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“The Rector’s Walkathon” was held on June 14, 2020. Photo: G. Drake

By Rev. Andreas Thiel

For the community of St. Matthew’s, Windsor, the well-known proverb rings true: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”

But exactly what were those proverbial lemons that we had been dealt? And how were they transformed into delicious lemonade?

The answers to both questions can be found in the pandemic experience which swept the globe earlier this year. As we remember all too well, concerns of widespread transmission of the coronavirus, COVID-19, led to the cessation of in-person worship services across our diocese. In the ensuing weeks and months many of us experienced those conflicted feelings of both wanting to be gathered together on a Sunday morning, but also mindful of the serious health risks in doing so.

Sunday morning worship ended up being one of many casualties inflicted by the pandemic. And so were our cherished times of after-service fellowship. Thus, the proverbial lemons.

And the lemons kept coming! Our annual Lenten Soup lunches came to a screeching halt mid-March, preventing us from completing our annual fundraiser for the Primate’s World Relief & Development Fund (PWRDF). No soup. No funds. Just a big load of sour lemons.

Sometime in April, I was joined by our Lay Delegate to Synod, Carol Caverzan, for a physically-distanced Sunday morning visit. Little did we know that it would lead to a brainstorming session.

First, we rehearsed our frustrations and grief. But after a while, a vision emerged; we began to see the possibility of offering something to parishioners that would:

a) address our collective disappointment in not being able to see one another in person,
b) harness our emotional energy around a common project,
c) give ourselves a reason to lighten up a bit, and laugh, and
d) resume our fundraising efforts for PWRDF.

What could possibly fulfill all those requirements? Nothing less than a walkathon! Within days, “The Rector’s Walkathon” came to life, along with the announcement that on June 14, I would attempt to walk the equivalent of 10 miles in a single stretch, using the oval at Vincent Massey High School, which is across the street from St. Matthew’s.

Upon making that announcement, I didn’t yet know if people would respond favourably (they did), nor did I imagine that others would join me in crafting their own fundraising walkathons (they did), nor did I consider that people beyond our parish boundaries would feel moved to contribute (they did), nor did I think that our fundraising efforts would yield spectacular results (they did)!

As the afternoon of June 14 got underway, a good-sized contingent of onlookers and supporters gathered across the street from our beloved church building. They were masked. They were distanced. More importantly, they were vocal whenever this tired Rector rounded yet another lap, and as I watched out of the corner of my eye, I was gratified to see a group of parishioners who were obviously relishing the experience of being together after having been apart for so long. Surely, this is a winning recipe for the most satisfying lemonade known to humanity… and it certainly helped to relieve the sting of that sunburn as well as those aching feet!

Update: donations continued flowing in, even into July. Thanks to the generosity of St. Matthew’s parishioners and friends, as well as supporters from across the Diocese, the 2020 Rector’s Walkathon generated around $6,000.00 in support of the life-changing ministry of PWRDF.

Someday, we will look back over the pandemic experience of 2020, with all of its ups and downs, and I suspect that somewhere in those recollections, we will see how God has showered us with gifts beyond imagining.

Rev. Andreas Thiel is the rector of St. Matthew’s, Windsor.