The historic Christ Church closed in early March, and has remained closed, for the first time since a fire in the 1800s.

The historic Christ Church closed in early March, and has remained closed, for the first time since a fire in the 1800s.

The rector of Christ Church Georgetown, Rev. Timothy Cole, was the first confirmed coronavirus patient in the District. The Episcopal priest was hospitalized for close to three weeks before recovering and returning home.

Rev. Cole joins the show to discuss his experience with COVID-19 and offer his advice on getting through dark times with humor, faith and friendship.

Produced by Julie Depenbrock


  • Rev. Timothy Cole Rector, Christ Church Georgetown


  • 12:00:04

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. I'm broadcasting from home so welcome. Later in the broadcast how crime, law enforcement and violence interruption in local communities have been influenced by the pandemic. But first the rector of Christ Church Georgetown, Rev. Timothy Cole became the first confirmed coronavirus patient in the District in early March. The Episcopal priest was hospitalized for close to three weeks before recovering and returning home. Joining us to discuss his experience with COVID-19 and offer advice on getting through the pandemic is Rev. Timothy Cole. Rev. Cole, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:00:44

    REV. TIMOTHY COLEKojo, good afternoon. Thank you for having me on.

  • 12:00:48

    NNAMDIYou're more than welcome, and we would love to have you members of our listening audience join this conversation with your questions or comments. You can give us a call. Rev. Cole, as I said earlier you were D.C.'s patient zero for COVID-19. Do you know where and how you first contracted the coronavirus?

  • 12:01:07

    COLEWell, of course, it's very difficult to say for sure, but I think it was at a church leadership conference in Louisville that I went to. And then I know a number of other priests from around the country, you know, contracted it shortly afterwards and indeed some people from the seminary here as well. So it looks like that's where we got it.

  • 12:01:33

    NNAMDIWhat were your earliest symptoms? What made you decide to see a doctor?

  • 12:01:39

    COLEWell, I didn't initially see a doctor, because I thought I had flu. And, you know, just fever, shaking, sore throat usual kind of thing. So I just went to bed for two or three days, and the fever broke. I felt better. I waited 24 hours. Then I went back to work. And then -- so I didn't see a doctor at that stage at all. And then I was fine for a few days and then suddenly I felt sick again. And I really, you know, pretty much collapsed. So that's when I saw a doctor and was admitted to hospital.

  • 12:02:14

    NNAMDIHow did you feel when you found out that you tested positive for coronavirus?

  • 12:02:20

    COLEWell, it was a bit of a surprise and, yeah, I felt -- you know, we knew about it of course. And people were talking about it. But it hadn't really raised it's ugly head very strongly around Washington obviously at that stage. So I was a bit surprised and, you know, obviously concerned, and perhaps even a little afraid.

  • 12:02:53

    NNAMDIRev. Cole, you were in the hospital for nearly three weeks. Can you tell us about that experience?

  • 12:02:59

    COLEYeah. I think like a lot of things in life these sudden changes in your circumstances, you know, hit you quite hard. I compare it to one minute you're driving along the highway of life and you're able to turn right and left and do whatever you want to do. And then suddenly when something like this happens you're forced into a dark side street where there are no turnings and where you've got no choice except to go forward down this dark street. And you can't see the end of it. So there's that sort of sense of loss of control. And I think, you know, we all have a strong illusion of control in our lives. And we think we have more control than we do. And things like this come along and they remind us that we're not as in control as we thought we were.

  • 12:04:04

    COLEI always think the poem that greatly influenced Nelson Mandela in his prison term of 27 years "Invictus" is an interesting example of this. You know, "I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul." Well, that's only half right. Certainly, you know, you are the captain of your soul, but in reality we don't have control over our fate and what happens to us. So I think that sort of sense of suddenly finding yourself in a very different circumstance and situation. And, you know, realizing you have no choice, but to go down this particular narrow and rather dark road.

  • 12:04:50

    NNAMDIIndeed, outside of the spiritual realm, however, there were other people, who were involved in caring for you, doctors, nurses, other people at the hospital, you actually never saw those people. If you saw them today you probably wouldn't recognize them, because they were all wearing face masks, but tell us about that part of the experience.

  • 12:05:14

    COLEYeah, of course. I mean, the nurses and doctors were lovely and wonderful and, you know, were very attentive and did everything they could. As you say, I wouldn't recognize them because they were all wearing masks when I saw them. But, yeah, they were tremendous help to me. But what became, you know, clear was that the doctors while they could look at all the sort of things around the virus and to make sure I wasn't suffering from anything else. And in terms of the virus itself they really, you know, didn't have any answer.

  • 12:05:59

    COLEAnd so you have this rather strange situation where the doctors and nurses, yourself and your family are all forced into the position really of being observers looking at your body and sort of saying -- waiting to see what's going to happen. You know, is it going to get better or is it going to get worse. And nobody really has any control over that even the doctors, although obviously they did a lot and did everything they could.

  • 12:06:27

    NNAMDIRev. Cole, we're hearing in a lot of these accounts of coronavirus patients that the isolation can be especially hard to deal with. Did you ever get lonely?

  • 12:06:38

    COLEWell, actually I think probably I had an advantage in that respect in that I was an Army chaplain for 20 years. And so I spent a lot of time away from home and on my own in various capacities. So Lorraine and I, you know, we're used to separation. And, of course, it's amazing today with FaceTime and all these communications products. You know, we spoke and saw each other every day even though not actually in person. So, no I don't -- you know I--I didn't feel the isolation that much, but then as I say perhaps I'm a rather strange bird in that respect. That my experience has, you know, made me have to put up with quite a bit of that anyway.

  • 12:07:29

    NNAMDIWhat did your wife, Lorraine, have to say to you about how she coped during that time?

  • 12:07:35

    COLEWell, she put a very brave face in it to me, of course. And I didn't really know what was going on for her all through that three weeks. And it's only since I've come out that I've realized that, you know, she had a lot of support from some wonderful people. But that she was worried. I mean, I seem to sort of -- I think everyone's experience of the virus is different. But I seem to be sort of get better and then I got worse again. And I wasn't really fully aware of the extent of that, but I think Lorraine was. And so, you know, she went through periods of being very worried, but she, you know, like a good spouse kept that from me at the time.

  • 12:08:28

    NNAMDIAfter you contracted the virus those who came into contact with you in your parish were asked to self-quarantine. How did they react when they heard you'd contracted coronavirus and found out what it could mean for them?

  • 12:08:40

    COLEWell, you know, of course I'm sure, you know, people were concerned. And, you know, I was in hospital so I wasn't directly aware of the reaction as such. But what I became aware of certainly was the incredible outpouring of care and concern for me and my family, which came from the congregation over the days and weeks ahead. I became aware that, you know, many many people were praying for me and were, you know, caring about me and about my family. The organist and four of our parishioners very sadly also contracted the virus, and, you know, that was obviously very worrying. As it turned out, they're all fine. And they were able to be treated and deal with the virus at home, but still, you know, the thought that they may have, you know, caught that from me, you know, was obviously a concern to me.

  • 12:09:51

    NNAMDIAnd I'm really happy to hear that they all seem to be doing well at this time. We're talking with Rev. Timothy Cole. He is the Rector of Christ Church Georgetown and was the first known coronavirus patient in the District of Columbia. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you know Rev. Cole? We'd like to hear from you. Here now is Tony in Silver Spring, Maryland. Tony, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:10:16

    TONYHi. How are you doing? Rev., good to hear that you're doing well. My question evolves around my son whose special needs and 10 years old. And, you know, we pray together every night as a family before we go to bed. But the other night he said something interesting, which was, "I don't want to pray anymore, because I don't think God is listening." You know, he typically when he got, you know, had a headache or flu he would pray at night to hope that he would wake up better, and he does and he attributes that to his faith in God. He doesn't feel that anymore. How do you kind of talk to him and kind of reinstall that faith in him again?

  • 12:10:59

    COLEGosh, oh, bless him. My own children I think went through similar ups and downs with their faith, as well, actually. I think the key thing is that he is able to talk to God and to feel that God is present. When we are disappointed with what happens, you know, it's really really hard.

  • 12:11:31

    NNAMDIYou only have about 30 seconds left. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:11:34

    COLEOkay. Sorry. It's really hard, but I would just say, you know, God does not promise that everything is going to go well for us, but what he does promise is that he will see us through no matter what and that's the promise that he makes to us in baptism and in life.

  • 12:11:52

    NNAMDITony, thank you very much for your call. Good luck to you and especially good luck to your son. We're going to take a short break. When we return we'll continue this conversation with Rev. Timothy Cole. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:23

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Rev. Timothy Cole, the Rector of Christ Church Georgetown and he was the first known coronavirus patient in the District of Columbia. Here is E.W. in Washington D.C. E.W., you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:12:36

    E.W.Hello, is this Kojo?

  • 12:12:39

    NNAMDIIt is indeed.

  • 12:12:41

    E.W.Hi, Kojo. My question for the question for the Rev. is from a broader sense. What does he think the new normal will look like regarding church attendance across the country, you know, with lot of churches, you know, having close proximity when you come to worship. Just wanted to get his take on that, and I'll listen off the air. Thank you. Have a good day.

  • 12:13:00

    NNAMDIThank you very much. Rev. Cole.

  • 12:13:02

    COLEYeah. I mean, who knows, of course, is the ultimate answer to that question. And I hope very much that we will be able to get back as much as possible to the old normal. Clearly there may well be a time of transition until the virus is fully vanquished and they have a vaccine and it's, you know, controlled, but I think we may have to have some interim measures. But, you know, the hope is that we'll be able to get back to as much of the old normal as we can.

  • 12:13:38

    COLEI think there have been things that we've learned though. And I think there are things from this experience, which we will hope to carry forward in some respects. Some of the virtual worship that we've put in place -- we're all kind of learning as we're going along in this respect, but some of it has been very powerful.

  • 12:14:02

    COLEAnd we have a morning prayer every day here, which has been wonderfully organized with different parishioners and families. All saying part of the morning prayer of the daily office, and that's really powerful I think. So seeing people in their own homes praying the prayer of the church every day. And, you know, if we can keep some of that going I think that would be fantastic. So there's, you know, obviously going to be challenges along the way. But there are also I think some, you know, some good--good things we can take away from it as well.

  • 12:14:47

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. What have you found to be most comforting in these dark times? Here is Rabbi Zeev in Baltimore, Maryland. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:15:02

    RABBI ZEEVHey, Kojo. Nice to talk to you. And it's a very interesting program. I'm calling you, because I want to go over the perspective and it follows up beautifully with this virtual prayer. What we as Orthodox Jews have found and as a Rabbi in Baltimore our synagogue has been closed since March 15th across the entire Baltimore region. And what strikes us is, you know, Orthodox Jews pray three times a day in synagogue with the quorum. And our Jewish law dictates that we need to have 10 to create a quorum. And therefore we are cut off from the concept of virtual prayer services. Now we're using virtual for classes and for programming, but to the actual prayer our families and this is including over Passover have been conducting prayers in their homes alone, very different.

  • 12:16:02


  • 12:16:03

    ZEEVThey actual prayer service is different. There are certain parts of the prayer that cannot be said according to Jewish law without that quorum. So we found it challenging. But like the Rev. has said also in a certain way inspiring as families that don't usually get a chance to pray together have been praying together. I myself suffered from the COVID virus for two weeks. Thank God I wasn't -- needed to be hospitalized, but, you know, it definitely was difficult. But the outpouring of love and compassion that we've seen in spite of the restrictions on our formal prayer has been quite inspiring. I just wanted to share that with you, Kojo.

  • 12:16:48

    NNAMDII'm so very glad you could share that with us Rabbi Zeev. And good luck to you and thank you. I'm glad you were able to recover from the virus. Care to comment on that, Rev. Cole?

  • 12:16:58

    COLEYeah. I mean, absolutely. We have found, you know, that people's response to this challenging situation has been wonderful really. And the community here at Christ Church has built new bonds of affection and care. We've -- lay people have built this kind of phone network across the entire congregation, which means people can be checked in on if they need it. And it's just that sense that the community has, you know, become much stronger as a result of this. And I'm sure we were a strong community before. But I think we'll be a stronger community afterwards.

  • 12:17:36

    COLEAnd, I, you know, from what the Rabbi said and, you know, I'm sure that's going to be true of communities all across the country. And, of course, our prayer is that that will be true of our whole country. You know, that we will be perhaps a little bit more mindful of the value of other people and the people around us. And a bit, you know, more united than perhaps we have been over the last few years. So I think there's been some wonderful blossoms of community and fellowship that have grown out of this.

  • 12:18:15

    NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Greg who says, "I wonder if Rev. Cole has been asked to donate plasma so antibodies can be harvested and what his thoughts on that are." Rev. Cole.

  • 12:18:26

    COLEYes. Someone told me about this, and so I approached the Georgetown MedStar Hospital and then indeed they are starting to collect blood from people who have survived the virus. And so I've offered my blood. Ironically there was a bit of a hiccup, because I'm British and lived in Britain in the 1980s when the mad cow disease thing was on. The American Red Cross initially said that they wouldn't take my blood. But I think they're changing their view on that. So I'm just waiting for a period of time to elapse from me recovering. And then I hope to be giving blood quite shortly actually.

  • 12:19:11

    NNAMDIHere now is Michael in Washington D.C. Michael, your turn.

  • 12:19:16

    MICHAELYes. Tim, this is Michael DeSantis. I'm a parishioner, Kojo.

  • 12:19:21


  • 12:19:23

    MICHAELAnd I just wanted to say how wonderful it is, Tim, to hear your voice. And to hear that you're out of the hospital and doing well. We miss you.

  • 12:19:34

    COLEWell, thank you, Michael. It's very kind of you. It's been just amazing and overwhelming how wonderful this community has been both to me and Lorraine, but also to each other. And as I say, I look forward very much to a homecoming, which I'm sure will be when the church reopens properly. I'm sure we're going to have an absolutely amazing service to do that.

  • 12:20:03

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Michael. Rev. Cole, how are you feeling physically these days?

  • 12:20:09

    COLEI'm feeling good. I think my lungs are going to take some time to recover. I'm a little bit short of breathe after exercise and things, but, you know, I'm feeling good and a little bit better each day I think.

  • 12:20:24

    NNAMDIThe Easter season is a very sacred time of year for Christians. You introduced the Easter Day service. What has it been like this year, and what message did you want to convey to your parish?

  • 12:20:35

    COLEWell, of course, it's unique really. This church has never been closed on Easter. But I think, you know, there has been a sense in which we've, you know, been able to gain some insights from this unusual situation. Of course, we'd much rather be together with the church teaming with people and wonderful music and all the rest of it that we normally have. But the empty church actually -- if people were to have looked through the doors on Easter Day and seen the empty church, the church itself could of been saying, you know, loud and clear to the world, "He is not Here. He has risen."

  • 12:21:13

    COLEAnd there is that sense in which it reminds us this situation that beautiful as our church building is, you know, the church is actually the community of faithful. And we weren't there in that building on Easter Day. But we were out in the world as Christ is out in the world doing the work of Christ and the resurrection.

  • 12:21:43

    NNAMDIIn the 30 seconds we have left, what advice would you give to the many people out there who are just scared and struggling right now?

  • 12:21:51

    COLEWell, I think, you know, I would go back to the stories of my times in the Army and the way the soldiers dealt with fear and danger. The three things that they had that helped them were humor, comradeship and also, you know, secular as many of them were, you know, God. And I think that, you know, if we reach out to the people around us our families and friends they are a strength to us, and if we reach out to God and his promise to us.

  • 12:22:25

    NNAMDIRev. Timothy Cole is the Rector of Christ Church Georgetown. We're out of time. Thank you so much for joining us and good luck to you. We're going to take a short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows