Walking out of our lovely, in-person commencement ceremonies last month, I found myself humming a classic hymn of the faith, thanks to Stewart Foster, talented organist from the Royal Poinciana Chapel in Palm Beach. The soft strains of Stewart’s music filled the spaces between the names called out as graduates received their diplomas. One particular hymn kept replaying in my mind, until I concluded: We should set up an Ebenezer after ending a year under COVID-19.
I bet many of you know exactly the hymn I mean, and in your mind you’re singing along with me, “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” To young people not exposed to the great old hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” I must explain. I don’t have a son named Ebenezer, and neither did 18th century hymnwriter Robert Robinson. Instead, in that lyric, Robinson referred to the Old Testament prophet Samuel setting up a stone as a monument and naming it Ebenezer, which means “stone of help.”
With great thankfulness Samuel commemorated a miraculous intervention by God on behalf of the people of Israel. With a similar heart of thanks, I’m singing Robert Robinson’s declaration:
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I’ve come.
For our nation as a whole, and for Palm Beach Atlantic University in particular, I’m singing praise to God for how we’ve come this far through COVID-19.
On the national level, I certainly don’t minimize the tragic loss of life and suffering we’ve seen. But as we mourn the death of nearly 600,000 Americans, we rejoice in the spreading relief and hope brought about by effective vaccines.
Thanks for wearing those masks
At PBA we’ve marked a truly miraculous academic year in the midst of the pandemic. Alumni and other supporters made generous donations to help us protect everyone on campus. We stayed open with in-person classes, and by God’s grace our COVID numbers stayed low. We saw no deaths or hospitalizations due to COVID-19. I’m very grateful for faculty, staff and students who faithfully wore masks and followed our many safety guidelines.
A dedicated team developed and oversaw our procedures for COVID safety and testing and caring for quarantined students. Assistant Vice President for Student Development Kate Magro showed tireless leadership under her extra duties related to COVID. She said this challenging season reminded her of the PBA founders who sensed God’s call to establish a Christian college in West Palm Beach.
“The founders prayed, were obedient and worked together,” said Kate. In the same way, she saw the PBA community respond to the pandemic. “My hope,” Kate said, “is that we carry forward the lessons we learned this year in relying on God and working together to accomplish His larger calling.”
Think with me as we expand upon Kate’s idea of lessons we’ve learned during COVID-19, with that lesson of community being among the most powerful. (To those who have not yet received their COVID vaccinations, I would remind you that getting vaccinated is showing care for our community, as is wearing masks if you’re not vaccinated.)
And to those who have been vaccinated, isn’t it a blessed relief now to leave your home not wearing that mask? By the way, to members of the PBA Dance Ensemble, I must award the prize for being the most elegant mask wearers on campus. And some of our students have been quite creative in decorating their masks.
We’ve laughed and we’ve cried
We’ve laughed at some of the lessons learned through the pandemic. One PBA staff member learned her husband should be more careful running around the house in his underwear. (He stumbled into the background of a Zoom meeting.)
We’ve also wept at some of the lessons learned. In our sadness, I believe hymnwriter Robinson would have a word for those not afflicted with the virus. He wrote, “Oh, to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be!” He referred to the ultimate grace we find through Christ’s sacrificial life, but I’m sure Robinson also recognized God’s grace in the daily blessings of life and health.
How then, should we respond to the debt we owe God as we come out of this terrible season of COVID-19? First, we can borrow another line from Robinson’s hymn, calling for “songs of loudest praise.” Let’s praise God and also shower with praise the medical professionals, first-responders and others who served us so bravely throughout the pandemic.
Next, let’s remember that to whom much is given, much shall be required. I’ve been given God’s wondrous gift of health and strength. I’ve not lost my job during the pandemic, and I reap the benefits of a powerful, effective vaccine. Consider now how I might turn my heart and hands to those less fortunate.
What about that new neighbor I hardly know, but I understand she lost her mother to COVID?
What about the many who suffer in India and other countries where the virus still rages unabated? I’ll pray for them, and pray for my neighbor, and I can do more.
God will bless our prayers, our personal outreach and our judicious support of relief efforts. To quote another phrase from “Come, Thou Fount,” our Heavenly Father welcomes our help to supply “streams of mercy, never ceasing.”
Dr. Debra A. Schwinn, a physician, researcher and innovator, is president of Palm Beach Atlantic University. (www.pba.edu) For more articles by Dr. Schwinn, visit goodnewsfl.org/author/dr-debra-a-schwinn/