To you who are reading this interview, I hope you’re feeling okay during this COVID quarantine and if not, maybe you’ll feel differently after reading this panel interview. My name is Ian Tan and I serve in the 2019-2020 Episcopal Service Corps at Sycamore House in Harrisburg, Central PA. I work as a grant writer for Habitat for Humanity and as an after-school staff member for St Stephen’s Episcopal School. I decided to cobble this interview together from different service corps members in the spirit of joining our different yet similar experiences during the quarantine. Hence the title of this interview series “Joining The Viewpoints”. Thanks for joining us!!
To you, my fellow service corps members, thank you for agreeing to share a little about yourself in this time. You are heard, you are appreciated, you are a heap of awesome!
A bit about me: In my free time, I love hunkering down in my room with ramen or Chinese food and working on a novel. But enough ‘bout just me, let’s hear something ‘bout you too! I’ll also answer my own questions.
1.What’s your name, which Episcopal Service Corps are you serving in, and what placements are you working in? I know, that’s like 3 questions in one, but they are mini questions.
Austin: My name is Austin Hays and I am serving with the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network (LEVN) in Davis, CA. The circumstances of my placement have changed a lot since COVID started ramping up but I am helping do community outreach and aid with the Belfry, a Lutheran/Episcopal campus ministry at UC Davis. I also participated in the Triduum Project, a three-day live stream over holy week with the ELCA
Rachel: My name is Rachel Friedland, and I am serving in the Circle of the Beloved in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am both ESC and AmeriCorps, so I am serving at the Brian Coyle Best Buy Teen Tech Center in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.
Corinne: My name is Corinne and I am a member of the Colorado Episcopal Service Corps in Denver. I work at a nonprofit called Metro Caring, which is a hunger relief center because we are so much more than a food bank! Although people may make an appointment to shop in our “take what you need” market every 30 days, we also offer vouchers for ID/Birth Certificates, cooking classes and clubs, diabetes self-management classes, gardening education, and political education and activism.
Alex: I’m Alex Swain serving at the site in Tucson, Arizona called Beloved in the Desert. My placement site is at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona (also the 4th largest food bank in the United States)
Hannah: My name is Hannah Minton, I am a member of the New York Service and Justice Collaborative in NYC. I am the mission intern at St. James’ Episcopal Church on Madison Avenue.
2. Can you talk a bit about how things are in your town and state, maybe household if you want to share that? Could we pray for you or some folks?
Ian: There are 343 patients in Dauphin County where Harrisburg is, and 32,284 total cases in PA, as of April 20th. I hope folks are obeying the stay-at-home order. The weather’s been nice though so people are still out for exercise, and I’m pleased about that.
Austin: California has been doing a better than average job flattening the curve, but there’s still a lot of problems. Homelessness is a huge issue, ICE is doing raids, and many UC graduate workers (including Davis) were on strike prior to COVID19 closing down the schools (although organizing continues virtually). It’s eerily quiet here, especially since two of our housemates decided to return to Chicago for the remainder of the year.
Rachel: Things in Minneapolis got pretty tricky by the end of March. I serve one of the most densely populated areas in the nation, so we had to close and sanitize our facilities as soon as COVID became a real threat for the neighborhood commune. I helped out at the Food Shelf in our building for a week and the fear of sickness showed clearly because of how closely-knit the community is.
Corinne: Denver is a hot spot for COVID-19. The official stay at home order will last till April 30. After that, businesses will be expected to return at 50%. Most of us have still been working from home though we all have essential jobs, so it was a tough choice to not physically be at work. As a house, we are stronger than ever. We really rely on the foundation that we built starting out. Now we share two daily meals and plan one group activity per day. We are all getting a little antsy stuck in our house, but I am so grateful to have my four housemates through the laughter and the tears. Prayers would be gratefully appreciated for these communities: our homeless friends, folks who are struggling without food, People of Color who are affected disproportionately by this pandemic, our democracy’s leadership, and refuge and asylees.
Alex: In Tucson things are relatively calm. Infection rates are not as high as some other cities, but it seems that we haven’t yet peaked. All 5 of us continue to work and serve. Fairly early on March 11, we began social distancing as a house, and one housemate sewed us all cloth face masks for whenever we leave the house. Sunday mornings now consist of us gathering to pray morning office and pray the ante-communion. Our community heartbeat is prayer time together, and cooking house meals. As things have settled into a “new norm” we have adapted, at least I have less severe mood swings into despair. We have also developed a small network of church folks whom we shop for when they need, which fulfills us in a situation that leaves us feeling powerless
Hannah: During this pandemic New York City is struggling. We live in the Bronx where people are dying more quickly. Four out of the six corps members are still in a house in the Bronx completely quarantined. I am currently in North Carolina with my family, I came here on March 13th to make sure that my mental health was going to be okay through all of this.
3. How are you feeling about this whole situation? Again, can we pray for you or someone who needs it? It’s okay not to be okay – just sayin’ 🙂
Ian: I’m feeling okay. I am a natural introvert and an aspiring writer to boot so staying at home actually gives me more freedom to continue my natural lifestyle, rather than impeding it (though other introverts are having a worse time). I do fear getting the virus, and I also hope that my friends won’t get it. I have occasional bouts of boredom or anxiety about travel (I have a flight booked in September).
Austin: We’re… figuring it out. I’ve been playing a lot of board and video games and getting out of the house whenever I can, but I’m missing home and a sense of normalcy. It sucks to know that this will be the thing that sticks out immediately about my service year instead of all the good experiences beforehand. I’m doing what I can to channel my anxiety into doing research and speaking openly.
Rachel: This is an anxious time for everyone. I decided to spend some time out of state so that I could visit my parents, and it’s helped me a lot to be with family, especially since none of us really know what’s going to happen next.
Corinne: Honestly, I don’t really know how to answer this question. I guess I would say numb? I’ve definitely been mourning this whole experience. Some days I have what my housemates and I call “the big sad” where I just lay in bed all day. Other days, like today, I spend most of the day outside and participate in a virtual kickboxing class that my gym hosts. I guess overall, I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed. I’m also disappointed in how our government officials, both local and national, are responding to this crisis. I’m not really a feeling person but I have definitely been feeling a lot of feelings.
Alex: A sense of hopelessness surrounds me regarding the unfolding of the virus and the disfunction and corruption of our federal government. The pain caused by the virus and those who have died, the economic ruin brought upon the livelihoods of millions… the immensity of it all is surreal and disorienting. On a more local sphere, the place where I have some degree of agency and influence, there is less despair, a bit more resiliency. We are still serving and we and our loved ones have our health as well. So,in that sense, we are doing well. Through it all, we are deeply rooted in our faith, and remain anchored in Christ to serve, to pray, to mourn. For that I am very deeply grateful.
Hannah: I’m feeling okay, I wish I felt like I had more of a purpose. I’m used to being extremely busy and I find it really hard to stay focused working from home. Every day is a struggle to find motivation but I’m getting through it.
4. What resources do you have to suggest for occupying oneself? What shows or films or podcasts or books have you found during this time?
Ian: My friends and I have been watching a Korean medieval show called Kingdom, which is suspenseful and action-packed. I also watch a lot of the Try Guys on Youtube, anyone who doesn’t know who they are should look them up!! I promise you won’t regret it! And of course, my novel is helping me stay busy and creative!
Austin: I’ve been playing a lot of video games, particularly Animal Crossing and American Truck Simulator, possibly because both games are the closest things to travel and seeing neighbors I can have right now. I’m doing some projects here and there but mostly I’m just trying to keep sane and not put any pressure on myself.
Rachel: Keeping busy with my AmeriCorps work has helped the most, but I’ve been doing a lot of crafting since quarantine began! I cross-stich daily, but I’ve also tried to read a lot more, not only for me but so I have book recommendations for my students. One of my fellow ESC fellows and I actually binge-watched a show together for a couple of weeks and that was a lot of fun.
Corinne: I would suggest getting crafty, trying workout videos (one of my favorites is Fitness Marshall), and reading. I’ve been trying to see this time as an opportunity to do a lot of the things that I enjoy but didn’t feel I had enough time for.
Alex: Throughout the year we have cooked and baked a lot – but that has gone up alot. Exploring new recipes and baking for one another has proved to be really lovely. I’ve been exercising more as well, jogging and trying to do some yoga, and that has been a nice respite as well. Reading books, and playing video games have also become more common. Journaling too! Entering into prayer more deeply, and going deeper with centering/apophatic prayer is also a way I’m drawing nearer to God in these times
Hannah: I have had a few over the phone counseling sessions during this time that keep my anxiety down. I think it’s extremely important to keep your mental health at top priority! I have started to water color and do needle point, small tasks that are achievable and peaceful have helped me stay occupied.
5. Do you have any advice for those feeling off-kilter or anxious during this time?
Ian: It helps to name your sadness or anxiety, like, take time to unpack that. Journaling helps me think through something carefully. Maybe talking with a friend works for you. Then maybe reangle the situation and try staying positive, though it’s okay not to feel that way all the time. It helps to focus on things that bring light and joy. Go out when it’s sunny (keep social distancing) and try to watch funny content to laugh. Also staying busy and creative is a big help!
Austin: You may see some articles about how you should be your most productive self. You may feel the pressure to be better. TRASH. THOSE. ARTICLES. You have every right to just survive. Even in a non-quarantined world, productivity should never be prioritized over happiness and dignity. That said, occupying yourself helps with curbing anxiety. You can do simple tasks, read some books, or just whatever you want! Talk to other people about how you feel or books or whatever! Don’t watch cable news, it’s designed to make you anxious so you keep watching. Try getting sunlight as you’re able. Immerse yourself in things you enjoy. Above all, remember it’s natural to feel anxious and you are far from alone.
Rachel: I would say reach out to others. The biggest struggle I had at the beginning of this was the loneliness, but after I really made efforts to reach out to people in my life I felt so much more connected to the world. Even simple texting has helped!
Corinne: My advice would be to recognize that you’re not alone, give yourself some grace (it’s okay if you gain weight!), ask for help when you need it, and feel your feelings. It is okay to not feel like the best you!
Alex: I find loss of agency to be immensely stressful and mentally damaging. Being aware of the things that I can do, particularly illumines by doing work for those in need, is particularly life-giving during this time. Also I’ve found that accepting my emotions as they come to be very… good. There are days when I’m functioning relatively normally (pre-pandemic times). There are days when I’m deeply grieving. To allow each moment to be itself to its fullest has been difficult, but also very, very good for when I’m feeling so anxious and off-kilter.
Hannah: My advice for anyone struggling with anxieties, or just struggling in general would be that you are doing the best you can do! Some days if you have a little motivation, do something new; draw, paint, write, just get your brain flowing. If you don’t have motivation, allow yourself to lay in bed, don’t feel like every day has to be purposeful. We are all going through something extreme and it is perfectly fine to not be okay. My love to you all <3
Thank you all for participating in this panel/interview! Know that your efforts for others might be a greater, more meaningful help than you give them credit for, so thank you for that too! And to you, who like me are simply surviving, keep on 🙂 I think we all agree that there’s no shame in not being okay some days. As long as there’s hope and compassion for this world, for ourselves and our neighbors as well as loved ones, we will endure. I believe it. I believe in you all.