prayers of lament, the breaking of bread—digital so they can be streamed to congregants who are sipping coffee in their PJs while Chromecasting that week’s liturgy, rather than wrangling children into shoes and husbands into ties to rush out the door to church.
- And, a time to transform the natural face-to-face interactions of a community of faith into virtual substitutes that turn out to be poor-but desperately-needed approximations.
- A time to bury a 91-year-old woman who had overcome immobilizing infirmities to be in church every Sunday, yet didn’t get to worship in her sanctuary a single time during the last six months of her life.
- And, a time to remind our shut-ins (now nearly everyone) that they are remembered, valued, loved by their pastors, their whole church family, and the God who was with them in the anxious isolation. A hundred Easter lilies left their usual glorious posts on the church steps to grace the front porches of every single congregant’s home, fragrant symbols of resurrection hope.
This coronavirus season has been a time to defy disconnection with new forms of community, loving our neighbors with unprecedented generosity, and a time to believe, even when it might not seem apparent, that God makes everything beautiful, in God’s time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
… and Parenting in a Pandemic
As co-pastors we each work part-time and flexible hours, meaning we also each have chunks of the day when we’re the “at-home” parent. We regularly (and with varying degrees of fluidity) make the work-to-home and reverse transition—been doing it for 14 years, through the arrival and wild growing years of our four kids, now ages 14, 12, 10, and 9.
And yet none of that prepared us for the sudden onset of the world’s longest and least-fun spring break. With all of us quarantining at home, every day became “bring your kid to work” day. Or maybe it was “bring your work to your kids” day. Or “let your work and kids intermingle in a totally chaotic way” day. Every day. For all the hours. When school was in session, up to six people might need a device to Zoom at the same time. And “This link doesn’t work, Mom.” And “Honey, is the Wi-Fi on?” And “He stole my headphones!”
Once school was out for the summer, the days stretched long, lazy, and hot. No sports. No camps. No friends coming over. Week at Grandma’s not allowed. River closed. Road trip to Yellowstone canceled. All of which meant endless, unstructured time together as a family. All day everyday was Legos, rollerblades, board games, soccer, Minecraft, running, and waiting for something to happen … with the same siblings. (How did only children and their parents survive without built-in playmates?) The two of us walked the neighborhood every night, debriefing all the things that hadn’t happened that day, hoping our now nearly feral kids didn’t burn the house down or fall off the roof while we were gone.
Of course, there was bickering and boredom, desperation and despair mingled in among the new hobbies and precious sibling bonds. Co-parenting became cope-parenting in some healthy (and not-so-healthy) ways. We by no means “killed it” during the global pandemic, but we managed not to kill each other. We got good enough at slow, to choose our busy more wisely. We’ve grown some in gratitude and shrunk some of our certainty. We guarded closely the friends and family in our “bubble” and know them more richly for it. And, each of us, almost always, remembers to bring our mask when we leave the house. Shoes? Less often.
Revs. Josh Sutherlun ’01 and Amy Poling Sutherlun ’00 have served as co-pastors of First Presbyterian Church of San Marcos, Texas, since 2013.