Pastor Johnny Bayush, of Flood City Church in Richland Township, admitted it’s difficult to find a holiday message with the surge in COVID-19 illness and death peaking at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“These are supposed to be the seasons of joy and the seasons of getting together with family and friends,” Bayush said Wednesday during a virtual community prayer service, Words of Comfort.
“That is something that just didn’t happen this year.”
Bayush was among participants in the ecumenical service organized by In This Together Cambria, The Tribune-Democrat and Flood City Church.
A video of the program is available at The Tribune-Democrat’s Facebook page.
Dr. Kelly Warshel, medical director for Windber Hospice at Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center, acknowledged that many are grieving as Christmas arrives.
“You are not alone in your suffering,” Warshel said. “We are grieving the loss of the life that we used to know as normal.”
She urged people not to punish themselves for grieving.
“Grief really has no rule book,” she said.
In her experience of talking with those reaching the end or their lives, Washel said their advice is almost universal: “Let yourself love and let yourself be loved.”
Instead of focusing on the loss of loved ones or the loss of a holiday celebration, Bayush urged people to focus on the joy that God provides – stressing that joy is not the same as happiness.
“We are still in a season of joy,” he said. “Joy prevails under any circumstances.”
Focusing on the memories and the qualities of those who were lost will help find the joy and spread it to others he said.
The Rev. Brandon King, of Christ Centered Community Church in the Kernville neighborhood, said that, in addition to joy, God can bring peace in troubled times. He read the biblical account of Jesus calming a storm.
He compared the COVID-19 pandemic to a storm.
“Storms are a part of life, but the interesting thing about storms is they come out of nowhere,” King said. “(The pandemic) was a storm that didn’t just affect one, it affected everybody.”
In the Bible account, Jesus told his followers “peace,” King noted, explaining that people can have peace even in a storm.
The Rev. Reginald Floyd, of St. James Missionary Baptist Church in the Hornerstown neighborhood, said people should share comfort with others.
“Comfort yourself in these words: God thought enough about us to send his son,” Floyd said. “If we trust in God, he will bring us through.”
Pastor Jane Byler, of Stahl Mennonite Church in Conemaugh Township, Somerset County, asked for blessings on doctors, scientists, social workers, caregivers, restaurant workers, truck drivers, farmers and others.
Chip Minemyer, editor of The Tribune-Democrat, invited other local church leaders to share their recorded messages to add to the Words of Comfort program. Submissions may be made by contacting Minemyer at email@example.com.