Every Friday morning at 9:30 a.m., Douglas Cornman, the Mission’s Director of Island Outreach and Chaplain, powers up his computer, turns on his video camera, and starts moving with students attending school on Maine’s outer islands on Zoom.
The exercise classes that Douglas runs for the outer islands have a dual purpose. Not only do they get students moving but they also keep students on outer islands connected with their peers. With a small number of students on each island and learning in one- or two-room schoolhouses, classmates might be years and grades apart from each other. Students from five different island schools get together in-person a few times each year, but this exercise class, which started before the pandemic, gives kids an easy way to see each other while staying on the islands they call home.
The class is not the only virtual island gathering Douglas facilitates. He also leads the Second Sunday with the Seacoast Mission on Zoom. The Second Sunday is a monthly interfaith gathering for island residents that grew out of weekly Zoom services Douglas started in the summer of 2020 when churches were closed. Douglas brings together islanders of different faith traditions and backgrounds and the Zooms feature everything from Tibetan chanting and breathwork to readings from the Bible and singing of hymns. The gatherings became a way for islanders to connect with each other, so when churches reopened, there was a request to continue to do services. Douglas now runs a monthly Zoom for islanders during the winter and early spring.
“The group grew to appreciate the time we spent together even though it was remote and not in-person, Douglas says. “Not only was the gathering island-centric, but it also allowed islanders the opportunity to meet residents from other islands. Summer residents, who feel the loss of connection to their island, stayed connected with island friends and neighbors.” Douglas spreads the word each month about the services on Facebook as well as through emails. He says that anyone with a tie to an island, including summer residents and those living on other outer islands, are invited to join.
The Mission, the crew of the Sunbeam, and Douglas continue to be a lifeline to islanders. Facilitating connection between residents of different islands as well as to the mainland strengthens community and lessens the isolation many can feel. And while many of us have turned away from Zoom meetings and screens in favor of in-person gatherings, these virtual offerings still bring people together even with many miles and an ocean between them.
Find out more about Island Outreach here.