Editor’s Note: This article was updated March 24.
Amid illness and uncertainty, the parishioners at Christ Church, Georgetown, have rallied around their leader, the Rev. Timothy Cole, and are clinging to their faith in each other.
“It has been just amazing to see how kind, loving and caring this community is over these last hard few weeks,” Cole told The Georgetowner via email from his hospital room at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital on March 20.
Cole, 59, was the first Washington, D.C., patient diagnosed with coronavirus on March 7, after being admitted with pneumonia on March 5. He has been isolated ever since.
“I am feeling much better now and may well be home by the time this is published [in the newspaper],” said Cole, who must have two negative test results — and no fever — before he can be released.
A native of Scotland, Cole became rector of Christ Church, which is located at the corner of 31st and O Streets NW, in 2016. He has been an Episcopalian priest since the 1980s and served as a chaplain in the Royal Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was named an honorary chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II in 2014.
His wife Lorraine and son Tim have been inundated with cards, gifts and grocery provisions at the church rectory, where Mrs. Cole, a real estate agent with Long and Foster-Christie’s International, and Tim, Jr., a student at Marymount University, immediately hunkered down after Cole’s diagnosis. They were likely the first family in Washington to practice the new phenomenon of self quarantine and social distancing. Both later tested negative for the coronavirus.
“Lorraine and I are grateful and overwhelmed by people’s affection,” Cole added in his comments from the hospital.
“He’s moving in the right direction, slower then we had all hoped for, but moving nonetheless,” Mrs. Cole told The Georgetowner March 24. “We are hoping very much that this will be the week.”
During her quarantine, she was able to chat with visitors through her front window and has been staying in touch with her husband on FaceTime, when he’s strong enough to speak.
Brodie, the Coles’ Labradoodle, sits at the same window perched on a chair looking out on O Street, awaiting his master’s return.
Mrs. Cole told us the first thing she did after leaving her house for the first time in two weeks on March 21 was take Brodie for a walk to their favorite park.
In the nascent days of a new spring, they pass by the bouquet of flowers left at the front steps of Christ Church, a simple reminder of the love that has showered their family and wider church family.
After its rector, organist and choirmaster Thomas Smith and four other church-goers were diagnosed with the virus, the church got more bad news last week: Easter Sunday services, usually packed house affairs attended by Christians from all over the area, would be cancelled as would gatherings at all Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Washington through May 16.
Other Georgetown houses of worship like Kesher Israel, Holy Trinity Catholic, Georgetown Presbyterian and Georgetown Lutheran Churches are also closed.
“I’m sad,” admitted Molly Peacock, a parishioner for decades and former member of the vestry. “I think we will rise above the closures and celebrate Easter with greater appreciation of the past.” Peacock said she plans to drive by the church on April 12 to keep it close to her heart.
Others can tune into virtual services during Holy Week. For most, however, it just won’t be the same. The want of music, flowers and neighborly spirit, hallmarks that have kept Christ Church a Georgetown institution since its co-founding by Francis Scott Key in 1818, will cast a heavy shadow on the year.
“I’ve found a great deal of comfort in listening to music the choir was scheduled to sing these past few weeks,” said Smith, who was released from isolation on March 19. He oversees Christ Church’s lauded music program — one of the few fortunate enough to support a fully professional choir — that performs a classical repertoire in keeping with the church’s traditional liturgical aesthetic. “Since I’ve had so much time on my hands, it’s become a goal of mine to share this music through posts on social media.”
Thanks to the “Grace under Quarantine” blog started by Assistant to the Rector Crystal Hardin, Smith’s musical inspirations as well as much needed solace and levity can be part of their virtual ministry.
“These are the times that faith is for,” explained Hardin on the blog, which features prayers, updates, and even a diary of cooped up canines, like Brodie. “Not too shabby,” reads the caption on a photo of a Christ Churcher’s dog surrounded by toilet paper. “Plenty of tissues to eat.”
Hardin said, “My heart sank,” when learning of the Easter cancellation. Still, she added, “The Good News is still good news: Easter will come. And we are called to walk the way of the cross. Our connection to this truth might be made even more apparent this year, as we celebrate in a profoundly different way.”
Hardin has been keeping down the fort and the faithful flock in Cole’s absence during her first Lenten Season at Christ Church.
“I’ve never felt closer to the people of Christ Church,” she explained from home, where she’s also looking after her children. “They have shown up in so many ways for me and for one another — even without our beloved building.”