By now my friends know that I am unavailable on Sunday at 11 a.m.

I am not going to church, even though that is a typical start time for Christian church services. (As it happens, I’ve been attending Bedside Baptist for a while now, but I digress.) Instead, at 11 a.m. on Sunday I’m firing up my laptop and signing into Google Meet for my weekly family conversation. We started this conversation three years ago when state officials issued orders to shut down all essential businesses to stop the spread of the coronavirus. In each of our respective hometowns, my sister, twin niece and nephew and I found ourselves inside looking out.

Former Gov. Charlie Baker announced the COVID shutdown in Massachusetts on March 10, 2020. Shutdowns happened 10 days later in New York where my nephew lives, and a week after that, in Minnesota where my niece lives. My sister isolated herself at home unwilling to wait for Tennessee’s official stay-at-home order which didn’t come until April 2.

Those early days of uncertainty left us in emotional limbo. We didn’t know when next we would see each other. And while the four of us in my immediate family were accustomed to living apart because of our jobs, the COVID shutdowns had a disquieting effect. We had always kept in close contact with frequent phone calls, texts and emails, but suddenly none of that seemed enough. We needed a more satisfying way to stay in touch. So, like millions of other Americans, we turned to Zoom and other video online calling services. My niece, a full stack web developer, handled the tech, setting up a one-hour Sunday call. But an hour quickly became too short, so we set aside two hours.

I can’t tell you how many times friends have exclaimed, “Two hours! What are you all talking about for two hours?” Nothing and everything. We sign on as we are in the moment: my niece generally curled up on her couch under a blanket; my sister off camera yelling that she’ll be with us when she’s done fixing her tea; my nephew, the professional dancer, often bleary eyed from a recent rehearsal or performance; and me plopped on my couch or snuggled down in my big chair. Our conversations are free flowing — they ramble, overlap and punctuate whatever is on our minds — from mundane work stories to hilarious incidents, to somber observations about the state of the world, to Black Twitter’s latest witty posts. Two hours fly by until we reluctantly say goodbye in an outpouring of cascading “Love you” and “See you next Sunday.”

Occasionally, each of us has had to call in from another location, or cut the time short, or miss the call altogether. But the conversation has never stopped.

Because of the Sunday calls, my family and I really know each other now. We treasure family vacations and other occasions when we are in each other’s company. How lucky that we found a silver lining from a global pandemic which left so many feeling lonely and disconnected. We mark the third anniversary of COVID shutdowns this month grateful for our health and our stronger family bond. Next Sunday morning can’t come soon enough.