On Rowboats and Resilience

Updated: Sep 10

by David Romanik


Earlier in July, my family had the chance to spend some time at my in-laws’ house on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. One of my favorite things to do when we visit the lake is to take the old steel rowboat out onto the water and relive my days as a collegiate oarsman. For the most part, these excursions are limited to paddling around the bay on which the house is situated with my two oldest girls, their cousin, and any grown-ups who want to tag along. Once or twice a visit, however, I will make a solo voyage to a more distant part of the lake a mile or two away. As soon as I emerge from my in-laws’ bay, the conditions become much less placid. While it probably wouldn’t be appropriate to refer to it as “open water”, rowing in the broader portions of the lake makes one much more susceptible to the elements. As it is buffeted by wind and waves, the boat that is large enough to accommodate three children and two adults feels very small. Moreover, making forward progress in these conditions requires one to steer the boat in a zigzag pattern, so the wind does not push the boat into the lakeshore. The process can be painstaking, even frustrating. Nevertheless, making it to my destination requires me to stay in the boat and keep rowing, even when it feels like the boat is barely moving at all.

When we think of resilience, there are many images that come to mind: Churchill inspecting the bomb damage in London immediately after an attack by the Luftwaffe; Episcopalians celebrating the Eucharist on the concrete slabs of churches that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina; the faithful at Mother Emanuel in Charleston gathering for worship the Sunday after a white supremacist murdered nine members of their congregation and proclaiming, “God is our refuge and our strength”. The common thread that runs through all of these examples is a sense of continuity. In general, we tend to think of resilience as a conscious decision to stay the course: to continue doing what we would do normally despite the challenges and threats we face.


This definition of resilience, however, does not apply to the current circumstances in our world or at the Church of the Heavenly Rest. Indeed, we have had to change course multiple times over the last several months. After three Sundays of in-person worship, we had to return to offering only virtual worship for the month of July. Now we have added one in-person outdoor service at 9:00 on Sundays beginning in August. This feels less like “staying the course” and more like “three steps forward, two steps back”. Of course, the main reason our traditional images of resilience do not work is because the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage. Churchill did not leave 10 Downing Street while the bombs were falling. Episcopalians in Mississippi did not gather for worship in the middle of a hurricane. We are in a context in which the threat is constant and largely invisible. What does resilience look like in circumstances such as these?

To my mind, our call in this time as a parish community is to be like a rowboat navigating the wind and the waves. In the coming months, there will be times that we feel like we are making forward progress, and there will be other times that we might feel like we are going backwards. At other moments, we may feel like we are barely moving at all, buffeted mercilessly by elements out of our control. Nevertheless, our call is to remain in the boat, trusting that we will ultimately reach our destination. This will require us to be flexible, and it will require us to be faithful. This time of uncertainty also requires us to be resilient: trusting that, no matter what our common life looks like in the coming months, “nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

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