ASHFIELD — The Rev. Victoria Ix, vicar of St. John’s Episcopal Church, was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts in late 2017.
Interviewed at the time, she spoke about the support shared by congregants and celebrant joining together to worship.
Now, the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain its spread have impacted her ministry in Franklin County, as well as those across the globe.
Just prior to your ordination, you commented that part of what drew you to the spiritual life is the need “to sing and to break bread with strangers.” What feelings are you experiencing as a minister in not being able to minister in person to your congregation during this pandemic?
We are still singing, but we are longing to break the bread. There are many ways to navigate this time, and many congregations have elected to have a “virtual” Eucharist. St. John’s has elected to fast from the celebration of the Eucharist until we can be together again. Instead, we are praying Morning Prayer from The Book of Common Prayer and I’m still preaching. We are feasting on the Word right now until we can return to the table.
You also commented how in life’s most painful moments God is there but so are a lot of questions. How much do you see this dual reaction, people turning to God but also questioning why the impact of this respiratory illness on so many levels in such severe ways in people’s lives?
Just this past Sunday, I remarked that it’s too soon to look for “silver linings,” or to count blessings. Right now we all face the mystery of suffering and we need to honor the grief of so many families who were not able to be present to a loved one at the moment of death. I’ve never been big on “why.” We preach the Gospel of God with us in our pain and unknowing.
Would you describe the makeup of your Ashfield parish in terms of number of families, diversity and age range and the impact COVID-19 is having on their daily lives?
We have around 75 congregants with an active core of 40. Our youngest is 4 and our elder is 90. It got real when everyone in Ashfield received a robo-call informing them of a case of COVID-19 in the town. That was about a week ago.
Now we are praying for a number of people – friends and family – who are either in precautionary quarantine or presumptive positive. As for the daily, it’s disrupted everyday life in this quiet hill town. Like all small towns where people all congregate at the hardware store or get breakfast at the local restaurant, people are suffering the loss of routine and the daily face-to-face conversations on Main Street.
How are you using social media to bring members of your congregation together for services/discussions and how much are they finding this an adequate substitute for community presence?
For the past three weeks we have met on Sunday at 10 a.m. via the Zoom platform. We worship and then have a virtual coffee hour. We also meet virtually on Thursday evening at 6 for potluck and Compline. It’s wonderful to see faces and hear the voices of people you love, but it’s not the same as our Sunday fellowship. It is something, though, and comforts us all, I think.
What is your parish doing for members in isolation due to COVID-19 restrictions as well as older members advised to stay home because of risk?
We have a Pastoral Care Team and each member has a list of folks to call and check in on. We’re asking how they’re doing with all this, if they need anything and if they’d like to pray.
Deaths and burials must be a particular hardship without the comfort of a minister. How are you handling this both in terms of your own feelings and in meeting the needs of families going through a death?
We have not had a death since this all started, but it is on everyone’s mind.
Now that the Governor has issued the stay-at-home order, we have no choice but to abide by it for the good of all. I read that an Episcopal priest in Connecticut prayed the Last Rites with someone over the phone with the family on the call.
Ministry is about presence so taking that option off the table requires us to use the tools available to bring some comfort and peace.
How do you feel this pandemic is deepening your own spirituality and that of your congregation from what they share with you?
I think any tragic or traumatic event calls us to a deeper place of prayer. I’ve been making phone calls and some are short and sweet. Others have been intense with what has been and what will be. We are all living through this in our own way.
Believing that God is love and that God weeps with us is my strength.
How has the inability to be physically present with your parishioners been psychologically hard for you?
I miss them very much. At the same time our prayers for one another enable a closeness, too. We are still connected and loving each other. I think a lot about returning to our little church and what the joy of that day will be like. It will be Easter whenever it comes.