This week we spent our time figuring out how to make our transfer processes better. Last week, we did okay. By that I mean everyone got to where they needed to go, with keys, a companion, and a bed to sleep in, although I did end up with an extra pillow after all, so I’m not sure everyone had a pillow that night. But we were unsatisfied with our social distancing. It seems the in-field missionaries were too casual in their willingness to get out of their cars, congregate, and take too much time in getting the work of the transfer done (there is a lot of exchanging of information, keys, phones, people, cars, etc.). This created some amount of confusion when the newly arrived missionaries came, and President and Sister Bell were concerned that there was more social interaction than was healthy under the COVID-19 circumstances we are in.
We had been conducting the transfers in the parking lot of the mission office during the last couple of months during evening hours. No one was working at the office park anyway. And the Frontenac church building where transfers traditionally have been held is right next to the city offices and public safety officials. It just didn’t feel right to look like we were flaunting the “no meeting” rules by having lots of cars and missionaries descend on the church, putting at least our reputation at risk. Curiously, we decided to have a staff meeting at the Frontenac building, for several reasons, not least to take a closer look at the facilities and whether we might want to start moving our transfers back there. But we were still a bit concerned for appearance sake. When we arrived at the Frontenac building for our staff meeting, to our surprise, the parking lot was jammed with fire engines, police cars, ambulances, and too many first responders and city officials to count. What was going on here? Whatever it was, we noted that the city didn’t seem to have much worry about congregating at the church or careful social distancing. That relieved our concerns about conducting transfers there. I was still perplexed about what was going on though. Later that night, I learned that like many places around the country, there was a special air force flyover of St Louis in honor of the brave caregivers. (I think it was a formation of KC-130 refueling tankers manufactured by Boeing here in St Louis). And wouldn’t you know, I saw a bird’s eye photo of the Frontenac church: the first responders had used our large parking lot to space their first responder vehicles in huge block letters spelling out the word HOPE as a part of the honorary flyby. This was an effort not at all apparent to us when we arrived for our meeting!
Sister Hatfield with all here organizational skill, had been ruminating and putting on paper ideas on how to standardize, streamline, and make our transfer process more safe in the COVID environment. I finally caught her vision. So then working together, we came up with checklists for each type of missionary coming through the transfer: those just arriving, companions of those just arriving, and missionaries transferring in-field without involvement of a new missionary. We went through many drafts, small meetings to build consensus, physical layout planning, stations, color schemes, cones, parking zones, and considerations and elements too many to mention. Everyone would know their job! I am tempted to, because it really was a monumental effort, but I will spare you any further details. (Just let me know if you want color copies of the various missionary transfer checklists.) Finally, on Friday, May 15th we had one more staff meeting to get last inputs, make some adjustments, and be ready. We will make good use of our detailed planning in the weeks to come.
It should be said that all of this may seem very engineering like, and it certainly had those elements, but it also was quite difficult. The COVID environment takes its toll not only on those that suffer physically, but the emotional deprivations of social distancing showed themselves in our transfers and transfer planning more than any other of our experiences so far. Our goal was to keep already isolated missionaries, including ourselves, continuously isolated through the transfer process. So while they might see fellow laborers in the vineyard, they were to be kept from enjoying anything but a wave from a distance. That is hard. More, for those of us doing the planning and execution, there was plenty of strain as we tried to find processes that suited everyone, when each had a different perspective on what would work and the most important objectives. We will all be happy when we find a normalcy that feels more human.
In the midst of this transfer work, there was regular housing to work on. We worked hard to ready the St Charles North apartment for missionaries, hanging closet doors that of course had been removed, unclogging a drain, tightening the kitchen faucet, lubricating the door lock, and bringing clean bedding, all of which becomes common place. I got a call from the sisters in Lake St Louis that their washer stopped working. We had an extra one in inventory, so we took it out to them. It only took one extra trip to Lowe’s for a replacement drain hose that was long enough to reach. The sisters were grateful, and we always enjoy the Spirit in our departing prayers with the missionaries as we leave them.
Saturday, May 16th was different. We didn’t feel the need to clean an apartment for the first time in a long time for our preparation day. Mitchell and Patric had purchased us a membership to the venerable St Louis Botanical Gardens, but now that the weather was good enough to go, everything public is closed. We decided to go check out the gardens anyway. Sure enough, the entrance had a closed sign, but we were able to slip in the delivery driveway to take a peek. We could see this was a place we would enjoy when the time came. But the security guard on the golf cart was making sure we did not get too close just yet. Because it is set in a fairly quiet part of town, it has a sidewalk all around it’s several block size. We parked the car and walk the perimeter, peering in where possible. We were surprised when we made it around to the original gates that it was established in 1859. Henry Shaw had come from England up the river to the city of St Louis to seek his fortunes 40 years before and his success allowed him to give a grand gift to the city and its residents. RaDene and I thought about our own ancestors that were immigrating from England during this same period of time starting new lives in this strange new land. I wonder if any of them stopped long enough to see the gardens?
On our way home we decided to get some food. I rarely turn down the chance for a burger, and it turned out she was willing. I coaxed her out of the car from her missionary help call, we donned our masks, and went in. I was the first time we had together been inside (as opposed to in the parking lot) of a restaurant. We stood carefully on the socially distant circles marked on the floor until it was our turn to order. As we rather awkwardly hung around for Mitchell’s name to be called (our go to name for such occasions), we observed the kitchen workers with masks, but pulled down to their top lips, leaving noses exposed. That didn’t seem particularly sanitary. When we got our bag, we stepped outside and saw several tables with umbrellas, all vacant. We decided to eat there rather than in the car. But it all felt a little uncomfortable, not knowing when the last time the tables were cleaned. The experience left us uneasy about eating out still.