“Where do we go from here?”
My dear friends in Christ,
Not much has changed since I last sat down to write to you all. Covid-19 rages on around us. The numbers in our town, our region, our state, continue to increase. As a worshipping community, we have been forced to pivot from an approach to pandemic response that might be described as saying, “let’s ride it out,” to one that requires us to ask, “so, how do we live like this long-term?” Which, of course, reminds me of a song.
In August of 1973, English singer David Essex released a quirky little tune called “Rock On.” In it, he asks (perhaps rhetorically), “Where do we go from here? / Which is the way that’s clear?” In October of 2020, that lyric pretty much covers it for All Saints Episcopal Church, doesn’t it?
The long-term answer to both those questions is … we don’t know. The variables with which we’re all dealing are changing so continuously that it’s all but impossible to map out, with any certainty, where we can expect to go and how we can expect to get there over the long haul. What we can do, though, is identify which things to prioritize, both in the short-term and as part of a longer-range vision for our parish. We can decide what will be important to us and for us, regardless of any changes in our circumstances.
Framed in that way, I think the questions become pretty simple. There are three things which we, as the Body of Christ in Appleton, WI, need to make our principal concerns: worship of God in Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit, pastoral care of our members and our community, and stewardship of the resources that have been entrusted to us by God.
Other folks will be communicating with you very soon about the way we’ll be handling stewardship for this year and over the next three years ~ please be on the lookout for those announcements, and please be ready to respond faithfully to support the ongoing mission and ministries of All Saints. In the meantime, let me offer a few words about worship and pastoral care:
The big-ticket item immediately before us in terms of worship is the resuming of Holy Eucharist as our principal act of worship. As you may remember, a few weeks back I announced that we would be resuming in-person Communion this month; almost immediately after that announcement went out, the Covid numbers in Appleton and throughout Wisconsin skyrocketed. Bishop Matt and the diocesan Covid-19 Task Force felt constrained to tighten the restrictions on in-person gatherings, and rightly so. Unfortunately, that change forced me to scrap my initial plan for how we would resume Communion services.
I had planned for us to have an 8 A.M. in-person Communion service, followed by our regular live-streamed Spiritual Communion service at 9:30. Although we do not at present have the ability to film and stream a multi-person service from our Sanctuary space, it wouldn’t have been a problem, because prior to the new restrictions, we could have had up to about twenty people in the building, and with a sign-up system we could have ensured that everyone who wanted to come to Communion would be able to do so at least every few weeks.
Under the new restrictions, we can have no more than four people in the building together for worship, including the priest. And that creates a very different situation. A limit of four means that, after the priest, a lector/intercessor, and perhaps an acolyte or server, each service could have basically one single participant in addition to the altar party. A service that small simply doesn’t allow for any real participation in-person on the part of the parish.
Now, let me be clear: I truly believe ~ I know ~ that Jesus Christ is truly, really present in the sacrament of Holy Communion; any Mass that is celebrated, therefore, offers incalculable mystical benefits for the spiritual health not only of our parish but also of the whole world. In terms of pastoral benefits, however, I’m not sure that it would do much good, pastorally and emotionally, for our parish to have a small handful of people celebrating a Eucharist that so few could attend in person and that no one could even watch online.
So here’s what we’re doing: I am working at this moment with the incredible folks of the Online Ministry Team to figure out how we can set up our live-streaming to broadcast a 4-person Eucharist service from our worship space in the church. As soon as we get that worked out, we will change our primary Sunday worship from the current Spiritual Communion service we’ve been doing so far over to a live-streamed Communion service.
I realize it will continue to be very, very difficult for us as a parish to be unable to gather in any numbers at all and to participate fully, together, in the sacrament of Communion. But I do not believe we can continue to try to “ride it out” with this virus, waiting to celebrate Mass until the numbers come down enough to make that safe for us to do. It has become clear that the numbers aren’t going to fall significantly any time soon ~ perhaps not for another year or more from this point, today. So our initial approach of fasting temporarily for a season has to give way to a longer-term strategy. We now have to find ways to resume the regular life of the parish as safely as possible.
Besides, a very strong argument can be made that, during times of great suffering and plague, we ought to be saying more Masses, not fewer. The Blessed Sacrament is, after all, one of the foremost ministries that we as Christians offer to a wounded, weary, and broken world.
I’ll be sending out more information about how we’ll be handling this restricted Eucharist service as we get the logistics worked out, so stay tuned!
In terms of pastoral care, what we must do in the immediate future is put together a Pastoral Care Team to organize and oversee the care of people within the parish. A number of incredible folks have done amazing work individually to minister to the needs of various members of this congregation for many years. But between the current size of the parish, the hardships of the pandemic, and the importance of sharing the load so that one or two people don’t end up carrying more weight than they should, we need to be a bit more collectively organized and a bit more methodical as a parish in our approach to pastoral care.
I’m imagining a setup similar to that of the Online Ministry Team, which has made phenomenal strides since forming a few months ago in terms of creating the vibrant and still growing online ministry we now enjoy at All Saints. We need a team of five or six people ~ not to take on all the duties of pastoral care themselves, but rather to envision what pastoral care as a ministry will be for this parish, to identify the specific pastoral needs that require our attention, to create specific goals for how to meet those needs, and to call and organize volunteers to work on those specific goals.
If you feel the Holy Spirit nudging you at all in the direction of pastoral care in our parish, or even if you’re just curious as to how you might be able to help, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as you can. We need to get this team up and running as quickly as possible.
And as always, I have to thank you all for the depth and strength of your faith in Jesus Christ and your commitment to All Saints through these very trying times. You remain a true inspiration to me, and I am deeply grateful to God Almighty for calling and leading me here to be part of this remarkable community of Christians.
Peace and blessings be with you all,