Spirituality in a pandemic: Teaching Zoom while changing focus

April 27, 2020 by Sally Scherer

When the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann and Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri became co-moderators of the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), they never imagined they’d be teaching others to use Zoom.

They were elected to, “embody a spirit of love, justice, reconciliation, and hope, proclaiming what God is already doing in and through our congregations, and as witnesses of God’s grace in our lives and ministries,” according to Office of the General Assembly web site.

No teaching Zoom there.

Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintron-Olivieri, and the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann , co-moderators of the 223rd General Assembly of the PC(USA). (Photo by Michael Whitman)

“Cindy and I were elected with particular duties,” Cintrón-Olivieri said. “We were meant to encourage, to travel, to visit places. Both of us love being with the church. And we loved being together.”

Kohlmann was on a business trip in Virginia when she learned that her spring calendar full of visits and commitments had to be canceled because of the spread of COVID-19.

What followed was an intense couple of weeks, she said recently.

She had to teach pastors and congregations how to “deal with something that none of us were ever taught how to deal with,” she said during a Facebook Live interview with the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty, senior director of the Theological Education Fund at the Presbyterian Foundation. (This week’s conversation with Jeffrey Bullock will be broadcast on Facebook Live at 1 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, and you can find it here.)

For her and Cintrón-Olivieri, that meant shifting their focus. Completely.

At first, their new focus was helping people figure out new ways to have church, to master some technologies like Zoom and to observe Holy Week.

Now, in the season of Easter, their focus has changed again, to the deeper things, Kohlmann said.

Presbyterians are now returning to the call to be a Matthew 25 church, she said, to be the hands and feet of Christ, to be people who love our neighbors who don’t have a home office, who are out of work, who are sick and dying and not finding a place to receive care.

“That turn in our focus for me, is challenging and heartbreaking, but also is the greater call to us as the church today,” she said.

Through this pandemic and the changes it has brought, the women are finding new ways to reach out – without traveling.

They have brought some new Facebook Live activities to the 223rd General Assembly Co-Moderators Facebook page. Cintrón-Olivieri is reading children’s books live at 1 p.m. (EDT) on Fridays. (All ages are welcome!) And Kohlmann is hosting a live daily hymn sing (#stayathomehymnsing) at noon (EDT).

And, they are finding time to care for themselves and their spirituality.

Cintrón-Olivieri, who is a teacher and a life-long learner, said she’s trying different spiritual practices and returning to her love of poetry, music and coloring. She recommends “Praying in Color” by Sybil MacBeth.

Kohlmann said she is exercising regularly. And she and her husband are taking daily walks. And she is using an app that allows her time for calm and to just breathe.

And they are looking to ways to add balance to their lives through scripture reading, spiritual practices and finding connections with God.

Sally Scherer is a writer and communications consultant based in Lexington, Kentucky. She is a member of Second Presbyterian Church, where she is an elder and a member of the choir. Send comments on this article to Robyn Davis Sekula, Vice President of Communications and Marketing at the Presbyterian Foundation, at robyn.sekula@presbyterianfoundation.org.