My friend Dudley and I used to joke about starting a Twitter feed of Things Dudley Says. He sometimes uses words in a sentence then asks me if that’s what he means or in some cases if that’s even a word. One of things we both do, according to my wife, is use the words irony and coincidence incorrectly. So Dudley made up a new word that we both enjoy using. Coincironical, or the adverb coincironically, refers to things that are either ironic, coincidental, or possibly both. We honestly don’t know.
Six months ago I took a part time job. The church I pastor in Plainville, Georgia, had been having only Sunday morning activities for about a year. My other job – driving my friend Dudley to see his clients – had been on the decline and we were both concerned about the possibility of it disappearing completely. I took a part time job at Kroger, expecting to get 20 or so hours a week on a flexible schedule that wouldn’t interfere with my other responsibilities. My availability on Sunday would begin at 2 pm so I could get in morning prayer, Sunday School, worship service and lunch with my family. For those that don’t know, part time retail schedules, like those for restaurant workers, are written weekly. I could request my schedule to accommodate things like monthly city council meetings and the ministerial alliance and still have time during the week for hospital or funeral home visits. Someone could easily cover for me if something unexpected came up.
Then coronavirus changed the world. I started training for my new part time job in October; the novel coronavirus was identified in China in late November. Last week American schools and universities started closing and many were asked to work from home. Some states have mandated that non-essensial businesses be closed. The possibility of a 14 day quarantine for anyone believed to be exposed, or those at high risk, sent a shock wave of concern through our society that led to panic buying of staple supplies. That’s where all the toilet paper went, for those who wonder what fever and difficulty breathing have to do with empty store shelves. Drug stores, large retailers and grocery stores have become an unlikely ground zero in the pandemic war. Coincironically as many Americans are working from home or laid off, I will be working about 45 hours this week at my part time job.
The regular congregation at Unity Baptist does not constitute a “large gathering.” Last week we had eight for Sunday morning service. Two of those were visitors, three were senior citizens, and I instructed the visitors to not have physical contact with the seniors. We will continue to have service until the little old ladies become too paranoid to meet or the state government mandates we close. Right now we are following the CDC guidelines. Those guidelines went from crowds of 100 down to crowds of 50 in only a matter of days. If I were confined to my home I would probably do a lot of writing; I haven’t written much this week because of the grocery stores hours. Even though the store hours have been shortened, and the Kroger locations in Georgia do not open until 8 am, some employees are still working throughout the night and my shift begins as early as 5 am. I went in at 5 am yesterday and will go in early again tomorrow. I would not only go stir crazy if confined to quarters but probably feel guilty about being healthy and able but unable to do anything about the situation. Not to diminish the work done by health care providers and first responders but I was serious about grocery stores being at the front lines of this thing. If you have groceries – if your local grocer has anything on the shelves, if you have recently used Walmart or Kroger curbside pickup service for the first time – appreciate the hard work those folks are doing. They aren’t being lazy by shortening hours; they are doing more work than ever in an attempt to stock their shelves as best they can with what they have.
There are several points of irony – or coincidence – at play here. My other job now requires more time and effort and than my regular job. While others are working from home or not working at all, I am working more hours than ever. Some church pastors are struggling with preaching to an empty room, in order to record sermons for video streaming or audio podcasting. I have preached to crowds as large as 600 and as small as 2 adults present. I’ve been online for years, often with a larger digital audience than those present in person. Is it irony… or God’s providence? God knew last July when I put in my application what the future would bring. Maybe I have been blessed with plenty to do to keep busy and the opportunity to serve my community. And perhaps Kroger has been blessed with one of those guys that can’t say “no” when asked to do more. I tell other people they need to learn to say “no” even though I don’t often follow that advice myself. Our daughter is out of school until at least April 20th. My wife is still reporting to work at her office (at the First United Methodist Church) even though they are not having services and their pre-school is closed. So that means our 10 year old daughter has been cleared to go to the office with her, working on her online class lessons (and reading a ton of books) every day. For those familiar with Accelerator Reader, Johannah now has over 200 AR points this year.
What were the chances that we would be in the right place at the right time? When I think about all I know that is true about God, the chances are pretty good. Trusting God with everything is not even a gamble.