An Oblate Community Adapts to “Social Distancing”

Oakland, CA

By Fr. Scott Hill, OMI

Editor’s Note: In this article, Fr. Scott Hill, OMI, of the Oblate community living and ministering at Sacred Heart Parish in Oakland CA reflects in a personal way about how this five-man community is adapting to the new reality we’re all facing in this time of “social distancing” and “isolating-at-home.”  Their experience sounds much like that of other Oblate communities, and even of traditional extended families around the country. Perhaps their experience provides something for all of us to consider in our own lives as we adjust to taking the well-being of those around us into consideration during this strange new reality of living in the era of Covid-19.

Sacred Heart Parish, Oakland, CA

Fr. Scott Hill, OMI

Perhaps the first question to ask, in the midst of a pandemic, is how are you doing? Learning to dance to a new tune on the fly? Every day brings with it another challenge to adapt and respond. Certainly, that is true for the 5 of us in residence at Sacred Heart in Oakland, sorting through the various ways to support our faith community.

To the best of our Oblate gifts and the parish resources we have upgraded our parish communications by way of our website, as well as using email blasts offering messages of support, reflections on the Scripture and prayers to be said in the quiet of home, posting information from the Dioceses and links for streaming the Mass. Presently a call tree is being set-up in order to maintain connection as a faith community.

Needless to say, for all of us, each day brings another opportunity to respond to a fast-moving crisis. We are learning to become agile. This agility seems to capture the spirit of Pope Francis’ message about being a missionary church, “open to change.”

This reality came home to roost for the Sacred Heart Community who had to respond to an internal challenge of protecting the well-being of all the members. We are a community of elders, one with a compromised immune system.

Fr. John Mark Ettensohn, OMI

Friday night, Fr. John Mark Ettenson, OMI returned home. Fr. John Mark’s ministry is that of an itinerant preacher. His Lenten Missions had been cancelled at the recommendation of Health officials. So, coming home after having been on the road for the past few weeks and a lengthy, practically empty, flight into Oakland  the need to address his contacts while on the road became an acute concern, especially for me using anti-rejection medication, suppressing my immune system.

With the help of Fr. Bill Mason, Fr. John Mark and I discussed our options for protecting me and as Fr. John Mark observed the “other older” members of the Community from Corvid-19 virus.

Fr. Bill Mason, OMI with some of Sacred Heart’s Oblate Associates

After laying out my concerns, he offered to practice “Social Self Distancing.” We worked out a routine that would permit us ongoing engagement with the larger house Community. He has agreed to have his meals delivered to his room while I have supper with the Community; when we pray together, I would separate a 6’ distance from the rest of the group and, at other times, we would let each other know what public spaces we are occupying.

Certainly, there were feelings of being an “outcast,” for John Mark and me about being placed in such a difficult position, but we came to agree that protecting not only me, but also the other elder members of the Community was essential.

I imagine many of us have felt frustrated by the intrusion of Corvid-19 virus into our daily lives, our routines and ministries. Yet this virus challenges one to be adaptable, being rigid doesn’t work. By nature, we are relational beings. Possibly this virus is an opportune time for us to re-evaluate the meaning of our relationships as a community of brothers; with one another of the Province, one’s relationship with the inner self and with the indwelling of the Divine.

Perhaps this time of pausing is an opportunity to become reacquainted with what really matters. Maybe we will experience a paradigm shift in our interaction with one another, as Oblates, and use our downtime to ponder Pope Francis’ message about being a missionary church and our connection with the new or persistently marginalized.