Don’t Lose Them-Ministry During Covid-19: A Roman Catholic Woman Priest Reflects
It is very hard for this Pastor not to be able to gather the flock, and to have limited contact with those who need her. We have found creative ways to be in contact and that is the good news I can share here.
Good Shepherd Ministries and Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community in Fort Myers,Florida have been in existence from 2007 and 2008 respectively while the combined ministry I shared with Pastor Judy Beaumont as Good Shepherd Ministries in Fort Myers, actually began in 2003 when we housed a homeless family and then a woman with mental illness in a house we bought for the purpose as we served many of the poorest in East Fort Myers. We have had Church in the Park from 2007-2009; Church in the house we bought to use as a Church from 2008-2017, (we also used the Church House as a temporary residence for 55 people leaving homelessness, and those facing hard times from 2008-2016) And since Pastor Judy Beaumont’s return home to our loving God in January of 2018 we have had church about every 2 months in the condo of our Associate Pastor Marina Teresa in Central Fort Myers.(Below)
It is amazing to us that from 30 to 40 people of a wonderful diverse group of God’s people gather each time we gathered since February 2018 and no one who attended regularly has been lost since 2007 although over 20 of our formerly homeless people went home to God in the last several years. We often joined Jesus in praying “And this is the will of Abba God who sent me,that I shall lose none of all that has been given me,but raise them up on the last day” (John 6:39) We pray not to lose those whom God has given us in loving ministry. We were blessed to walk some of the 20 or so who died home to God, and to minister to their grieving families as they were available. And the others still come and sometimes bring friends,and so we continue. A church of the poor and of the more well to do (economically), an inclusive church of all classes, races, statuses, cultures and sexual orientations, many formerly homeless and some sporadically homeless, continue on together even during this COVID-19 interlude of sickness and distance. We are amazingly blessed.
First,we keep contact in the old-fashioned way by phone calls and mailings. Few days pass that I don’t speak with one of our members. They call me to check on me as much as I call to check on them- and we have good talks and we pray together. We celebrated Easter and Mother’s Day with cards and gifts for many to help them through the hard times. Now that the Stimulus payments have reached most of them we call and write not to share need, but to share love. Love is truly what we share in any event. It is particularly sad to us that those who have nothing at all have no way to get stimulus payments. They do have Food Stamps, most of them, but nothing else except,for some, the subsidized housing we helped them get before all lists closed in Fort Myers, One man in particular, Joe, is quite ill, but was denied SSI before his current neurological illness although he could not work. He lost heart and did not follow up with a lawyer which he still needs to do. We have been paying by the visit for his Medical care and one of our other members,Roger, who lives in his complex takes him to the Doctor faithfully, but he cannot be seen until Covid-19 wanes and the Doctors who take poor folks can see him again. He has Food Stamps and is housed but he has nothing else so we are trying to subsidize him now. He and I talk on the phone and write and he responds to encouragement to follow up on medical help. Roger also takes Mary, also a cancer survivor, and other of our members to their necessary appointments. In the photo below taken after the funeral celebration of one of our members, Nate Chester, Roger is the man in black leaning on the cane. Joe and the Cudjoes and Brenda and Judy Alves are also in this picture.
Other members come to see me and we visit 6 feet apart and outside wearing masks. One dear woman, Grandma Jolinda who is struggling with advanced cancer has been removed from her cancer treatments during this Covid-scare. She has asked me to speak with her Doctor and explain it all to her. The Doctor and I have developed a good relationship and I explain all of the Doctor’s reasoning to our dear member, who takes heart and is less frightened in understanding. She and I talk often and are very happy for our 6 feet apart visits. The family members she lives with bring her and we visit too. On Mother’s Day they came by with her and, thinking I was not home, left beautiful flowers for me on my front porch. I was so moved by this. Then we had an in person 6 foot visit this week so I could give her some gifts we had for her Mother’s Day. We long to hug, but are satisfied with being in the same out-door space.
With another member,Gaspare, I went to see the newborn baby girl,Kimora, of our young couple, Maya and Lamar Cummings and we had 6 ft apart blessings outside their home. What a joyous visit that was. And they will be bringing her by in similar manner in the future.
Gaspare and his mother Lili help me weekly and biweekly wearing masks and gloves in my care of my rescue Kitties and birds. I am so thankful to them and to my neighbor and sister in Christ, Rena Kopp, who assists me with a paralyzed kitty named Brooklyn. Like several others, I also walked Lili through how to get her benefits during her time of unemployment due to COVID. Here the Unemployment website did not work at all for weeks and people needed to make paper applications still not attended to by the State.
With other members we video-chat as well as message and talk on the phone. Brenda, who is living in a tiny studio apartment with her four pets and ,temporarily, another friend really felt “locked-in”. For her, video chats were a great joy. I also enjoy video-chats with Cyrillia Rismay-all the way to St. Lucia. Other members, like Judy Alves who calls our 90 year old Elder, Ann Palmer, and visits newly 18,Jakeriya and her baby Jamir, and twin brother Jakein, and Debbie Carey and her daughter Joelle and grand child Courtney,reach out to one another with calls and 6 feet visits and the love continues on.
Our “snowbird” members from Minnesota, Kathy O and Kathy L have visited me at home with our 6 foot visits and drive-through meals from McDonalds. They will be here again next week before they return home to Minnesota. It is a joy to have them with us.
We do not use zoom meetings as most of our members do not have or use the technology. But many of our sister churches use this with great success.
This Saturday, May 16th we will celebrate the virtual Graduation of Dr. Efe Cudjoe from FSU Medical School. Efe Cudjoe and her family have been with us from the very beginning, before 2003 when Pastor Judy Beaumont and I worked with St. Peter Claver Community. Efe has been our youth leader all during her High School Years and is loved by all of our members for her thoughtful caring of others as well as her brilliance. She still makes home visits for me when she is home, and with her faithful parents, Dr. Joseph and Pearl Cudjoe! Her older sister, Nana Cudjoe has also become a Medical Doctor and has begun a Practice of Psychiatry. Efe will be in OB-GYN in a well earned and coveted University of Pittsburgh Residence and we are so happy to celebrate the outstanding achievements of both-even virtually and by phone. (Below Efe, on right is with Pastor Judy Beaumont and Keeondra Terrell on a Youth Outing).
And so our Good Shepherd Community continues on during the pandemic. None have been ill with the virus though some, like our Associate Pastor Marina Teresa, and Debbie Carey work in health care at various levels. We call, we message, we visit 6 feet apart and we continue the love. We pray for and with one another and for all those we love, including our former Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan of Sarasota and Mary Mother of Jesus Community there who has just undergone serious surgery for cancer. We join in prayer for her recovery. We are so blessed to have one another in prayer and love.
To all who are homebound by Covid-19 we pray that you too will find ways to stay connected to your faith and love communities. We can not do this alone, we need one another as never before.
Pastor Judy Lee
Rev. Dr. Judith Lee, RCWP,Dmin,DSW,MSW