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Socially Distanced Residence Band

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“We need a drummer!” That was the appeal issued by a young neighbor of ours, Colette*, on a Saturday evening in April. She was standing in the middle of the community garden in our neighborhood in western Paris, holding her bass with her two sisters, her boyfriend, and a young neighbor from across the park—all wielding musical instruments.

The group had just finished a two-song set, and the residents were going wild. When Colette asked for a drummer, many of our neighbors started pointing to me and shouting my name as I’ve been a drummer for 25 years. Little did I know her request would lead to a ministry beyond what we could have predicted.

Invisible Boundaries

I’d seen Colette around a few times before. Usually, it was when I was playing my drums in the garage, and she would pass with a knowing nod. In January, we started to get to know her better when I helped her and her grandfather change a flat tire. Later, Colette and her sister, Stephanie*, knocked on our door to give us a box of chocolates as a thank you. Needless to say, we were very touched.

Life continued as normal with polite conversations, but the linguistic and cultural barriers remained. Then COVID-19 hit, and things rapidly changed. With no place to go and a lack of human contact, cabin fever set in quickly. The saving grace for us and our neighbors has been the private park that acts as a central hub for the 70–80 apartments surrounding it. As it’s our only area of unrestricted activity and contact, people regularly play with their kids, take walks, and chat to neighbors at a distance.

People are also being drawn together to celebrate medical personnel on the front lines of combating the virus. Every night at 8:00 p.m. sharp, the community opens their balcony windows to clap and bang on pots and pans for precisely two minutes. Whistles and cheers pierce the air in a moment of communal fellowship that is truly heartwarming. It was in the ensuing moments of this nocturnal ritual that the Socially Distant Residence Band was born.

The day after their debut show, Colette and her boyfriend, Daniel*, found me in the garden with my kids and asked if I’d play with them and if we could rehearse at my garage each night. “Sure!” I responded enthusiastically. They were a bit rough around the edges musically, but their hearts were brimming with enthusiasm and passion. The nightly rehearsals that followed were some of the sweetest moments in my 25 years of being a drummer, but the true impact came in the conversations afterwards.

A Sacred Boost

Night one, after we packed up our instruments, a man from around the corner, Gabriel*, stopped by with his two kids to inquire about our rehearsal. I explained that we were gathering to bring joy to the community. His immediate response was, “C’est chouette le COVID!” or “It’s cool, the COVID.” He told me one of his daughters played the drums at school, so I let her jump in behind my kit while we chatted.

With uncharacteristic openness for a first-time interaction, he divulged that he was recently divorced and was taking his kids back to their mom’s house just across the street. I told him of my own experience many years ago and assured him that it does get easier. As he walked away, I empathized deeply with the unspoken pain lingering just below the surface—splitting time with your kids between two homes can be unbearably painful.

On night two, Colette’s parents came by to shoot some video. They hung around afterwards and within two sentences the mom said, “Can we ‘tutoyer’?” A light breeze could have knocked me over; I was so surprised. We were being fast-tracked to a deeper, more intimate level of exchange. (See sidebar, To “Vouvoyer” or To “Tutoyer”?)

It quickly felt like we’d known them for years. The conversation was peppered with moments of both levity and gravity. They spoke at length about each of their girls and how overjoyed they were to have found a person to play percussion with.

On night three, the girls of the separated parents came across the street to visit, this time with their mom, Alice*, in tow. “I heard you met the kids with their dad earlier this week and you gave them drum lessons!” This utterance plunged us into deep conversation about the difficulties of separation, the joys of where we live, and the unexpected—but truly life-giving—camaraderie that has been gifted to us all in our time of confinement.

I could speak at length about all the conversations we have had and the doors they have opened or of the cards in our mailbox with notes of thanks for how we have brought a “sacred boost” to the community. In this time of lockdown, we have made more connections in two weeks than we have in six years. Hearts are open, and God has accelerated the relationship building process to the point where we can barely keep up with Him!

Missional Living

On April 25, after our nightly applause for health-care workers died down at 8:02 p.m. we played an original rendition of “I Want To Break Free” by Queen. Over the half hour that followed, we and the people around us were transported to another world. A sea of faces filled balconies, and some families spread out blankets socially distant from each other. Since then we have played more shows, and in an effort to involve the locals, we started collecting money for various organizations helping in the fight against COVID-19.

Caring in Chaos. We can all do it to some extent. Yes, there are restrictions, but God is not restricted. I had no idea a fixed tire or saying “yes” to playing drums would lead to where it has, but it always starts with a small gesture of kindness and simply putting ourselves out there.

Our Socially Distanced Residence Band continues to gain steam. We have started to find our groove and are attempting more and more complicated songs for our weekly performance. It has not only relit a fire in my heart for music but has also distilled down to its purest essence what true missional living is all about.

Missional living does not start on foreign soil but right where your feet are planted. It starts by lifting your head, looking around at where God is moving, and saying “Lord, use me!” Your situation, both legally and physically, might look a lot different than mine, but God opens doors when you simply show up. It could be a Socially Distanced Painting Group, a Socially Distanced Exercise Group, a Socially Distanced Writing Group. It could be a knitting, poetry, dog-walking, puzzles, or whatever-your-passion-is group. It can be done online or in person, but don’t sit around and wait for the miracle to come. The miracle is now!


*Name changed

To “Vouvoyer” or To “Tutoyer”?

In France, you keep your relational distance until the French person lets you in. Even linguistically the barrier is clear. When you address anyone you don’t know or someone in authority, you use the word “vouvoyer.” This formal language puts an invisible—but very clear—boundary between you and the person you are speaking to. You can live next to a neighbour for 20 years and never get past “vouvoyer.”

However, when a French person asks if they can discard formality and “tutoyer” with you, you’re in! My wife, Val, and I have lived in the same residence for the past six years and could count on one hand the number of people we “tutoyer” with.

1 response to Socially Distanced Residence Band

  1. I invited a 19 year old gal from our church to
    come to our Alliance Women’s meeting and relate this story. She is very musical. It was perfect for her and she shared with much
    enthusiasm.

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