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Outbreak Voices: A Retired Pastor Steps Outside To Comfort The Grieving

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

John Thompson (ph) of Columbia, S.C., has been spending an awful lot of time with his wife these days. She makes sure he gets some exercise.

JOHN THOMPSON: My wife does a lot of shopping. She does not go out now, but I've noticed every day, packages arrive - packages on the porch. So I'm back-and-forth to the door, and I don't have to look at it to see who is it for. I know it's for my wife (laughter).

SIMON: And he loves cooking for her - well, lunch and dinner. Breakfast - not very much.

THOMPSON: My wife eats oatmeal every morning. I don't eat oatmeal. I don't like it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: John Thompson was a pastor for decades, and he still ministers from time to time. Like many older couples in the U.S., he and his wife have been trying to take every precaution to safeguard their health. But a minister never really retires.

THOMPSON: I am 74 1/2 years old. I've had cancer, bladder problems, urinary problems. And I have to make sure that I take recommendations of isolation very seriously.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

THOMPSON: The number of deaths that have occurred here among those of my age group has been astonishing. As a matter of fact, my cousin's husband died, and he had the virus. She called me and told me he had died and asked me if I would participate in the funeral. I said, well, I will not come into the church, but if it's outside, graveside, I will come. And, of course, at first, they were rejecting that idea, but I did go to the funeral since it was graveside. I wore my mask and gloves. I tried to practice the social distancing. But I offered a prayer and I tried to remind them that when a person dies physically, they are more present with you now spiritually than they ever were before. And I remind them, also, that you've been here before. There were times when you thought you would never be able to live again, that you wouldn't be able to breathe again. You got through that. There is a darkness. Death is real. It's final. But if we get stuck in that place of agony, that means our faith has not come to full expression.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

THOMPSON: I was very comforting for the family, but I left immediately afterwards. I sprayed myself down. And when I got back in my vehicle, I sprayed my handle and my steering wheel and my - it's just a practice. Ministry is a risk. Sometimes when you're called upon, you have to go.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

THOMPSON: I'm the spiritual anchor for this family, and I've always been. But you also have to make sure that you're making the most appropriate decisions so that you can be around. There's nothing wrong with trying to be safe.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: United Methodist minister John Thompson of Columbia, S.C. - retired, but not really.

(SOUNDBITE OF FANTOMPOWER'S "AT THE PARK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.