Bless you

Rev. Andrea’s April Column in the Gazette

Grab a towel

And soak the folds

Bless you for lowering your

Grief-wracked body

To your knees in prayer

Something you have not done

Since you were a child

When you did not know the words

Arthritis, pandemic

Bless you for worrying

Today about Bangladesh


About India


About loved ones, scattered


About your neighbor, stricken

Bless you for writing inadequate words

Of comfort

On pastel cards

And mailing them


Bless you for standing on the sidewalk

In front of apartment buildings

Waving, waving

In case someone

Is at their window

— Andrea Ayvazian

The Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian of Northampton is an associate pastor at Alden Baptist Church in Springfield. She is also the founder and director of the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership.

Guest Column Andrea Ayvazian: ‘Let’s have a virtual love-fest during this crisis’

Let’s Have a Virtual Love Fest 
by Andrea Ayvazian 
published in the Hampshire Gazette, 3/11/20

As a former nurse, I hold germs in high regard and have a healthy respect for viruses and their ability to spread with rampant abandon.

I have been watching the evolution of the coronavirus outbreak as it has gone from a localized problem to an epidemic to a pandemic to a sense of panic, and I understand the risks and the fears.

One of the consequences of the coronavirus crisis is the implementation of what experts are calling “social distancing.” Social distancing is the term applied to certain actions that are taken by public health officials to stop or slow down the spread of a highly contagious disease. Social distancing is now being prescribed by government leaders and health officials, and is being self-imposed by worried citizens.

Social distancing is a way to keep people from interacting closely or frequently enough to spread an infectious disease. Schools and other gathering places such as movie theaters may be closed, sports events and religious services are being cancelled, travel is being curtailed and meetings and conferences postponed.

Social distancing is necessary to keep people safe, and so of course we must heed the warnings and recommendations of public health officials. This is, after all, a way to protect ourselves and each other during the duration of this crisis.

But I want to make a strong case for intentional, strong and compassionate social engagement during the coronavirus crisis. Safe social engagement is an antidote to the negative side effects of social distancing we are all now experiencing.

Now is the time to be cautious and to keep a distance from others to avoid the spread of the illness. But that is only on the physical level. Now is also a good time to pull in close to others emotionally and spiritually: We need safe social engagement, and we need it now.

Whatever vulnerability a person or family has been living with before this crisis will be exacerbated during this pandemic. If a person has been feeling lonely, they will now feel lonelier. If an elder has been experiencing a sense of isolation, they will now feel more isolated. If someone has been living with depression or anxiety, they will now feel more depressed and more anxious. If someone has been living close to the bone relying on tips for a large part of their income, they will now feel poorer. If young families have already been struggling to juggle work, day care, babysitting schedules, and play dates, they will now be more stressed and frazzled.

Any area of vulnerability that a person has been living with before this health crisis will be exaggerated during this time — whether it is experiencing fear and a sense of being alone, feeling secluded and forgotten, being gripped with worry and dread, or feeling consumed with anxiety about finances.

As a close and caring community, I believe we need to counter the medical necessity of social distancing with intentional acts of social engagement to show those most vulnerable that they have not been forgotten, that they are not alone.

Small gestures that show an isolated and frightened person that we are thinking of them are needed now. There are many steps that each of us can take to care for our community during this time.

This crisis, which is forcing us to keep one another literally at arm’s length, is a good time to connect heart to heart — and there are so many ways to do that.

Without seeing a person and exposing him, her, or them to illness, we can — if we can afford it and feel safe doing so — leave a note, food, or flowers at someone’s door — someone who is now self-quarantined due to fear.

We can call an elder or someone we have not seen in worship or other community settings for a few weeks, and express our concern about their well-being. We can write a note and rely on the good old U.S. Postal Service to carry our words of caring to someone’s door in a safe manner.

If we do go out to eat and can afford to be generous, we can leave our server a large tip to make up for lost wages as this crisis drags on. If downtown becomes less and less traveled, we can give more dollars to those asking for money on our streets.

We can also very intentionally thank people who are at work during this time — those individuals interacting with the public every day who are exposing themselves to airborne contagions. Thank the cashier at the grocery store, the bank teller, the police officer walking the beat, and the letter carrier delivering our notes of concern to friends and family.

Health care providers are on the front lines of this crisis. This is a good time to bring them flowers, chocolates and notes of appreciation, thanking them for their good work in the face of this coronavirus outbreak.

We are being asked to distance ourselves physically from others to protect ourselves and others. But I think it is also time to pull in close, emotionally, to keep the fabric of this community healthy. It is a good time to do an errand for someone who is shut in and leave whatever is needed at their door, to convey by phone what occurred at a religious service or meeting that someone could not attend, to let someone know you have your eye on them and are caring from a distance.

I know that some people reading this column may dismiss my calls for emotional closeness as naïve and unnecessary. I am happy to be considered naïve, and, as a pastor, I believe increasing our emotional connection to one another right now, as we maintain a physical distance, is a necessity.

Whoever was vulnerable in our community before this health crisis is more vulnerable now. Whoever was hurting before this health crisis is hurting more profoundly now. So I say we think of creative ways to open our hearts and reach out emotionally when we cannot visit, hug, or share any close spaces together. We can write letters, leave surprises, contribute dollars, make calls, bring food, say prayers, and reach out in any number of safe and creative ways.

We are a strong, caring, and connected community. Let’s have a virtual love fest during this crisis. And then, when the crisis is over, we will be an even stronger, more caring, and more connected community. This crisis is an opportunity to love up our neighbor. And there is no limit to who is our neighbor.

The Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian of Northampton is an associate pastor at Alden Baptist Church in Springfield. She is also the founder and director of the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership, which offers free movement-building classes from Greenfield to Springfield.


Dear Truth School Family,

Earlier this week, the leadership of the Truth School thought the situation with the coronavirus in this country and around the world was changing each day.  Now we realize it is changing each hour!

And so we are adapting, adjusting, and continuing to think about how to keep everyone safe.

Many trainers have expressed their discomfort gathering in a group setting to teach their classes, several sites have closed down and so we cannot hold classes there, and the crisis seems to have reached a new level.

Consequently, the Truth School is suspending all classes for the remainder of the month of March.  We believe this is the wisest decision to keep us all safe and to encourage folks to stay home and stay well.

We hope to resume classes in April…Early April?  Mid-April?  Late April?  At this point we simply do not know.  Please watch our website and Facebook page for updates.  When we do resume classes, it will be wonderful to gather together again, without fear, face-to-face.

We are considering offering some classes via Zoom and that may happen!  We are thinking about whether we can do that–if we have the administrative person-power!  Offering classes, in the future, by Zoom MAY happen, but right now we are cancelling all classes until further notice.  We will send out alerts and updates if classes will be held by Zoom.

This crisis is frightening, isolating, and tremendously worrisome.  We have to hold one another at arm’s length, literally.  But we only need to be creating a physical distance.  Let’s hold one another close emotionally and convey concern, hope, and caring in all the ways left to us that are safe–and there are many!  Let’s stay “in touch” as a community, reaching out to those most vulnerable, offering support to those who are alone, and extending a hand of warmth and care to elders, friends, and neighbors via notes, calls, emails and any other means that say “I have my eye on you and I hope you are okay.”

We regret that our Truth School classes are cancelled through March….and maybe beyond.  We wish you all well.  Stay safe, take good good care.  We will keep you posted as things change and evolve.

Sending you my very best,

Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian


Truth School Response to Coronavirus (for now)

Dear Truth School Family,

I am writing to you now, on behalf of the leadership of the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership, about our response to the coronavirus crisis and how to keep folks safe as we move forward.  

This crisis is evolving and changing rapidly, so this is our best response as of today, March 11, 2020.

Please watch our website and our Facebook page for up-to-the-minute alerts and updates.  We will post new information as the situation changes and if we need to make further adjustments.

As of today, here are our thoughts with regard to moving forward with Truth School classes:

* All Truth School classes will be held, with the considerations, guidelines, and stipulations outlined below.

* Anyone planning on attending a Truth School class who has concerns or fears about participating and chooses to NOT attend the class because of the coronavirus, we support you fully.  We understand.  Please make your decision about participating in the class or not based on what is right for you medically and emotionally.  You have our full support, whatever you decide We ask that if you feel sick, you do not attend a TS class.

* If a Truth School trainer is ill or does not feel safe teaching the class, the class will be cancelled.

* If the site where the class is to be held does not want us to gather a group there, the class will be cancelled.  (We will not be moving classes to other locations.)

* Our classes are generally not large.  The Host, providing logistical support for the class, will ask all participants to sit safe distances from one another.  The Host will also have cleaning materials to disinfect surfaces that people might touch.

* Trainers are being asked to keep the class participants in a large group and suspend small group work, role plays, huddles, and anything that would require participants to be in close proximity or touch one another.

* Again, please check our website and FB page frequently for last-minute changes, announcements, and cancellations.  That is our best and fastest way to reach you!  (We will not be sending texts or making phone calls should classes be cancelled.) We do not want anyone appearing at a class that is cancelled because you did not get the news.  

Thank you for your vigilance.  And know that all of us at the Truth School are very eager to pull in together in a close and caring fashion emotionally–in terms of supporting and connecting with one another–as we are required to practice social distancing and literally keep each other at arm’s length.

We want to do everything possible to move forward in as safe and prudent a manner as we can.  We honor your personal decisions about what is best for you, and we will be monitoring this situation hour by hour.

Thank you for your involvement with the Truth School.  We value each one of you so much.

Warmly and my best wishes to you,  Andrea

Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian