C.J. King, a student from Vermont in the Master of Arts in Transformative Leadership and Spirituality (MATLS) program, is planning a COVID Memorial Service in Montpelier that will honor all those lost to COVID in the state. It’s also C.J.’s final leadership project for her MATLS degree.
The program will start at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 19, on the Vermont Statehouse lawn, hosted by VT Interfaith Action. It will be livestreamed via Facebook at this link.
For C.J., this event is the culmination of much of what she has learned at Hartford Seminary. In this Q&A, she talks about how she integrated her degree work with planning this event.
Q. Tell us how this project came about.
A. The idea was inspired by several things. First, as the pandemic was beginning, I was enrolled in Dr. [Lucinda] Mosher’s disaster chaplaincy course. As we were learning ways that a spiritual leader could respond to a crisis, I was watching with horror and a sense of helplessness as the number of COVID deaths rose and rose and rose day after day. Each of those numbers represented a circle of family and friends in grief, but what could I do? Our final course assignment was to create a ritual or creative project using what we had learned, so I decided to create a candle-lighting ceremony, saying aloud the names of every Vermonter who had died as I lit a candle for each one. At that point, there were 55 Vermont deaths. I came up with this idea because I remembered how moving it was to light a candle while my mom’s name was read during her church’s All Saints Day service the year she died.
At the time of my final course assignment, I hoped that eventually I would be able to make this into an actual event. Last March, I approached Vermont Interfaith Action with my idea, and they readily agreed to be the host organization and to help make it happen. Currently [ask of Friday, Sept. 10], 284 Vermonters have died of COVID. Sadly, there are generally one or two more each day. Because the event will be held outdoors, we had to forgo candles and will instead place a flower in a wreath for each name.
Q. What do you hope people will experience as they participate?
A. We are hoping that all who attend, whether they are religious or not, will experience emotional and spiritual healing. We hope the event will reconnect Vermonters as a community. We want to show respect for those who died and offer solidarity for those in grief. As Dr. Mosher has said, “Ritual makes the invisible visible.” It gives us a way to acknowledge and act on our emotions. It is an antidote to numbness.
Q. How do you plan to use what you are learning in MATLS in the future?
A. This event has stretched me. It is the biggest event I have ever organized. Doing it has given me a big boost of confidence in my ability to be a leader. I can’t imagine that I would ever have attempted something this big without the learning and support of my HS professors and fellow students! Who knows what I will be called to do next?