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In June 2020, Reverend Karen Allamon’s husband told her that he didn’t love her and — after less than a year of marriage — wanted to end their relationship.
It capped an already difficult month. Not long before that bombshell, Allamon found herself providing care and comfort “through a window” for her elderly father, who fell and broke his hip while in quarantine as the summer outbreaks in the US took off.
“This was in the middle of one of the most trying times of Covid,” she says: “Are you kidding me?!”
Church elders took the reins at Staunton First Presbyterian while Allamon took time off to focus on her own wellbeing. Buoyed by “enormous support” from family and friends, ‘Pastor Karen’ returned to the pulpit after a few weeks to continue steering the Virginia-based church through its pandemic year.
When the public health crisis began, SFP’s first big hurdle was shifting its services online after in-person attendance was suspended in March 2020. The only other attempt at recording sermons was to CD, and even that had not been done for seven years.
Using Zoom and Facebook Live to broadcast services had an unexpected pay-off, though, allowing the church to be discovered by new worshippers from as far away as Florida, New York and Texas.
As the gravity of the pandemic set in, Allamon realised changes would not be limited to livestreams or keeping outreach programmes afloat. Worshippers found their welfare, views and even faith tested the longer the crisis wore on.
“I have seen an increasing presence of panic in some folks who drifted out to the edges during that really fraught time,” she says. “For some of my older people, they were pretty sure this was the end of the world.”
For the pandemic to have occurred in an election year added complexity. Allamon describes SFP as a “purple church”, with parishioners from right across the political spectrum, including “one or two conspiracy people”.
Around the time of the 2020 presidential election, “there was an anxiety among the members”, Allamon says. It took the “jarring” scenes of the Capitol riot of January 6 for the parishioners to resolve they could not allow voting lines to break them apart.
On Easter Sunday, SFP restarted in-person services for the first time in more than a year, but it is apparent not everything is reverting to a pre-pandemic state. Some people appear content with worshipping from home, raising questions about how to rebuild or foster a sense of community. The church has begun laying out a three-year plan to address some of those bigger issues.
Through what has evolved into more than a year of upheaval, the biggest challenge was “keeping myself together”, Allamon says. “I feel like I’m 100 per cent stronger than I ever was because I lived through both a personal and public crisis.”
This is the latest article in a series for the blog that explores the effects of the pandemic on people and businesses around the world