If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
— Psalm 139:9-10
It is quite a strange feeling to be in New Zealand, far from home and displaced by 17 time zones, when the world turns upside down. Melanie and I left on our long-planned travel leave with things in the United States in a mostly normal state. Coronavirus was in the news, but life was proceeding in normal patterns.
It now seems a distant memory, but no U.S. sporting event had been canceled and no U.S. jurisdiction had restricted meetings. Churches convened for worship. We were following the second round of the ACC Tournament on my phone. The most abnormal behavior was an elbow bump instead of a handshake.
In the space of 72 hours, everything changed. New Zealand closed its borders to foreign nationals. The NBA, NCAA, NHL, MLB, and seemingly every sporting event on the planet was canceled. Australia restricted in-bound tourism and so that portion of our trip was out the window.
American Airlines terminated its service to the South Pacific on 48 hours’ notice and, with it, our return flight. I looked at Melanie and said, “We will either be here for two more days, or face being here for at least two more months.” With no communication from American and no advice from the State Department, we had to think and move quickly.
We managed to book the last two seats on Air New Zealand, Auckland to Los Angeles, on March 18, only a week into our eight-week adventure. From there we routed through San Francisco and eventually back to Philadelphia, exhausted after 30 hours of travel. The worst part was unpacking clean clothes never worn on our trip.
We never felt anxious and were confident in the need to return … even there your hand shall lead me.
I never lost contact with the outstanding Executive Team at the Board of Pensions as the crisis unfolded. They made courageous and wise decisions in real time to protect our employees and our members. But I also knew that God was leading us back home. We now are home, where we are meant to be at this time.
We are back here in Philadelphia with our daughter’s family, four adults, each with substantial professional duties, trying to keep up with an energetic 2-year-old while we swap off for conference calls and document reviews. This is every family’s situation to some degree as the U.S. now works from home. Whether care is for little ones or older ones, we all have split responsibilities and we need to be kind to each other, as stress will build.
The dual responsibilities of family and Board leadership seem to be right where God has positioned me. In many ways, it is a blessing to keep perspective as we manage the pensions and healthcare of thousands of families and then turn, for a moment of equal significance, to a 30-minute finger painting session … your right hand shall hold me fast.
What a privilege it is to serve those who have answered God’s call to ministry, whether it is the ministry of Word and Sacrament, the ministry of music, the ministry of education, the ministry of caring, or the ministry of building maintenance. And what a blessing it is to serve the ministry of family. All is ministry to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace,
The Reverend Frank Clark Spencer