The Co-Moderators of the 223rd General Assembly are known as enthusiastic travelers, women who love nothing more than sharing the gospel with churches and mid councils and interpreting the 2018 assembly across the United States and around the world.
But COVID-19 has grounded the remaining travel plans as Co-Moderators for the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann and Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, who were the Facebook Live guests Wednesday of the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty, senior director of the Theological Education Fund at the Presbyterian Foundation.
“It was jarring to go from a schedule full of visits and commitments to begin deleting them, one by one,” Kohlmann said during a 30-minute conversation called “Spirituality in a Pandemic.” As resource presbyter for the Presbyteries of Boston and Northern New England, it became Kohlmann’s job to be “a resource for pastors and congregations dealing with something we were never taught to deal with. It led to several intense weeks” as pastors and worship leaders learned how to hold remote worship services, how to offer communion remotely and how they could make it through Holy Week, a hard enough test even without a pandemic.
“Now our conversations are about deeper spiritual and social justice things,” Kohlmann said. “If it’s not about embodying who we are as people of the incarnation, I don’t think it’s faithful.”
“Now that we are over that mountain, we are returning to the call of being a Matthew 25 church, to be the Hands and Feet of Christ and to be a people who love our neighbors,” neighbors who may well be out of work or sick or dying and not finding a place to receive care.
“That turn in focus for me is challenging and heartbreaking,” she said, “but it’s also the greater call to us as a church today.”
Cintrón-Olivieri, an educator, said she’s returned to basics since the pandemic has forced her and millions of others to isolate. She’s been reading poetry and the works of author, educator and activist Parker J. Palmer “on listening to the true self.” She said she’s been “reading Scripture more intently, not just for a sermon or a few minutes before I go to bed.” She’s also been coloring a lot, holding aloft Sybil MacBeth’s book “Praying in Color” to prove it.
“Coloring is not just for kids,” she said. “You meditate on what you are coloring and on what is clouding your mind. Some people walk or run or listen to music. I had to find a way to calm my mind.”
“My encouragement to everybody watching is to go back to the basics,” Cintrón-Olivieri said. “In between calls and home-schooling, try to find the spaces where you can find that connection with God and find some balance, because there are moments of clarity in that … Each person needs to find their own way of doing that. Only my husband watches while I color, and there is no judgment. Finding balance in the midst of a pandemic is not easy!”
Cintrón-Olivieri is now part of the faculty at CREDO conferences, which are put on by the Board of Pensions.
“Educators are life-long learners. Where was it God was calling me?” she said of the time she was transitioning out of the classroom. Traditional spiritual practices “weren’t working for me anymore,” and so Cintrón-Olivieri began a “beautiful, but also a painful journey” of finding new ways of understanding what God would have her do. Some of the results can be seen on the Co-Moderators’ Facebook page: Each week Cintrón-Olivieri reads aloud a children’s book published by Flyaway Books, and each afternoon Monday through Friday Kohlmann leads the virtual singing of a well-known hymn.
Even as the Co-Moderators have had to cancel their travel plans, “folks across the church have not deleted you,” Hinson-Hasty told the pair while wrapping up the program. “You are very much a part of who the church is right now.”