XPLOR Responds to Coronavirus with “Virtual” Residency Model

Bonnie Osei-Frimpong, NBA XPLOR Director

NBA XPLOR has been a nexus of change and transformation for young adult Residents and local communities since it began in 2004. This spring, COVID-19 brought our NBA XPLOR team, current Residents and host communities to experience change and transformation at the very heart of our program and structure.

In March, we had eighteen Residents in six host communities living into the rhythms of their shared life of community engagement, vocational discernment, spiritual deepening, and leadership involvement. As communities nationwide entered into quarantine, we took time and met with each host team and XPLOR Residents to ask, “What is the right thing at this time, for you?”

What we heard repeatedly from participants was that their heart was committed to XPLOR and the program cornerstones – community engagement and justice, spiritual deepening and vocational discernment, leadership development, and simple living in intentional community. The question that emerged became, “is there a new way to live into the call of God and our communities—as represented in these cornerstones, in these new circumstances?”

We felt and heard how some Residents were being called home to support and be with family, some needed to take extra precautions for their personal wellbeing, others sought to deepen their engagement and extend their availability to their immediate household and XPLOR community, and others still were open and discerning what their best decision might be, given new options and opportunities that might emerge. I was and continue to be inspired with how Residents and host teams alike were committed to see this through, sharing in community engagement, worship, mutual care, and some forms of common life together—in any ways they could.

Thus, in addition to myself and other NBA XPLOR team members – Rev. Dr. Ben Bohren, Mission Specialist Consultant; Rev. Virzola Law, Mission Specialist Consultant, and other NBA staff, we worked collaboratively and diligently with host teams and Residents to devise a “virtual model” for NBA XPLOR, which has included an early end date for the program – by a month– on May 18.

NBA XPLOR’s transformation this spring into a “virtual” Residency is built on more than the internet’s capacity to connect people’s visage and voices across time and space. It is built within and upon communities of compassion and care. Within XPLOR’s virtual Residency, we have four XPLOR households whose members are spread far and wide—of the thirteen participants in these houses, four have stayed in place while their housemates have returned to live with family or friends. XPLOR has two complete houses—five Residents, whose participants have “sheltered in place”—maintaining a daily commitment to quarantine together within their XPLOR home.

With joy, we share how Residents who have gone virtual have developed “continuing commitment plans” where they have creatively determined ways to use their time with meaning and in a spirit of transformation whether in the community engagement work they began in their internship, or in entirely new ways. One example involves an XPLOR Resident working with their home congregation to prepare for commemorating nearly 180 years of ministry by helping to craft a written history that will also highlight the community’s longtime commitment to organizing and community outreach. Another Resident is actively working on activities and resources which can more deeply connect racial, ethnic ministries with the wider Disciples general church. And, still another Resident, is centering the remainder of their time on an NBA XPLOR-wide cookbook. Needless to say, in over six years of program, our folks have cooked a lot of recipes!

Residents, virtual and in-place, continue to nurture common life as households, by sharing mealtimes, evening check-ins and devotional time, and of course, one of the lodestar components of XPLOR—regular, weekly Sabbath check-ins with their Spiritual Companion.

The novel coronavirus is compelling and inspiring people and institutions to look at their commitments and practices in innovative ways. NBA XPLOR is being stretched and is growing through this process much in the same ways that our Residents and host teams have been transformed.

As our XPLOR community rolls into the month of May, living into new rhythms and re-examined priorities and commitments regarding the call of God and our communities on our life, we are inspired to explore and ask together the question, “What is the right thing at this time, for this XPLOR community?”

As the health and social services general ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the National Benevolent Association partners with congregations, regions, general ministries, and a variety of Disciples-related health and social service providers to create communities of compassion and care. Founded in 1887 by six women responding to the needs of the day and on their doorsteps, for more than 130 years the NBA has continued to serve “the least of these.” Learn more at www.nbacares.org.