By Father Dann Brown
These have been days unlike any I could have imagined when I first entered Advent’s nave to lead worship that Sunday, March 21, 2010. It was the Fifth Sunday in Lent and a strong turn-out added to the smiles up and down the aisle. After the dismissal I was chatting with some worshippers —I can’t remember who— and that was when I first heard about the Community Palm Sunday Procession that had been led for several years by one of Ellen Warren’s donkeys, a bagpiper, and processional cross festooned with palm fronds.
It was the coolest thing I’d heard about a southern county-seat town doing. Thanks to the experience and care of people like Genia Bennett and Berry Rainwater things fell into place along with good weather and a cooperative caravan of happy Madisonians. We have continued the tradition, until . . . COVID-19.
There will be no official or unofficial—don’t call it—“the donkey walk.” And a bunch of Madison is going to miss it horribly.
But we have learned so much in these weeks since the virus stole our attention. But it’s less the immediacy of our loss of routines that impacts me and instead the abiding strength that it engenders. A strength I learned to look for in my ten years of service through our church.
No doubt this is not the Madison I first met when I was the “supply guy,” sipping coffee and browsing the internet at Perk Ave. between services on Sunday mornings.
As my service and title morphed from supply, to long-term supply, to part-time priest-in-charge, to priest-in-charge, and now to rector there was a town morphing and growing right in front of me.
Some of those changes were not easy for anybody. Think about how many people we’ve had to lay to rest. I wish I had Charles Baldwin’s perspective to hear again. Before then it was Graham Ponder, then Adelaide, then Ginger Kroeber, and Charlie Mason and Berry Rainwater. Every church in town has said goodbye to loved ones.
So the virus is going to morph us some more, I’m sure. Already we’re walking more. Already we’re “saving the string” our parents taught us from their Great Depression experience. Already we’re learning to value this pace, once halting and awkward yet now growing more graceful and at ease. Already the rush to replace all events with a virtual substitute has slowed more toward reading instead of browsing, repairing instead of replacing. There’s no one of us who doesn’t listen differently now, better now.
As I look ahead I’m still worried about the people, all more “Madisonian” than I, who aren’t as privileged and can’t keep their “social distance” because they must work somehow, anyhow, so their families are safe and fed. I’m worried for those who can’t practice good hygiene because they can’t afford to repair their water heaters, or who can’t hoard anything, even toilet paper because poverty prevents so much.
In that very same view are great chances and good people making a difference for all who need. Food drives, funding campaigns, shopping surrogates all helping someone in need. I love what I have seen these past 10 years. I really love what I am seeing in this community with our hearts bridging the distance a virus has forced on us but cannot demand forever.
Father Dann Brown serves the Episcopal Church of the Advent in Madison.