Post Author: Shannon E. Sullivan
I let my breath out slowly through my teeth as my baby kept screaming. I took out my phone and sent a friend a video chat of me, bags under my eyes, hair a mess, holding a tearful, grumpy baby at my desk. I didn’t speak, just gave her a meaningful look. She sent a video chat right back of her own tired eyes, messy hair, and fussy baby.
This moment was not one in which I lamented motherhood — I wanted a baby my whole life and had many losses and failed treatments to get this child, screams and all. Instead, this moment was one that illustrated my overwhelm as the only adult in my home for days on end, whose amount of work kept piling up even as I got less and less sleep. Many of us, especially those of us in communities with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, find ourselves in this unique kind of isolation the pandemic has created. So when I am at the end of my rope, I try reaching out, if only to send my friend a video of my kid crying.
Perhaps video chats of grouchy babies are not the best use of amazing technology, but knowing I had someone to whom to confess all of the Instagram v. Reality of my life grounded me. This fussiness will pass, my video chat reminded me. Fleeting, like this chat. And hers reminded me that I was not alone, even in pandemic isolation.
She is one of my clergy mom friends, and her baby is only three months younger than mine. A few other friends sometimes join us on these chats, some with babies a little older or younger than ours, one who doesn’t have babies anymore but who has some great stories about when hers were little.
And alongside sharing silly moments or frustrated sighs, we are also talking theology and the Bible, pastoral care and video editing. As we parent, pastor, and try to be disciples during the most isolated time of our lives, we need community, however we can create it: video chatting apps, occasional Zoom meetings, long text message threads. Sometimes it seems we talk more now than when we lived close together in seminary.
Because we need each other. We need people we can send video messages asking if they think our eyebrows look weird on camera under the sanctuary lighting (or kitchen, spare bedroom, or wherever we are leading virtual worship). We need people to whom we can complain about our struggles. We need people who can convince us to take a breath, help us laugh, and then ask us how it is with our soul. We need people who can send us funny memes and also share opportunities for advocacy. We might not have much chance to meet new friends, let alone gather with them, but still we need each other. Still we can reach out to people in our community, reconnect with old friends, and get real with those to whom we are already talking.
This has been one of the gifts of the pandemic for me. My seminary friends are far away, but when nearly everything is virtual, distance doesn’t matter as much. Ministry is a lonely profession, and I had not realized just how lonely I was, even before the pandemic. Virtual community might not be the same as in-person, but it is carrying me through. I thank God for that. May it be so for us all.
Rev. Shannon E. Sullivan (she/her/hers) is a life-long feminist and United Methodist currently serving the community of Frederick, Maryland, as the associate pastor of Calvary. She is a proud graduate of Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey. She is married to Aaron Harrington, her high school sweetheart, who is a pilot and all around aviation geek. They have one living child who they are raising in a house cluttered by books and airplane parts. More of Shannon's writing can be found at shannonesullivan.com.
Image by: Shannon E. Sullivan
Used with permission