Couple begins local virus support group

The Rev. John Kelly and his wife, Tish, of St. George Episcopal Church in The Villages, will start a small, virtual group that will run the next six Tuesdays to talk about the effects of COVID-19.

The past several months have been quite a roller coaster for the Rev. John Kelly of St. George Episcopal Church and his wife, Tish. “We are a family of COVID-19 survivors,” Kelly said. “I had the virus and so did our daughter. But Tish was in the hospital for 56 days. My daughter and I had to isolate ourselves and couldn’t see her for a month and a half.” The Kellys are still recovering, but both have returned to their work at St. George. They also are getting the message out about what they’ve gone through with The Villages community. “We shared our COVID-19 stories with the St. George congregation during one of our Sunday services,” Tish recalled. “Congregants and others followed our story on Facebook and the St. George website. We had such a personal journey together, but then we thought about what’s next.”

That next part of the journey is what the Kellys describe as a faith-based support group for people struggling emotionally, mentally and spiritually with COVID-19. The group, which starts Zoom meetings 11 a.m. Tuesday , will run for six weeks and include presentations followed by discussion. The Kellys said the support group is one of the first faith-based sessions in the area to focus primarily on COVID-19.

“We’ve heard from a lot of people, both inside the church and out, who’ve asked us where God is in all of this,” Kelly said. “A support group like this can help open the community to talking about COVID-19 and how it affects all of us.”

Topics covered will run the gamut of issues affecting those impacted in some way by COVID-19, including having the virus, the residual effects of COVID-19 and protecting yourself from the virus.

“We’re also going to talk about survivor guilt,” Kelly said. “We’ve already met with people that have had COVID-19 but also lost loved ones to the virus. We’ll also discuss maintaining one’s mental health during this crisis. There’s so many people that are self-isolating and quarantining, they start developing issues with anxiety and depression, so it’s important to talk about that.”

The Kellys noted that they bring a unique perspective to the table. Kelly was asymptomatic during his COVID-19 fight, saying he “felt fine” after a week of cold and fever symptoms. But Tish, who has the preexisting condition lymphoma, fought COVID-19 during weeks in intensive care, battling respiratory distress and pneumonia. Today, Tish says she’s about “90% recovered,” and is able to attend worship and help out with the church.

“We both have (a) few residual effects from our COVID fight,” Tish noted. “I still have a cough and some residual lung damage, but neither are permanent. I’m also able to drive, bike and walk on my own, but I try to isolate while in the church, and I no longer greet people at the door like I used to.”

The COVID-19 support group is the latest way St. George Episcopal is adapting to a virus-centric world. When the church’s sanctuary shut down for several months this spring, Kelly and others hosted services online. And although worship has resumed inside the church, St. George continues to provide alternative ways for its pastors, staff and congregants to connect, from phone messaging to podcasts. The church also hosts “Outdoor Eucharist” on Thursday mornings outside the sanctuary, located at 1250 Paige Place.

“Thank goodness for YouTube,” Kelly joked. “We watched a few tutorials on how to host a Zoom session and the like when the pandemic started, just to get our feet wet. Now we’re reaching out to 500 parishioners every week through podcasts, Facebook videos and phone calls. It’s important to keep in touch with our church family, and we found a way to do it.”

The COVID-19 Zoom sessions are open to everyone, regardless of denomination or church membership. However, there is a maximum of about 40 people per session. The Kellys say if this six-week session goes well, more could be scheduled in the future.

To register, send an email with your names to stgeorge1250@gmail.com. A confirmation email with the link to the Zoom meeting will be sent within 24 hours. Registration deadline is Sunday .

Senior Writer James Dinan can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5302, or james.dinan@thevillagesmedia.com.