Church on Lawn
By Bennia Lee Sholes
Roanoke VA (formerly from Micaville, NC)
There is no question about it: COVID 19 has thrown countless familiar routines out the window. Sometimes this is extremely disruptive, but sometimes the change makes possible new and delightful opportunities. Here’s one you might like.
The week before Palm Sunday 2020 (April 5) two neighbors in Roanoke, Virginia, were talking together, at the mailbox, socially distanced, of course. They were pleased that their churches were not open to protect their congregations from the COVID virus, but disappointed that there would be no Palm Sunday worship and, the following week, no Easter worship either. Then a lightbulb went on. One of the neighbors, Bennia Sholes, enjoyed listening to music on her porch in the evenings with her husband Jim. With their Alexa, they could listen to whatever music they liked… “Some Enchanted Evening” and other old favorites.
Ah-ha! What if we move Alexa out onto the front lawn on Palm Sunday and invite all the neighbors to enjoy Palm Sunday music together? That Sunday some 18 neighbors showed up. Everyone brought their own folding chairs and sat socially distanced on the lawns and the sidewalk, even at the edge of the street. There was no preacher. No offering. No Sunday School. No Palms. No choir. But there was Alexa!
One by one the neighbors (who usually attended Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, Roman Catholic, and Presbyterian churches) called out their favorite hymns and Bennia would command “Alexa, play “All Glory Laud and Honor.” Alexa did just as she was told, to everyone’s delight!
The first Sunday was so successful that the group reconvened the following week on Easter Sunday. The first two gatherings were so much appreciated that every single Sunday since, the community has gathered at 11 a.m. Everyone looks forward to it. After a time of greeting one another, the music begins. There is no singing or talking. It is a time of peace, music, and reflection. It is a beautiful opportunity to enjoy listening to a wide range of Christian music called out one by one by the gathered neighbors. The birds sing along, and the breeze moves through the leaves. Neighbors sit back and close their eyes in reflection and peace, look at the beauty of the sky and trees, or simply enjoy being in a community with neighbors in this new way.
Sometimes Alexa does not understand what Bennia says. She may say “Alexa, play “Amazing Grace” and Alexa may respond with something wacky like “Amazing Gaves by the Deadbeats.” Everyone has a good laugh and Bennia will say again, slowly so the digital friend can understand, “Alexa play Amazing Grace” and she does.
A word about the musical selections each Sunday. There is no church in the world, no matter how big their choir or their music budget, which can match the diversity of musical wonder and spiritual inspiration in every single Sunday Worship on the Lawn. Friends have enjoyed getting to know neighbors’ favorites, some familiar, some new. In a single morning, the Lawn Worship Congregation might enjoy “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. “No Hard Feelings” by the Avett Brothers. “The Prayer” by Josh Graban and Celine Dion, “The Lord’s Prayer” by Andrea Bocelli, “I’ll Fly Away” by the Blind Boys of Alabama, “Be Still My Soul” by the King’s College Cambridge Choir and “Oh Happy Day” from the movie Sister Act.
Someday, when things get back to “normal”. The Sunday Lawn Worship congregation will most likely dissolve as people return to their individual churches and familiar routines. But there is no question, each person who has attended will remember this special, spiritual, and unexpected blessing that sprung up during the time of Covid-19. Thanks be to God. Thanks to Jim, Bennia, and Alexa.
Bennia and Jim Sholes were raised in Yancey County, NC. They met at East Yancey High School. They have been married for almost 60 years. They have two children, Kathy Shepperson of Richmond, VA, and Mike Sholes of Salem, VA., 4 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. They live in Roanoke, VA but visit Micaville, Spruce Pine, and Burnsville often! They love the mountains of NC.
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