By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published April 16, 2020
ATLANTA—Victoria Farmer’s years-long faith journey was to reach its peak on Holy Saturday, April 11. In an ancient ritual, she would have been confirmed in her new Catholic faith.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country, church leaders suspended Mass. That decision, unfathomable weeks earlier, put a stop to the public celebration of the Easter Vigil. No candlelight procession of the Easter fire. No retelling of biblical stories of God’s love. No receiving the Eucharist.
Her initiation into the church is in limbo. “This is the Lentiest Lent ever,” Farmer said.
Watching the vigil filled her with sadness, particularly during the prayer for spiritual communion, knowing she was supposed to be receiving her first Eucharist, she said. But the hope-filled homily by her pastor Msgr. Joe Corbett of St. Jude the Apostle Church, Sandy Springs, and hearing from concerned friends all day helped lift her spirits, she said.
Carrying an extra cross
In the Archdiocese of Atlanta, more than 1,900 women, men, and children wait to join other believers in the church.
For college student Kurt Whitely, a member of St. Lawrence Church, Lawrenceville, the delay deepens a spiritual exercise.
“I also see this as a bit of an extra cross to carry through Lent, to make it a more intense first experience for me, so I actually don’t mind it too much,” he said in an email.
Civic orders to stay home shut down public Catholic gatherings. Faith is still passed from ministry leaders to the dispersed candidates and catechumens with emails and video conference calls.
Laura Riveria gets up Sunday mornings for the livestreamed 9 a.m. Mass. She sits at her kitchen table and faithfully follows the readings. Riveria said the first opportunity to gather at St. Michael the Archangel Church, Woodstock, will be “truly, truly glorious.”
Farmer grew up Southern Baptist in south Georgia. Being part of her church meant serving the people in the community. She painted houses, visited the elderly in nursing homes, cared for babies at daycare centers during mission trips.
Farmer and her husband, Michial, explored joining the Catholic Church when they lived in Minnesota. They returned to Georgia last May to her in-laws’ home. They both began the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at St. Jude Church, Sandy Springs, in the fall.
Farmer, 34, said she relished learning about women of the early church, with a newfound affection for St. Teresa of Avila, the first woman doctor of the church.
The prayer the saint penned that begins “Let nothing disturb you” gave her peace. “I have an anxiety disorder so I pray that one a lot,” she said.
A statue of the beloved 16th-century Spanish Carmelite saint watches over her home office. She works for now in a makeshift office in her in-laws’ home as a digital manager for an online startup. Farmer earned a doctorate in English. She is a founder of a Christian feminist podcast.
Farmer lives with a form of cerebral palsy. The significance the church places on the body in Catholic theology and how the sacraments are transmitted with physical actions intrigues her because of her physical needs, she said.
Staying with her husband’s parents in Woodstock, Farmer hopes to decorate her own home with work by Catholic creators, especially of Mary’s ‘fiat’ and excerpts from the Night Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours.
Farmer relishes the milestones of Lent, the Rite of Election and Continuing Conversion at St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell, and Ash Wednesday. She walked from her Midtown office to the red brick Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, where its twin spires stand among the office towers. Farmer joined scores of others who received ashes on their foreheads, the burnt remnants of palms.
“Remember you are a sinner in need of the Gospel,” she recalled hearing.
She wrote on Twitter shortly after Mass, “I feel a little less alone in my faith journey.”
As COVID-19 spread, she found herself cut off from her faith community. A day of reflection with their sponsors was scratched. Her first sacrament of reconciliation was off.
That struck Farmer hard. She committed to an examination of conscience, ready to share her sins with a priest and repent followed by the balm of the words of absolution.
“It is a big disappointment. I’m very sad in the delay,” she said.
Michial, 38, a former college professor, said he knows the stay-at-home order means a delay only.
“I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make me sad. But I know that those experiences will still be there next year,” he wrote in an email.
“Our confirmation has been our North Star of sorts for the past few months. So that’s been frustrating, but it helps to keep in mind that nothing’s canceled—it’s just a matter of having patience, which I think we’ve gotten reasonably good at over the past year,” he said.
The soon-to-be Catholics still gather, instead of in a classroom, relying on technology. She misses the touch so commonplace during normal times. The Monday meeting, Farmer said, is a “highlight for our week.”
She’ll wait, knowing her confirmation and first Communion will come. She draws strength from one of the early days of the RCIA program. It was a conversation about the virtues of the church.
“I never could have thought I’d be having patience—trying to have patience—at this time.”