A Charge and A Promise of Presence: Good Shepherd Continues During Covid-19-Mass for Jesus’ Ascension
The life and Spirit of the church continues no matter what restrictions and challenges we face in this time of Covid-19. We continue God’s work. We worship alone and in small groups 6 feet apart and we pray together across the miles and beyond the masks. We provide connection and presence for one another no matter the distancing necessary. Filled with the Spirit and power of our loving God we continue on.
Roman Catholic Woman Priest, Pastor Judy Lee celebrated Mass with two Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community members on Thursday 5/21/2020. Kathy O. and Kathy L are a couple from Minnesota that have attended Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community in Fort Myers seasonally for over 10 years. They usually leave for Minnesota by April but they were grounded due to the the difficulties of travel during the pandemic. When they visited on the Day of Ascension, Thursday the 21st we had a lovely Mass celebration together. The intentions for this Mass were for their health and safety on their impending travel home; and for all touched by Covid-19 as sufferers, caretakers, family and friends, those stuck at home,and especially for health care professionals. We also joined in prayer for our former Bishop, Bridget Mary Meehan of Sarasota ,Florida who faces cancer and has had a double surgery two weeks ago. And for our members Jolinda Harmon also facing cancer and her grandson Quay Crews, facing another chronic life threatening illness, and for two relatives of Kathy and Kathy also facing difficulty.
The readings of the day are Acts 1:1-11-where Jesus’ appearances to the disciples and his time of leaving after providing many assurances are described and we are assured that “…You will receive power when the the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses….”
The Responsive Psalm is Psalm 47 where we are encouraged to shout for joy and blare the trumpets as our God reigns over the nations.
The Second Reading is Ephesians 1:17-23 where we see Christ taking his position as Head of the Church, his body-all of us who are called to follow.
The Gospel is Matthew 28:16-20 where Jesus charges the disciples to “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Abba God, and of the Only Begotten, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. And know I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!” TIB).
In our homiletic reflections we shared a writing by Harry McEvoy in Living With Christ where he reflects on trying to remember most of all that Christ is always with us, even though he is experiencing forgetting and mild cognitive impairment. We each reflected on God with us and the difference it makes in whatever we must go through. The sharing was personal and simple and profound. I added that the “being with us” is , in the context of these Ascension readings, not only for ourselves. Yes, we are to feel Presence and accompaniment on our journeys no matter how hard they are. YES. But we are also to witness to God’s presence and power to be with us and change lives to following the commandments of love and inclusivity so that all whose lives we touch may be touched by God’s deep love and conversion to Love.
The Ascension Reflections of 5/7/16 and 5/13/18 in these archives on the right of the page can also bring us deeper into why sometimes it is necessary to leave in order that our true spirit remains with those we love. As Kathy and Kathy leave our community to return to Minnesota, and the Community led by women priests there, we keep them in our hearts and prayers. And we pray that we can not only feel the ever abiding Spirit of God with us, but have the power to preach the gospel using words whenever necessary.
We also celebrate the 69th Birthday of our dear member Jolinda Harmon, 5/19/2020. And we bless Stella Odie-Ali for her continued loving support of Jolinda during this hard time.
And we bless Claire Tessandori on her birthday, 5/24/2020
And we thank and bless our member Carol Schauf for her continued support of our member Brenda Cummings which includes bringing her goodies and activities to do and provisions for her pets during her time “stuck at home”.
We continue to pour our blessings on Maya and Lamar Cummings and their baby girl Kimora:
And we continue to thank God for our beloved Good Shepherd church community that remains alive and well with the power of the Spirit.
Be blessed and aware that “I am with you always until the end of the age”.
Love and prayers,
Pastor Judy Lee,RCWP
Rev. Dr. Judith A.B. Lee
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
Alleluia He Lives! And She Lives! And We Live-Easter Sunday, A RC Woman Priest Shares Resurrection- 4/12/2020
I am so thankful this year,especially as we experience COVID-19, the global Novel Coronavirus Pandemic, to welcome Easter-the day of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead! Alleluia! Easter is finally here-death came but it could not hold him-and He is risen from the grave. He has broken the bonds of death and brings with him our new life. We too can cast off the bonds that keep us less than fully alive in our everyday lives. We each have different bonds that can hold us back from the fullness of the life that Easter promises. In my life sadness and loneliness can do this, anger can do this, the exhaustion of the everyday chores of a serving life can do this,being up to my ears in the complex sometimes tragic lives of others can do this, and sometimes I even let some folks who are negative “get my goat” and bury their negativity under my skin. Yet, because of Easter, I pray and ask God to take the deadness out of me-to let me live the fullness of life and joy I know as a follower of Jesus and minister of the Gospel. To let me feel and live the Good News so I can touch other lives with the hem of his garment that I have a good hold on. And so it happens that I laugh and smile and sing and go out and serve again. I can be fully alive and for me that is a big WOW! A big EASTER WOW! And even more than that I am older now, and have known the loss of most I hold dear, and I look forward to the life beyond the grave with the Risen Christ of Easter, with our loving God, and with them. I deeply know that we can live now and forever- past the grave. And that is worth an AMEN and a Hallelujah!
I have gone through so many emotions this Holy Week and I have recorded them, sometimes hidden in my reflections in my blogs for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. (Reading them is a good prelude to this. You just click on any of my blogs and go to the archives on the right and there they are.)Easter is the very best and happiest day of the year and you may enjoy my Reflections from two Easters past:
But here, for this blessed Easter, I want to share something very special with you. It is the last (18th)Chapter of my book about my beloved partner in life and ministry Rev. Judy Beaumont who is with us in a very real way this Easter.
The Courage To Love And Serve: The Life Story of Rev. Judith Ann Beaumont-A Roman Catholic Woman Priest and A Saint For our Times
Perhaps it will inspire you to read the book about her amazing and unique life. But its message of life is way beyond what can be captured in a book as it affirms the reality of resurrection here and now.
Here is Chapter 18-The Long Way Home-click on the words Chapter 18 below.
HE LIVES-SHE LIVES-WE LIVE!
A blessed Happy Easter to all,
Love and prayers,
Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP
On this Holy Saturday we go with the women to the grave. We pray. We mourn. We do not yet experience hope or understand anything about resurrection. We are in darkness before the light dawns. For many fearing and experiencing the swift sword of the COVID-19 virus and the unexpected loss of our dearest ones it is Holy Saturday. World-wide in this pandemic, not just in our own spheres, it is Holy Saturday. We pray for them today, and all who serve them with love and care. For the many losing loved ones to the ravages of war and hunger and thirst throughout the world, we pray. For the many who lose loved ones to a realm of natural illnesses not yet vanquished by knowledge of prevention and cure, we pray. For all with cancer,Alzheimers’ disease,and other life altering and life threatening illnesses, we pray. For all who don’t know You and the Light and Healing You bring, we pray. For all who know no Easter, no rising from the dead, we pray.
In Pope Francis’ Holy Saturday Homily today he said that when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb at dawn (Matthew 28:1-10) and the huge stone in front of the grave was so dramatically rolled back they were given a message of the greatest HOPE. First, they were told not to be afraid. That is a clear message for us today, here and now too-Do not be afraid. Then they were told that the crucified Jesus they were seeking was not there-“He has been raised just as he said”. By now they must have been in total shock and awe, but they were invited to “Come and see the place where He lay”. They were then told to hurry and go and tell the other disciples that he has been raised from the dead and goes before them to Galilee where they will see Him. And you know the women did RUN and they did become the first apostles telling the Good News that Jesus was raised from the dead! He also said that the fact that Jesus went to Galilee was so important. Galilee was not the heart of Jerusalem it was often called Galilee of the Gentiles. Jesus was leading them to go tell EVERYONE, that Jesus rose and because He rose from the dead they too, no matter who they are, can live-now and forever! The message of the empty grave, of the cross and resurrection is a message of HOPE-death does NOT have the last word-Amen!
For those for whom the cross, and its meaning as the gateway to life, remains covered we pray.
With all who keep vigil today waiting for Easter, we pray.
For all who have gone to their Easter and live in Your Light and love forever, we pray. And we ask them now to pray for us.
For our own Easter, our own rising from the bonds of death, now and forever, we pray.
Here is a link to my earlier blog that tells about the beautiful Holy Saturday Easter Vigil Service and pictorially illustrates its sequences and meanings:
May the light and love of Easter break through for you this night.
Love and blessings,
Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP
“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Sometimes it causes me to tremble,tremble, tremble,
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
I can still feel the strong baritone voice of Mr. Leopold Dyce, a Jamaican-American leader in our diverse Brooklyn,New York community and the Choir singing this African-American Spiritual in the church of my childhood and youth as we followed Jesus to the cross and heard the seven words from the cross. Mr. Dyce’s trained voice could literally tremble and cause us to tremble. As I sing it with my church members now, the quality of the voices may lack but the empathy and identification with the suffering of Christ is as strong as ever it was among those who know suffering. All who have suffered in any manner WERE there. Moreover, the good news is that the One who suffered on that day IS here with us now as we suffer. One Priest said Good Friday is the feast day of those who suffer-the humiliated,throughout the world. Another reminded us of the loneliness of Jesus on that day, and the loneliness of those who loved him when they thought he was lost to them, dead forever. The aloneness of that day is striking and perhaps some of us experience a small part of such loneliness now when we can not come together in person in our communities for worship, adoration and comfort on Good Friday despite virtual and social media ways of sharing.
In the midst of this coronavirus-COVID-19 pandemic so many are now suffering with the actual illness, others suffer as they lose loved ones, and watch them suffer from afar,others suffer as they selflessly serve and care for those with the illness-and many live in paralyzing anxiety about the illness. Our prayers today are for all those who experience this tragic illness and those who care for them medically or serve them in meeting basic needs. For the transit workers in New York City and elsewhere who keep the city rolling while they catch the virus, for all grocery store personnel and all essential workers and first responders who respond to us during this epidemic. For all who put self aside and reach out to others during this pandemic,may they feel the presence of God with them in healing and peace.
We could not do it this year in the presence of the epidemic but our Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community followers sang this deeply moving African-American Spiritual yearly as we walked through the streets of Fort Myers following the Way of The Cross and praying at places of misery in our neighborhood. And we again sang this plaintive hymn during the Good Friday Service. These were the strong and moving voices of those who knew the pain of racism, social class/poverty, being LGBTQ,being different/other/on the margins in this country. Some also knew the crosses of homelessness,illness without medical coverage, and hunger. They knew suffering yet most of all they knew that Jesus was right there with them in their suffiering. You might listen to “Were You There?” on youtube during your Good Friday meditations.
But the words of another old hymn lift me up today…(From the 3rd verse of “What A Friend We Have in Jesus”
“Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior still our refuge;
Take it to the Lord in Prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you?
Take it to the Lord in Prayer;
In His arms he’ll take and shield you;
You will find a solace there…
What a friend we have in Jesus….”
The theologian Bernard Cooke argues that friendship is the paradigm of our relationship with God. We have a Divine Friend who knows our pain and all of our humanity because he experienced it. God’s abiding friendship is exemplified in Jesus on Good Friday as he lays down his life to destroy death so that we may live forever- beyond our physical deaths. But we must wait for Easter to come. He died the torturous death of a revolutionary who offended all of the powers that be of his times with the simple truth of God-love. We too shall die, though perhaps more peacefully. Our beloved Friend has died in the greatest injustice of all times. And so dying he breaks the bonds of death for us.
“Yes, God so loved the world as to give the Only Begotten One,that whoever believes may not die,but have eternal life” (John 3:16-TIB).
“GREATER LOVE HAS NO ONE THAN THIS-
TO LAY DOWN ONE’S LIFE FOR ONE’S FRIENDS.
AND YOU ARE MY FRIENDS…
LOVE ONE ANOTHER….” John 15:13-17
Today we lose our best Friend and we deeply mourn- though Easter will come.
We will all have our Calvary-yet we are not nor will we be alone. Our Friend is right there beside us. Amen.
Here is a link to “being there” with the Good Shepherd Community in past years:
Below is one of our early Good Shepherd members, Michael Murray who was Jesus for us as we walked the Way of The Cross in Lion’s Park in Fort Myers with members of our Good Shepherd Community. He was a homeless Veteran when we met him but was so thankful to be housed that he wanted to carry the cross for us for two years. He died with COPD after 9 years of living in his home and caring for his kitties in 2018. We were so thankful for his life and his friendship with Jesus and with us. As he carries the cross with members’ prayers nailed to it, our Deacon Hank Tessandori and Elder Harry Gary look on.
A Blessed Good Friday,
Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP
It is somehow fitting that Holy Week for Christians(April 5th Palm Sunday through Easter April 12th) falls in the midst of this tragic global Coronavirus-covid-19 Pandemic. And Passover for the Jewish Community also comes in this week, on April 9th. Both events speak to us of struggle, faith,love and ultimately triumph in the midst of tragedy. They speak to us of HOPE, and hope is what we most need in the midst of this pandemic leaving fear and death in its wake, although we hear less about the many who are getting the virus and living through it.
We need to hear those stories too for they give hope while somehow many feel betrayed that life as they knew it is now radically changed, our world is turned upside down- by a virus. One of our beloved elders here, Jack,90, a married retired priest still volunteering in the hospital, suddenly could not breathe. He was diagnosed with the COVID19 virus, hospitalized and sent home. They said he had a “non-lethal strain”. He is doing well two weeks after. Yet a 39 year old radio personality in our community got the virus and died within one week leaving a wife and young child. Another family man in his middle years is slowly getting better as is his teenage son. What is scary is that it is so unpredictable.
Some seek someone to blame for this and scapegoat others and even blame God because we feel helpless-even powerless. We no longer have the illusion that we can control everything.(And I will leave it to you to discover if there is an upside to this as you place your trust in God even when pain and death will inevitably happen despite our sense of control and power). Meaningful routine is lost, jobs are lost, schools are closed, families are separated at the most poignant of times,we can not actually touch one another or gather for anything. Those who found enjoyment in sports no longer have them to attend or to watch on TV and those who love to gather cannot do so. We cannot even have religious services together-even in Holy Week. While there are ways that we can still be in virtual and distant community,and show love and caring creatively as in communicating with loved ones through Nursing Home windows, and have virtual religious services using zoom and social media,we miss our joint worship, our hugs and simply being together. We are also seeing the many ways people can show love and that is heartening. Yet, fear and this sense of betrayal and even abandonment accompanies pandemics even as they accompanied the original events of Holy week as best we know them.
While most of us may not blame God or anyone else, we are wondering “where is God?” as we go through this on a huge global scale. Yet, it was for this hurting world that Jesus kept on going after Palm Sunday to the Cross. On Palm Sunday Jesus rode through Jerusalem on the back of a donkey(hardly the Cadillac or Mercedes of the times) and the common people cheered him on with shouts of Hosanna (Save us) and waving palm branches, threw their cloaks on the ground to make an easy path for him. It was a brief moment of joyful triumph though he knew what would be ahead. The crowds, full of ordinary people, including many poor and sick and outcast that he had healed,included, and helped,showed their thanks and love and hope for his reign. They didn’t understand that his reign was not to be a political one where the enemy would be overthrown and vanquished. They knew they loved him. This must have felt really good, but Jesus also knew that their love would include betrayal(Judas, his disciple would sell him for money) and denial ( even by Peter who had for a moment “gotten” who he was-“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” ), and abandonment by the disciples, and most of the crowd. He too wondered where is my beloved Abba God,as he was left alone, brutally beaten, scoffed, jeered at and in the worst physical pain. The emotional pain of betrayal may have been just as great. Pope Francis said in his Palm Sunday homily that when there is love and trust betrayal is the worst that can happen. Yet, Jesus love for us got him through it. Wow!!
Jesus experienced the worst pain at every level. Physically- talk about not being able to breathe in the throes of the coronavirus- nailed to the cross arms splayed out and hands and feet nailed, he could not breathe. And while his mother and the women and maybe one of the disciples followed as close as they could most of the disciples were nowhere to be seen and he faced the cross alone. He talked to His Father and quoted the Psalm about being abandoned by God, though in his native Aramaic this may have also meant, “I have fulfilled my destiny”. Simply, he faced an ugly death head on and kept on moving forward. To rise again in three days as he forecasted, to break the bonds of death, to bring us eternal life, he had to die even as we do, and it was anything but an easy death. We can now turn to him who knew suffering to know our suffering and to be with us in it, so we do not have to ever be alone. We marvel how great was his love, how great was God’s love. For Easter, we will focus on life and be glad. Thank God for Easter, it makes all the difference.
Yet,for Palm Sunday for a brief moment we focus on the triumph of his ministry, how he reached the people no one cared about with love and how he took on anything and anyone who lost the meaning of “love your neighbor as yourself”. The Gospels say Jesus was hung between two revolutionaries, also called thieves. Indeed he was a revolutionary of the best kind,taking on the powers that be and showing the power of God’s love, making everything new again by his death and resurrection. For Holy Week we focus on what lies ahead for Jesus and we cringe for him and for ourselves even as we recognize within ourselves the lack of fidelity to love. we too go through our Good Fridays to get to Easter. And he is there with us too with the promise of life. Wow!
For a look at Palm sunday’s past and the meditations of three women priests you can visit my earlier blog:
Have a blessed Palm Sunday and Holy Week
Pastor Judy Lee
Rev.Dr. Judith Lee,RCWP
Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community