My dear family in Christ,
The short version first:
The longer version:
As you know, it has been a year and a week since the last time we were all together in our beautiful church, praising God, singing hymns, and sharing the sacrament of Holy Communion as the gathered Body of Christ in Appleton. A year is a long time to be apart, even under the best of circumstances, and—regardless of one’s perspectives, preferences, proclivities, or priorities—I think we’d all be a bit hard pressed to describe 2020 as having comprised “the best of circumstances.” It has been particularly difficult to have to fast for so long not only from each other’s presence but also from Holy Communion shared together.
Now, as the season of Lent draws to a close and we look eagerly toward Easter, I have some good news to share. Of course, the greatest good news is that Jesus is Lord! and that we will once again celebrate the Resurrection this Easter! But I have some more immediate, down-to-earth good news to share, as well:
We will reopen our church (in limited fashion) beginning on Palm Sunday!
It’s time. Not because Covid is over—it isn’t! (More on that in a moment.) Not because the risks are gone—they are not! Even so, the overcrowding in our hospitals and healthcare facilities has started to go down, more and more people are getting vaccinated every day, and as long as we continue to mask, distance, and observe the recommended safety protocols, we can finally worship together again in limited numbers. So it is time for us to begin the long process of moving back into our shared, communal worship.
That’s the good news. As you can tell, however, from my careful wording above, there is unfortunately also some bad news.
The bad news is that the return to our remembered experience of full-scale in-person worship, including so many of the things we love about the All Saints experience, is still a good ways off. In other words, we will NOT be “going back to the way things were” anytime soon.
Instead, our return to in-person worship will have to happen in stages, in increments. And this first stage will NOT be ideal. In many ways, it will be awkward and strange. It will almost certainly feel frustrating. But it WILL be a necessary and important first step towards a complete post-pandemic reopening, and that’s not nothing, y’all.
So how is it going to work? What exactly will it look and feel and sound like? What will be different? Here’s a breakdown of some key features of this next phase we’re about to enter into together:
Face masks & social distancing are absolutely required. Until the Covid numbers get significantly better, these requirements MUST be observed. We don’t ever want to turn anyone away from our doors … but as pastor, my responsibility—and my sincere desire—is to safeguard the well-being of the entire flock. So these restrictions are non-negotiable. (We will try to keep a small supply of disposable masks on hand, in case someone just happens to forget to mask up before leaving the house to come to church, but if possible, please bring your own.) As for spacing, we will limit seating to one family unit* per pew, and we’ll have to skip a pew in between each family unit as well. The pews will be marked off accordingly when you come in to the church.
Reservations are required in advance. You’ll have to contact the church office before the close of business on Friday in order to reserve a physical place for yourself and your immediate family* for the following Sunday service. In order to make sure as many folks who want to attend in-person get the chance to do so, we are going to ask that if you reserve a spot and attend in-person in a given week, you then join us virtually/online the following week, to give someone else a chance to worship in-person. If we can voluntarily alternate weeks like that, it will make it easier for us to adhere to the other restrictions we have to follow, and also hopefully calling the office to sign up will maybe feel a little less like trying to get a vaccine appointment. : )
* NOTE: I am using the terms “immediate family” and “family unit” to indicate a small group of people who live in the same space together. If you have family in the parish, but you and they live in separate houses, then you and they would count as different “family units” for purposes of maintaining social distance.
One single service will be offered (to start) at 9:30. As we begin to add in-person worshippers back into our Sunday morning service, we will continue to have a single 9:30 a.m. service that will combine in-person worship and live-streamed online worship. At least, we’re going to try it that way to begin with; if it does not work to combine in-person with live-streaming, we might have to separate the two types of service, but I am truly hoping that we don’t have to do that. I would prefer that what we do be what we live-stream out, in terms of worship, so that we have one communal act of worship, with some folks taking part in person and some folks taking part online, but all of us sharing the same worship together.
In-person capacity is limited. Current diocesan restrictions for in-person worship services limit us to 25% of building capacity OR 50 persons total (including priest & servers), whichever is fewer. With a space as large as ours, that means we are limited to 50 people per service. For comparison, prior to the shutdown a tad more than a year ago, we were averaging between 70 and 90 people between two services. Given that a significant number of our parishioners will not yet feel safe and/or comfortable attending in-person services, it may not be too unreasonable to expect that a single service that allows for 50 people would suffice for us, at least for this first phase of reopening. Of course, if demand is too great, we will add a second service on Sunday morning.
NOTE: Folks who attend in-person on Palm Sunday will still be eligible to attend one or the other (but not both) of our Easter services, either Saturday evening or Sunday morning. But, again, we would prefer that you choose in advance which one of the Easter services you want to attend.
In-person worshippers will receive the Bread only. Diocesan restrictions require that both Bread and Wine be consecrated, that the Celebrant receive in both kinds, and that all other participants receive in one kind (Bread only). Essentially, at this point it is still far better to be safe than sorry, and that is why we will not be sharing a common cup just yet.
In-person singing is NOT allowed. This restriction, I predict, will hit our specific community particularly hard. Music and (especially) singing are so deeply ingrained in the culture and identity of this parish that it’s almost unthinkable to consider returning to worship together … without also returning to our practice of singing together. Overwhelming amounts of research show, however, that, because of the ways that the virus spreads most effectively, singing in groups is one of the most dangerous things we could do. At this time, we simply cannot risk it. Of course, the folks participating in our live-streamed service from their own homes can belt those hymns out as much as they like. : )
Grace will be needed. We will need to remember that a number of our fellow congregants won’t want to, or even shouldn’t, attend in-person gatherings until the rates of Covid infections go down significantly. So we must be absolutely clear that participating in our worship online via live-stream is every bit as valid and meaningful as attending in-person. We can’t have higher or lower “tiers” of worship in our community, and we certainly cannot have “second-class citizens” in our parish.
You will need to dress for the weather. For purposes of maintaining as much non-re-circulated airflow as possible, we will need to open some of our windows and exterior doors. Using recycled air in enclosed spaces pretty much destroys any advantage we gain through social distancing, because it mixes everybody’s air all together and blows it all over everyone in the group. Depending upon the weather on any given day, you’ll want to keep your heavy coats with you in the pew.
None of this process will be easy, at first. It’s going to be awkward and strange and likely rather frustrating to be back in church, but in such restricted and unfamiliar ways. But I have great faith in the faith and the grace that, in my experience, define this parish family. With a bit of patience, continued devotion, grace from above, and a healthy sense of humor (or at least irony), I believe we will continue to be a blessed people of God together during this new phase of our shared life, just as we have during the long separation and isolation of Coronatide. You all continue to inspire me, and you remain in my daily prayers. Please call or email if you have any questions, and God bless you all!
The 2021 Annual Meeting will be virtual this year! (You saw that coming, right?) Save the date for Sunday, February 28, at 2:00 p.m. As always, the annual meeting will be a good and important opportunity to both review the business of the church and build community with one another.
The expected January schedule was postponed by one month to allow us to prepare better for this new meeting format. Here’s what you can expect:
The meeting will be hosted on Zoom, an online video meeting platform. You can join the meeting from a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer. You will be able to see Fr. Christopher and other ministry team leaders make their reports while you follow along on the packet you received via email or mail. There will be an opportunity for you to turn on your camera or webcam too, to see and be seen, if you like! If you do not have access to these tech tools, you can easily dial in from any phone to the meeting and listen, instead of watch.
It’s our expectation that there will be a wide variety in parishioner comfort level for an online business meeting. More directions about how to use Zoom and the dates and times of the practice sessions will be shared in the annual meeting packet, during Sunday announcements, and in the newsletter. If you would like to get started learning about Zoom, they have an excellent online help center. A Zoom account is not required if you are joining Zoom meetings as a participant.
We are committed to helping everyone join the meeting. If you have questions or concerns, please contact the church office; the Vestry and the Online Ministry Team will find a way to help you connect.
My dear All Saints family,
Grace to you, and peace, in God the Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ!
We are rapidly approaching the start of a new year together. The last Sunday of November will be the first Sunday of Advent, which this year not only marks the beginning of the Church year, but also the 1-year anniversary of my arrival in Appleton and my stepping into the role of rector for All Saints Episcopal Church. Safe to say, I suspect, that the nearly twelve months that have passed since December 1, 2019, have not exactly gone the way that many of us would have predicted last winter. Nevertheless, I want you all to know that my family and I remain overwhelmingly grateful to have been welcomed by you into this parish family, and we continue to thank God for calling us to this place, to this ministry, and to this relationship with all of you. We are blessed!
All Saints is blessed, as well! Thanks to the grace of God and the faithful efforts and hard work of the Vestry, staff, and lay leadership of this parish, we have weathered the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, managing not only to maintain our worship, fellowship, and formation, but also to expand the scope and range of our ministry in totally new ways. Necessity really is the mother of invention: when the pandemic forced us to shut the physical doors of our building and kept us from gathering in person, we created an online ministry and online worship services, and we did it nearly overnight.
It is due to your continued and generous giving throughout this pandemic crisis that All Saints has been able to pay our bills, sustain our payroll, address critical maintenance issues in our building, and at the same time expand our ministries into the online environment. Your ongoing support has meant that All Saints has not had to face a financial crisis on top of the Covid crisis. THANK YOU! It is a sign of your love for this parish and your enduring faith in God that even in a time of global plague you have made your faith community a priority.
As one parishioner observed: “Are you pleasantly surprised that our connection to one another has endured, even though we haven’t seen each other in months? Are you pleasantly surprised that our connection to All Saints Church, our spiritual home, has endured, despite our not having entered her doors in eight months? Apparently, the mystical body of Christ is stronger than we knew.”
I would bet that some of you knew, though. This parish has deep roots in faith. That has been apparent to me since I got here a year ago.
We’ve been through a lot together since December of last year. But one thing we haven’t been through together yet is the annual stewardship campaign. I’m told that, normally, the stewardship drive would have already ended by now, with pledges being gathered in by All Saints’ Day. Since almost nothing has been “normal” about 2020, however, perhaps it isn’t too surprising that stewardship is working a little differently this year. So I’m writing to you all today to invite you to join me in a new way of looking at stewardship and, by extension, an exciting vision for the future of All Saints Episcopal Church.
Each of us is at this moment dealing to varying degrees with feelings of separation, constraint, uncertainty, and/or fear. What if we, as a parish, were to transform our sense of uncertainty into a spirit of inquiry? As new circumstances compel us to enter a new church relationship for a new decade, we need to consider opportunities for flourishing in new ways. What if, as we look forward to a return to in-person gathering, we also work together to plant the seeds for a post-pandemic All Saints Church that preserves all that we love about our church yet allows us to expand the reach and impact of our church in our lives and in our community?
Working with the Vestry and the Finance Ministry Team, and supported by a Stewardship Team called together to help flesh out and implement this vision, here is what I am proposing:
Three phases & three stewardship drives—a unified three-year plan
THIS YEAR: PLANTING THE SEEDS
What we need to do: Sustain the parish.
In a year full of crises and unforeseen changes & challenges, we seek only to maintain what we currently have. We need to pay the bills and keep the church functioning, yes. But beyond that, we need to offer our thanks to God and our gratitude to this church for all the blessings we share together. In that way, we will plant the seeds of future growth.
At this stage, we are primarily concerned with keeping the seeds of our faith and of our All Saints community alive.
What does that mean in practical terms? Well, here is a rough calculation of the daily costs of our three main areas of expense:
Ministry staff $391 per day
Buildings & grounds $209 per day
Current operations $202 per day
These figures are based on a very conservative budget proposal that is aimed at simply maintaining our current ministries and levels of expense. We have benefited somewhat from being shut down during the pandemic, since closing the building has meant lower costs in terms of cooling and heating. Eventually, however, we will return to in-person worship, and that will cost us more than our current, online worship does.
We need your generous support and your faithful giving that has kept us going during this pandemic to continue. We need you to help keep the seeds of ministry alive until we can emerge from this crisis and begin to grow our future together.
NEXT YEAR: TENDING THE GARDEN
What we need to do: Move from maintenance toward mission.
Building upon the solid foundation we have established, we must seek to discover our identity as a community of believers and followers of Jesus Christ, and also to discern God’s specific call to us to act as Christ’s body in this place. We need to ask challenging questions to push us beyond mere maintenance to get us excited about the future and to prepare us for real growth to come.
At this stage, our focus begins to pivot from being primarily internally-focused to becoming more externally-focused as we move beyond securing our own needs and sustaining our own community toward a vision of what we might do for God with the community and stability God has given us.
What does that mean? It means prayer and discernment. It means studying the Holy Scriptures. It means discovering and naming the specific gifts and resources that God has entrusted to us—both as individual members of the parish and especially as a community of Jesus-followers. What do we have to offer anybody who is not already a member of our parish? What gives us joy? More importantly, what are the most critical needs of the folks who live just outside our parish doors?
To paraphrase Frederick Buechner, the intersection of our deep joy and the world’s deep need is where we discover our vocation.
God is calling us to do more than merely continue existing. God has work for us to do. In Year Two, we begin the work of discovering the details of the mission God has in mind for us—the reason God wants us to grow.
These will be challenging conversations that invite us to re-vision how we see ourselves as a parish and how we see our purpose as the people of God in Appleton, Wisconsin. How exciting!
THE YEAR AFTER: WORKING THE HARVEST
What we need to do: Define and enact God’s call to us in concrete actions
Having discovered our identity rooted deeply in Jesus Christ, and having listened faithfully to His call to grow His Church (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – Matt. 28:19), we begin to harvest the seeds planted and tended in previous years. We need to discern the specific ways in which Jesus is calling us to be His body here in Appleton—the particular people in our area (and beyond) to whom Jesus is sending us as apostles and ministers.
At this stage, we look to both present and future with excitement, confidence, and zeal, and we offer up to God a stable, sustainable, highly-functioning community of committed believers ready and eager to do the work that God has given us to do in our community, our city, our region, and beyond.
What will that look like? Who can say? But I imagine it looks like a dynamic, engaged parish, full pews on Sundays and Wednesdays (at least), a congregation actively living out our discipleship in many different ways, a presence in the Appleton community that sees us tending the needs of “the least of these” whilst at the same time offering a safe haven and a source of healing and true inspiration for all of God’s children.
Does that sound outlandish? Unobtainable? Not to me. I’ve seen hard proof in my first year of what your faith can do. And I have no doubt whatsoever in the absolute power of God to do great things within, through, and by means of All Saints Episcopal Church. But we do not have to figure out how to get there (or how to fund such a vision) all at once!
All we have to do is commit to God, and commit to God’s Church. We do not, will not, cannot ask anyone to give beyond your means or to commit to more than you can manage. We simply ask you, please, to continue to support All Saints with your generous giving as you’ve done throughout this year. Help us maintain the great gifts we have in this church, and help us plant the seeds this year that will grow into a beautiful, bountiful harvest in years to come.
Thank you, and God bless you all!
23rd Annual Alternative Gift Market
To be safe in this time of pandemic, we are holding our Alternative Gift Market remotely, online and by mail and phone. See below for how to support our various partner organizations and find gifts for your friends and family. Thank you for helping us continue this ministry and work with each other to build a better world! Shop anytime November 1-22 (the earlier the better for shipping!), or in the case of Equal Exchange, November 1-15. Contact the church office or Sarah Gilbert with questions: H 920-735-9832, C 920-205-9053, firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This is the last week for Equal Exchange orders. Contact Sarah Gilbert by Sunday, November 15 if you want to order coffee, tea, or chocolate.
Alternative Gifts International
Choose from 30 charitable causes worldwide.
Crowdfund (Virtual Gift Market):
Follow this link to our Crowdfund: https://alternativegifts.org/giving/crowdfunds/67
Catalog Express Market:
Fair trade handmade crafts from artisans around the world.
Online: Go to our SERRV & Earn page at https://www.serrv.org/?a=AllSaints where you can shop their entire (not just consignment) selection. Check for the orange banner at the top of the page designating All Saints for donations.
20% of all sales will be donated to All Saints.
Or: If you do not have easy internet access, we will have a limited number of print catalogs available. Contact Sarah Gilbert to have your order entered into our SERRV & Earn site, and your goods will be shipped to you or your gift recipients.
Fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate, and more.
Online: Go to https://shop.equalexchange.coop/ to view their wholesale catalog.
Or if you do not have easy internet access, we have some wholesale price lists available. Contact Sarah Gilbert to have your order entered.
Caneille Regional Development Fund
This Appleton organization funds a tuition-free primary school in rural Haiti, plus emergency medical transportation, community seed distributions, and vocational training.
Thank you for giving the world a present!
Fr. Christopher will be on a well-deserved vacation with his family beginning Monday, July 6th through Sunday, July 19th.
For any needs or concerns please contact senior warden Sarah Gilbert (contact info found in the parish directory) or Emily in the office (920-249-4147 or email@example.com). Fr. Christopher will be accessible in the case of an emergency.
Virtual lay-led worship services will continue:
Sunday: 9:30 am Morning Prayer followed by Zoom coffee hour
Monday: 7:30 pm Compline
Tuesday: 9:30 am Morning Prayer
5:30 pm Evening Prayer
Wednesday: 9:30 am Morning Prayer
7:45 pm Compline
Thursday: 7:30 pm Compline
Friday: 7:30 am Morning Prayer