AN OPEN LETTER TO MY FAMILY OF FRIENDS OF THE WELLESLEY COMMUNITY:
The decision to celebrate Griffin Baum’s baptism by Zoom came down to a race between when it would be safe to join in community at Wellesley Hills Congregational Church in light of the COVID-19 crisis and when the baby would outgrow his great grandmother’s baptismal gown.
But with Griffin born in February at a solid 9 lbs, 14 oz, it became apparent this was going to be no contest. A hybrid digital-and-in-person ceremony it would be.
Baum, a single mom by choice, had big plans for Griffin’s baptism before the pandemic emerged. The mom and her baby were to be joined at the ceremony by family, friends, and the congregation. The family included Baum’s parents and 2-year-old son Parran as well as the Godparents—a cousin who is a resident at Washington University, his wife, and Baum’s sister, who lives in Virginia. Plus 5 kids between them.
“About two or three weeks ago it was clear that the day wouldn’t happen as planned. But I wanted to have Griffin baptized in his great grandmother’s baptismal gown,” Baum says. “Because we are a unique family I wanted to make sure that Griffin feels that he is part of a great family from the start. Many family members have been baptized in the gown.”
Baum’s parents moved to Wellesley in 1990, when she was in 8th grade. She went to college and lived elsewhere for years, but moved back in December of 2015 to have her children near family and join her father as a financial advisor.
That local family joined outside on the porch on Sunday, June 7th for the newfangled baptism. Rev. Anne Marie Holloway led the service in person, and was joined there by Baum, her children and her parents. The Godparents and their families joined by web conference, as did other friends and family, making for about 30 people on the call across 15 devices.
“I emailed and talked a lot with Anne Marie” leading up to the ceremony, said Baum, who has been working from home during the COVID-19 crisis, with many thanks to a reliable nanny. “[Anne Marie] and the church were in constant communication about what they could do to make the baptism happen. She said that the church proper would remain closed but that we could have it at the house outside. We didn’t want to put anyone at risk having it indoors (for my parents or my children).”
The baptism took lots of planning. This included staging an altar in preparation for Griffin to receive the sacrament, as well as getting the camera and mic working. Readings were chosen for the Godparents and Baum’s niece, and a program was created. Set-up was done with masks on; they were removed just for the actual ceremony.
“Making sure everyone could be seen and heard. Avoiding zoombombers. Making sure everyone was on mute and there were no unconventional sounds during the ceremony,” Baum said. “In the end the actual ceremony was only 13 minutes, according to my sister… In the end more family was able to attend via Zoom. And they probably had a better view than from the pews.”
Plans are to do something in the church once it re-opens to all. “It will be announced in the Parish Register this Sunday,” she says.
Those who Zoomed in this past Sunday weren’t disappointed. They were treated to a moving ceremony plus the sort of hijinx you’d expect from a 2-year-old big brother.
“We had Parran pour the water into the font. Anne Marie blessed it and then Parran and I baptized Griffin. Parran said, ‘Bless you, I love you.’ And then big brother baptized him three more times…,” Baum said.
Aiming to hold Parran’s attention during the ceremony, Rev. Holloway had given him a little lamb to hold. Naturally, the lamb got baptized, too, and went swimming in the font toward the end of the ceremony.
Any pictures I asked? Why of course…
As the COVID-19 crisis emerged, the Wellesley Housing Authority’s (WHA) first concern—beyond health-related ones—was about residents’ rent calculations.
“We knew that a lot of our residents would be affected by COVID-19 due to loss of hours, or possibly loss of jobs,” said Executive Director Sean Barnicle, sharing his report at the most recent WHA board meeting. “So we took the proactive approach of talking to residents and making changes [to their rents] without specific requirements for backup paperwork… We were able to have them put their requests in writing through us.”
This enabled the authority to adjust rent amounts without having to wait for letters from employers confirming changes in jobs or collecting several pay stubs for proof, said Barnicle, who started his job at WHA in April.
“We wanted to try to give them some solace that we’re trying to work with them through this unprecedented time,” he said.
While a significant number of residents, particularly in family units, have lost jobs or hours during the pandemic, others—including those on the front lines—have gained shifts and hours. Rules put in place by the country, state and WHA have helped to ensure that these residents are able to pocket gains, including stimulus checks. Rents were frozen March 1 and will stay that way through the end of July, and monies such as stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment aren’t being factored into income that rent calculations are based upon.
“The money should go to the residents, it shouldn’t then be portioned back out to the local housing authority, which then goes out to the state and federal coffers,” Barnicle said. Things can be re-evaluated as the new normal presents itself.
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Working during the COVID-19 crisis
WHA has also taken care of its staff, and as a result its residents, by moving to a work-at-home system early on, and that will largely continue, with some employees trickling back to the office on a rotating basis. It also works closely with the town’s Board of Health, which considers the public housing community in Wellesley one of its priorities.
Facilities workers have largely been kept out of residents’ units, with work focused outside when possible, including landscaping, refurbished flower boxes and other beautification work where employees are able to divide and conquer.
One way WHA has made sure to stay in close touch with residents even from afar is by launching a new Wellesley Housing Authority website, said Jackie Sullivan, deputy director. Sullivan’s goal had been to get the site up by June, but she launched it earlier when she realized electronic communication was going to be the norm during the pandemic. The site features resources on the new coronavirus, WHA announcements, and fun stuff like a jelly bean counting contest.
Looking ahead, as the COVID-19 threat hopefully subsides, WHA has residential improvements planned. These include a $250K window replacement project at its Washington Street units near the police station. The bidding process for that work, which includes the replacement of old crank-out windows that are tough for residents and maintenance to deal with, is getting underway.
Another project in the works is a refurb of the Barton Road complex office. While having two big projects going at the same time will be a handful, Barnicle is also hopeful that this will be a prime time to get good deals out of contractors hungry to get back to work.
Barnicle lamented that he had to be the bearer of bad news to some residents who had rolled out kiddie pools as the weather heated up. They’re too much of a liability concern to allow. But the town has come to the rescue with a good alternative. Through the Wellesley COVID-19 Relief Fund, a few dozen splash pads/sprinkler mats are being supplied to residents and other families in need.
Hundreds of people, many holding signs bearing the names of those killed in recent years while in police custody, lined Washington Street in Wellesley from Reidy Field past the tennis courts in a mostly silent vigil on Sunday afternoon.
The somber crowd, facing the road as honking vehicles drove by, urged justice for George Floyd and an end to police brutality.
World of Wellesley’s Michelle Chalmers, ringing a bell, spoke impassionedly about fighting racism as she walked the length of the crowd.
Wellesley Police kept a low profile at the peaceful event.
The vigil took place one day after a similarly sized crowd gathered on Natick Common in a demonstration focused on the same issues. Protests, some turning violent and resulting in curfews, continue to spread across the country.
A Black Lives Matter silent vigil/protest for justice for George Floyd and to end police violence will be held at 4pm in Wellesley on Sunday, May 31 at Reidy Field on Washington Street. Signs are welcome.
George Floyd, 46, died on May 25 after being arrested by police outside a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In video footage of the arrest, a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, 44, has Floyd pinned to the ground and is kneeling on his neck. Chauvin kept his knee of Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes, even as concerned bystanders tried to verbally intervene.
Floyd was taken by ambulance from the scene of the assault to a medical center, where he died about one hour later.
Chauvin, 44, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He has been fired, along with three other officers who were at the scene.
Since Floyd’s death, there have been widespread protests, some violent, across the country.
Wake up, Wellesley
Last year, a group of about 300 Wellesley High School (WHS) students, led by the student organization Young Ethnic Scholars (YES), walked out of class and onto the athletic field to “take action against the racial injustice rampant in YOUR community.”
The group, made up of students of color and their allies, was protesting racist incidents that occurred in the Wellesley public schools.
Hundreds gather in Natick
Separately, hundreds of community members gathered on Natick Common on Saturday, May 30 in support of justice for people of color who have been killed, threatened or otherwise unjustly treated in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in police custody.
Wellesley has dozens of permanent markers and tributes throughout town to recognize those who served in the military.
Below also see a list from the town, in honor of Memorial Day, of veterans who passed over the past year.
More: Natick war memorial tour