Despite the predictions of grumpy groundhogs and other miscreant mammals (plus Buzz the Hornet at NVU-Lyndon), who declared we are not done with winter, we can take solace in the fact that the calendar decrees March 20 as the first official day of spring. And, this year March 2 marks the first day of Lent, the period of reflection and preparation 40 days before Easter, which celebrates faith, hope, and charity, throughout the Christian world.
With all that in mind, I decided to chat up the ebullient, wise (and perpetually smiling) Reverend Dr. Alberta Wallace, the intentional interim pastor of Grace Congregational Church in Rutland. The day we met on Zoom, she was wearing a sky-blue, snowflake-printed soft sweater, and a silky white collar. The light on her face from her laptop made it seem as if her tightly cropped silver cap of curls was an ethereal halo.
Following are excerpts from our conversation on how faith, hope and charity can help us cope with the continuing uncertainties of Covid and other troubling news from around the world — as we anticipate better days ahead.
Reverend Wallace on faith
“Faith is not about being ‘holier than thou’,” she asserted. “Godliness doesn’t mean you go to church every Sunday. It’s about interacting with community, with your friends and family, and being mindful about how you spend your time and how you spend your money — for example, supporting small businesses and keeping those businesses alive.
“My faith is not built on organized religion,” she continued. “My mama and the community of my youth formed my faith, a community that taught me that no matter what anyone does to you, God loves you. Community is essential to faith.”
For all the skeptics out there, Reverend Wallace has no shortage of realism: “The fact that you love God, doesn’t mean bad things are not going to happen to you. It doesn’t mean you are not going to be hurt, but that you have the means to rise again, to believe ‘I can do this,’ and that you listen to what builds community, and you in turn can gather support from that community. Those self-talks help you change how your mind approaches difficulties.”
Reverend Wallace on hope
“While it’s good to have a gauge on ‘God loves me and somehow the door will open for me,’ moving forward is up to you.
“You have to be intentional about hope,” urged Reverend Wallace. “You might have to be the one to get outside your comfort zone, to invite people to do that time-out, to get a group together to go to a restaurant when it’s safe. Enlisting others in your quest is what builds hope.”
As one would expect, she is a source of palpable empathy, especially for those who have suffered. “The notion that, ‘God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,’ is not good!’ she exclaims. “It’s frightening when we have done everything science says, yet breakthrough Covid happens just the same. You lose hope, and you think, ‘God doesn’t love us,’ but of course he does. Covid is a poison in the world, and it is that poison — not God — that is making us sick.”
A book published last month, titled “Good Enough,” by Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie, is one of Reverend Wallace’s favorite new reads, and it’s easy to see why it’s especially relevant during these tough times. The authors’ tagline says it’s “for when you want to stop feeling guilty that you’re not living your best life now.” It’s poignant, wise, and at times, very funny.
To those who have experienced Covid, and have had plans delayed, or vacations cancelled, Reverend Wallace offered this positive reminder: “Consider what God has given us, especially the scientists who are making it possible for us to feel safer. If you’ve had Covid and you did not have to be in the ICU, be grateful for that. Be grateful that you survived.”
Reverend Wallace on charity
“We learned through Covid isolation different ways to be a caring community. You must choose the quality of your community, however, and how you support that community. If the digital community is more comfortable for you, then you should have some depth to your posts. Posting pictures of yourself hoisting cocktails is OK for occasional fun, but overdoing that is not purposeful in building community, especially for people who are not as fortunate.”
Regarding people’s capacity to donate to charity, she is very encouraging. “It doesn’t have to be that charity is always about money,” she affirmed. “It’s about being present, being authentic, and being genuinely engaged in a cause. When people look into your eyes, they shouldn’t be seeing that you’re looking around at who is noticing you are supporting the cause. Charity means you are behaving in a thoughtful and generous way, respecting the community. That’s the true power of faith, hope, and love, and that is what Godliness is.”
If that power manifests itself as a wise, cheery, and maternal minister, dressed in a sky-blue, snowflake-printed soft sweater, and chatting serenely as a halo of light hovers over her beatific smile, then count me in! Grumpy groundhogs and other miscreant mammals (not to mention a harrowing hornet!) wouldn’t stand a chance with Reverend Wallace.
Sad to note, Reverend Alberta Wallace is departing Rutland in May, first for a sabbatical with her partner, Wendy, and then, as she proclaimed, she’s “on to wherever God calls me to next.”
For more information visit gracechurchvt.org/contact.