By Ruth Perkins-Lee
Our elementary teachers staged a parade and I cried! My children were not surprised, and mostly just ignore me when my emotions leak out through my eyes.
These teachers decorated their cars, divided up addresses and meandered through neighborhoods of the students in their school. With windows rolled down, streamers flowing, painted surfaces shining, balloons bouncing, and horns blaring they waved and yelled. The lead car was blasting “WE ARE FAMILY…”.
They came because they consider my child one of their own. They love her personality and wicked sense of humor. They love how she thinks and problem solves. They love the way she interacts with people. They see her. And they miss her.
She’s not the only child. In a school of nearly 1,500 elementary students, they know names and faces; they know struggles and celebrations; they know families and friends; they know what makes each child unique and special.
They are pouring their hearts into digital learning. And while the content is in their wheelhouse, the technology is not. Yet they keep showing up. They have office hours from their homes in case a child needs help. They schedule Google Hangouts where the kids all talk at the same time and the screen is dizzying to watch.
As we waited in the yard for the parade to pass by, it was like being in the center of a labyrinth. We heard the horns get closer and then move away. Get closer and then move away. We even had the video ready because we thought they were turning onto our street! Instead they went in a different direction so far that we thought they had missed us altogether.
But then they showed up! Just for us! (And for the other kids in our neighborhood. But we couldn’t see them so we counted the parade as ours).
My tears were just brimming but I was holding steady until I turned to watch them drive down the street and caught glimpse of the retired neighbor several houses down. I heard him ask another neighbor earlier what was going on and they told him about the parade. He got a folding chair and his jacket from the high school that shares the same name and colors and was waving the jacket for all of the teachers to see. The tears didn’t stand a chance.
We cheered for them as much as they cheered for us, out of appreciation for all they are doing—the stops and starts and second tries. Thanking them for everything. My kid misses them as much as they miss her. But this helped. Because we got to see them and we know we were seen. And as the horns wandered on to the next neighborhood, we were left grinning because they cheered for us and we cheered for them.
Let’s offer that to our ministers, shall we? They know us and they love us. They are cheering for us. Figuring out ways to connect with us to let us know we are not forgotten.
Hours on the phone checking on people, coordinating virtual meetings, recording devotionals and updates, packing bags for children’s Sunday schools while enlisting the volunteers to deliver them, and designing games to be played through zoom calls and scavenger hunts via Instagram. They are conferring with tech crews to make sure they are ready to go and they are in the sanctuary by themselves trying to get the camera to stay on the tripod so that it won’t fall over during worship. They stop by the closed church buildings to gather our checks while signing on to see if the online donations came through before they disinfect everything all the way out the door.
They are answering calls from people who have a specific need and people who don’t know whom else to call when it gets to be too much. And they hope for all of us to be safe and for the church to gather in the same space again.
Like our teachers, the content of their jobs is in their wheelhouse, yet they were not trained nor hired for a shift that happened overnight (literally, for some of them). There was no preparation, no test run, no ramping up. The switch flipped and now we have charged them with creating community in ways most of us has haven’t lived before.
We have scattered but they are still ministering to all of us. They still love us and see us. They still know our joys and our sorrows. And they still pray for us by name. So, it’s our turn to cheer them on. To see them. To thank them in ways that may make our emotions spill out of our eyes.
Ruth Perkins-Lee serves as the Director of Church Engagement for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.