COVID & the Arts

A collection of pandemic related stories from alumni about writing, art and music projects.

“Multi-age Kids’ Ministry Curriculum Born” by Donna Kurylak (’78,’79), Newark, Delaware

During the pandemic, children’s ministry as we knew it at The Barn Vineyard in Kemblesville, Pa., shut down.  Parents and children eventually felt desperate for some kind of group experience for kids. In all my years of kids’ ministry involvement I had never seen a curriculum I loved. Now I began writing and then teaching multi-age lessons I actually enjoyed teaching! And the kids are loving it. 

These lessons have been coalescing into a curriculum that could be used or adapted by any church with the goals that underlie the approach I’ve taken. They can be done in person or remotely. I’m in the process of writing an overview and an explanation of the approach used for the class sessions.  I have 12 lessons written so far and continue writing. Email me at servewithjoy@thebarnvineyard.com for more information. 

Painting of hand washing.
“Handwashing” by Queena Mast

“COVID Channeled into Art” by Queena Mast (’02, ’04) Greenwood, Delaware

Several months before COVID hit I sensed God telling me I should take the next year off from my full-time job teaching ESL to high schoolers. I wanted to have more free time to devote to family and community needs. So even as I wrapped up the 2020 school year online I began working as a certified nurses’ aide at the Country Rest Home as needed.

I’d also resolved to paint one picture a month, reviving a long-time interest in art. COVID quickly shaped my visual creations. I painted daffodils — dedicated to frontline medical workers, a family board game, drive-in church, hand washing, and scenes from nature as we escaped into green spaces.  Three paintings emerged during the fall when I quarantined from my family in order to assist with a COVID outbreak at the Country Rest Home and came down with COVID myself. Two of these paintings were more abstract, and one pictured an old familiar tree in front of the COVID unit where I sat with people as they died. It was heart breaking to witness the isolation and pain as families struggled to say farewell to their distanced loved ones.  

I frame the handwashing painting with the words, “Today I choose joy.” It has become a symbol of prayer to me. When I pray I sometimes hold my hands upturned, in an attitude of surrender—a reminder to live with open hands. All the hand washing became a tangible reminder that if I cup my hands he will fill and even overflow them.

This year I’m substitute teaching and painting portraits, aiming for one a week. Each day before I begin painting I pray, “Let me love this world into being.” In this COVID era emotions are running high, and I want to share beauty that brings healing and peace to people’s spirits.

Here’s a link if you’d like to sample my COVID-related and other art:

“First Book Birthed” by Justin Stauffer, (’16,’17), Irwin, Ohio

A lot of days felt a little more lonely and isolated, but it wasn’t hard to find some silver linings. Early in the pandemic, Diana and I both experienced the pleasure of staying home part-time while still getting paid full-time for our work. Oddly enough, during this time we noticed a marked improvement in how well our three boys got along with each other. We played a lot of board games and spent hours on the walking trails here at Rosedale. I was also able to find time to complete the book I’ve been working on for the past five years. Charlie’s Boy: Into This House We’re Born is a silver lining I can’t wait to share with all of you later this year.

“Virtual Christmas Family Choir” by Ken Miller (‘79) Rosedale, Ohio

My large extended family, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of David and Erma Miller, usually spend an hour singing together in annual Christmas gatherings. This year my brother, Laban, distributed scratch sound tracks for Away in a Manger and Joy to the World to the 68 members of our extended Miller family. Forty-eight participants from four generations sang and videotaped their parts in their own homes and submitted the videos to Laban who edited the individual audio tapes and blended the voices. Thirteen of the younger great grandchildren sang only in the children’s part of an original arrangement of Away in a Manger. 

It took a lot of work, but was a beautiful way for us to share a bit of our traditional Christmas music.  Laban estimates it took him about two weeks of work on the audio which he then passed off to our son Thomas who took about two additional days to compile the final Miller Family Pandemic Christmas Special of 2020. (Links to the music video: Away in a Mangerhttps://youtu.be/7EH68geUMUM and Joy to the World: https://youtu.be/KwjJSlZGnYc)

“How I Became a Children’s Author” by Julene L. (‘07), the Middle East

During the pandemic I came home to be near my father who had been diagnosed with cancer. I enjoyed this precious family time, but was unable to continue my language lessons.  As the months at home progressed I realized I needed to do something to keep up with language acquisition. So I started writing children’s stories and translating them into the local language. Then I’d meet my language teacher online and go over the stories. I’d always wanted to write children’s stories and now that the first story is nearing publication, it’s neat to see this dream coming true. So far I’ve written four different stories.  Some are awaiting illustrations, others feedback. This creative outlet was a lifeline to me during the pandemic, and I’m excited that children here may soon have Christian “bedtime” stories to read like I did growing up!

“Renovating House and Heart” by Josiah (’15-’17) and Brittany (’16,’17) Zimmerman, Columbus, Ohio

When Josiah and I got married almost two years ago we wanted to buy a house, but didn’t find anything suitable. Then last year we ended up buying a house early on in the pandemic after only a week-long search. This past year has been a perfect time for us to put long hours into completely renovating the house. Both Josiah and I are full-time students, and most of our school is online. Leaving screens behind to pick up hammers and drills has been a great way to take a break. Since many others have also gotten into home renovation in this season, we’ve found great deals on appliances, cabinets, and all sorts of home goods. Ironically the work has refreshed us. It actually feels like a blessing to have a house that needs a lot of work! 

Another fun thing that I’ve returned to during COVID is the piano. I grew up playing the piano, but mostly dropped it when I left home. When everything first started shutting down, I determined to learn a difficult new song on the piano. After many months of practicing, I surprised myself by actually playing the whole thing from start to finish. I’ve also rediscovered classical music — which brings much beauty into my life. Besides music I’ve enjoyed other recreational reading, my formal studies, and time with my husband. It’s been hard, but I’ve seen in my own life how God can use hard times for good. I’m grateful to be serving that kind of God!

Don Swartzentruber.
Screenshot from Don Swartzentruber

“Artist-Layman Talks Theology with Scholars” by Don Swartzentruber (’90), Warsaw, Indiana

The pandemic provided time to make art. Rooted in my studio, my wife and I used video communications to connect with out-of-town friends and family. I used virtual conferencing to instruct my Grace College and secondary school students. I created art videos to enrich the lessons. All that germinated a new project. I recorded videos of me, as an artist and laymen, talking to scholars about theology. Over the past month I’ve edited five interviews that will be published on my Carnival Sage YouTube channel. It was a bit of a homecoming, since years ago I had these types of conversations in my home when I hosted a theology think tank. I’m currently scheduling more interviews. If any RBC alumni want to chat, let me know your area of expertise. webstaff1@hotmail.com)

“Single Voice ‘Choir’ Blesses Isolated Church” by Bob Brenneman (’95-‘97), Goshen, Indiana

Acappela music has always been a passion of mine. I began congregational song leading at 15 and studied music in college. Over the years I sang in many men’s quartets as well. I learned to sing any of the four parts as was needed when four men got together to sing although first tenor was always a stretch. 

Last March, when our church discontinued live worship, I discovered Audacity — a program that allowed me to record music with as many as 12 or 15 layered voices in a single recording. My recordings of the “Bob Brenneman Choir” became useful for worship in our recorded worship services. Later, requests came to include mixed voices from our scattered worship team. Other singers came one at a time to visit my makeshift basement studio to record worship songs on a mic I’d set up across the room. At age 78 I discovered I had the “audacity” to learn something new and use my gifts to serve the church in a new way during this unusual season. 

God is Love.mp3
Great is Thy Faithfulness.mp3
May The Lord Depend You.mp3

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