My dear friends in Christ,
When I initially sat down and began to write these words ~ upstairs in a corner “nook” that’s been retrofitted into a makeshift office ~ it was a cold, wet, rainy, rather dismal Wednesday afternoon. Unseasonably so, I was reassured by a number of long-time locals. Nevertheless, it was one of those afternoons in which there are so very many things that need doing that you really have no idea where to begin. How to prioritize, when everything is critically important? An impossible task, of course. Okay, I told myself ~ so pick one thing, just one thing, that is critically important for All Saints.
Quick, I said to myself—what’s the first one that comes to mind?
Staying connected. That was my first thought.
It’s been more than half a year, now, since the great plague of our time swept through our country and turned our everyday lives and habits and patterns and rituals and comforts and expectations … and connections … upside down. We made it through the first three months or so on adrenaline, and the next month or two were a white-knuckled affair as we gritted our teeth and endured with a sort of a siege-mentality, convinced we could outlast the virus.
And now here we are, six months and change into what is no longer a “new” normal and realizing that there will be no outlasting it. At least, not in the way that we had expected or hoped.
For various reasons—and it is neither my inclination nor my intention to be sidetracked here into dissecting those reasons and their causes—the virus has not been contained. In fact, I awoke that morning last week to read of the frightening if not the least bit surprising spike in Covid cases right here in Appleton in the wake of the Labor Day holiday weekend. Covid-19 is not going away anytime soon. And so our approach to dealing with it has got to change.
Hopefully, most (if not all) of you who are reading this message have noticed one important change: our recently expanded Sunday worship. For months now, our principal Sunday worship has been a service of Spiritual Communion, which we’ve offered in lieu of Holy Eucharist because we cannot celebrate Communion without gathering together in person. Thanks to the recently formed but already super busy Online Ministry Team, we have expanded our main Sunday worship to include lectors, intercessors, and psalmists. You are no longer stuck having to look at nothing more interesting than the priest’s face for the entire service!
As of this writing, we are also exploring ways to incorporate some kinds of music into our online worship, as well. Meanwhile, Wednesday morning Spiritual Communion services, as well as Daily Offices (Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Compline) continue to be live streamed throughout the week. If you have not been tuning in to these services, I strongly encourage you to click on over and check them out.
For the time being, we are using All Saints Church’s Facebook page as our platform for streaming. You don’t have to have a Facebook account to access the live streamed services, but our church’s Facebook page serves as the host for the videos, basically. The OMT is, however, exploring other platforms for streaming our worship, so that eventually you won’t need to deal with Facebook at all to access our services. We’ll keep you posted as other options become available.
And for the time ahead when we are eventually able to return to in-person worship in whatever form (more on that in a moment), the OMT is already working out the logistics of how to capture and live stream (and record) worship services that involve more than one person in the sanctuary at one time. To be honest, that’s a much more complicated and daunting enterprise than it is just to stream an entire virtual service. But we realized early on that, having expanded All Saints’ worship and ministry into the online environment, we cannot then let these new forms of ministry die out just because we happen to resume in-person worship. No, these new ways of ministering are here for good. And I mean that in both senses of the word ~ both “permanently” and “to our benefit and that of the community.”
That’s what’s going on with our online worship services. But that’s not all that All Saints is doing to help us all stay connected during the pandemic. I want to make sure that all of you know about the two weekly Zoom gatherings that All Saints offers and that are open to everyone who wishes to take part:
On Mondays at 11 a.m., I host a Bible study. We begin by reading the Scriptures appointed in the Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday service, and with those Scriptures as our starting point, we explore the Bible, the Christian tradition, where we are in our spiritual lives, and how to make connections between how we worship, what we believe, who we are, and how we live. It’s a chance for us to learn from each other, to find out more about what the Bible is, where it comes from, and how it can shape our lives to conform ever more fully to the life of Jesus Christ. It’s a little bit academic, a little bit theological, and a whole lot of sharing different perspectives, views, thoughts, and ideas.
And on Thursdays at 12 noon, I host a less formal, more open-ended conversation under the broad heading of “Faith Talk.” Most weeks, I will offer a topic as a launching point for conversation, but some weeks we start with whatever is on our minds and hearts. This session is an opportunity to go where the Spirit leads us and, again, to make deeper connections between the teachings of our faith, the words of Scripture, and the truth of Jesus Christ, on one hand, and the messy details of our real, lived experiences on the other. What does it mean to be Christian? How does resurrection work? What really happens at Communion? Does any of this stuff even really matter? If so, how so? These kinds of questions and more are what Faith Talk is all about.
I post the Zoom links on the All Saints Facebook page each Monday and Thursday morning. There is also an email list to which I send the links ~ if you’d like to be added to that email list, please shoot me a quick message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As with our online worship opportunities, I strongly encourage you to get involved in these Zoom communities. Doing so is one of the best, most effective ways to combat the isolation and desolation of the Covid pandemic and to share some real connection and interaction with your All Saints family. Plus, they’re a lot of fun!
So. Lots of incredibly wonderful things happening in the online environment.
But when are we going to get back to the way things were?
It’s been several days now since I first sat down to work on this message for all of you. I’m no longer hidden away in a corner of the upstairs, huddling with chilled fingers over an aging laptop and listening to the soft static of what South Carolinians would consider a “wintry rain.” The sun is out. I’m in the All Saints office after live streaming a worship service. There is construction work going on across the street. The mood is completely different, today … and yet the truth that was hitting home so hard in that tiny, second-floor room on that cold, rainy afternoon hits home even harder now.
The truth is that we will never get back to the way things were. We won’t. Because we can’t. Our world is changed, and it cannot be un-changed.
Oh, we will resume gathering in person to worship God in Christ with the Holy Spirit. We will celebrate and share the Holy Sacrament. God’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church shall endure, she shall live, and she shall continue to grow.
But things are not going to look like they used to. Things are not going to sound like the used to. Hardest of all, things are not going to feel like they used to. And that will make returning to in-person worship in some ways even harder than it has been for us to learn all-new ways to worship in the online world. It’s going to be hard, but it will be harder if we don’t prepare ourselves. It will be harder if we let our longing for what we remember overpower our expectations of what it will be like when we reopen our church building.
We need to see the resuming of in-person worship as a new thing, just like learning to live stream worship was a new thing. Because for the foreseeable future, in-person worship is going to be a different proposition than it was before the shutdown. We will all be masked. We will be separated from each other by uncomfortable amounts of physical distance. There will be fewer people in the church at a time, and to begin with, fewer services. We will not be singing. We will have to handle and distribute Communion differently. All of these things will be strange and uncomfortable ~ certainly, they will be for me. I can only imagine they will be uncomfortable for y’all, too.
But underneath the discomfort, there will also be something familiar, something timeless and eternal, something precious, of inestimable value: the Body and Blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ. And we will experience again the way that our Lord’s Body and Blood make us into one people, into the Body of Christ in this world.
So when’s that going to happen? Right now, we’re looking at offering a limited in-person service of Holy Eucharist, under strict pandemic restrictions, starting in October. Many more details to come in terms of logistics and specifics. But please know that in-person worship and celebration of Eucharist will be returning to All Saints very, very soon.
Meanwhile, let’s do everything we can to stay connected.
As always, pleas reach out to me if you have questions, comments, concerns, interests, fears, or just an interest in chatting a bit: email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you … and to seeing you soon, both virtually and face to (distanced) face.
Grace and peace be with you in our Lord Jesus Christ,