My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Legend has it that there is an ancient curse which says, "May you live in interesting times.” One has but to glance through any history textbook to note that the most interesting times to read about are typically ones that would have been most grueling to live through. Interesting times are only interesting, perhaps, to the extent that they happen to other people.
We are certainly living through some interesting times, ourselves, these days. The COVID-19 global pandemic has affected each and every one of us in ways both large and small. Our lives, even for those of us who remain relatively comfortable during this crisis, have not been "normal" for some time now. And some folks are enduring great suffering. Some folks are dying. There's nothing about this situation that's easy.
Hard as quarantine is for all Americans at this time, it's particularly challenging for Episcopalians. As Christians in the Anglican tradition, we embrace an incarnational theology, which calls us to worship God in our bodies by gathering together as the Body of Christ and by celebrating the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion. The experience of that intimate presence of the Divine within the assembly of God's people, in the tangible, physical elements of bread and wine, is central ~ is foundational ~ to our experience of God and our understanding of Jesus Christ's incarnate life, death, and resurrection. Unable to gather physically, and unable to share the wafer and the cup as we have done (I was tempted to write "as we normally do," but the Eucharist is extraordinary and I hesitate ever to describe it as "normal"), we have had to find other ways in which to experience the incarnate presence of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
As a result, All Saints has managed in a few weeks to do something we've been needing to do for some time: namely, to expand our mission and outreach into the realms of digital technology and social media. Many of you have joined us from home in saying the prayers and liturgies of the Daily Office ~ a practice that Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1533 to 1555 who wrote the original Book of Common Prayer, always intended to be the regular discipline not only of the clergy but of every member of the Church. And I have discovered, and have been delighted to offer, services of ante-Communion (basically, the Liturgy of the Word from our regular Sunday worship, offered as a complete service unto itself) and Spiritual Communion (a liturgy designed for the faithful who find themselves in places or circumstances that prevent them from physically attending Mass) as parts of our tradition I did not know about before this outbreak.
Without in any way diminishing the hardships and difficulties we're experiencing because of this viral outbreak, I do have to say that I am excited to see these new forms of ministry take shape and become part of our lives together in Christ. It is my determined intention that these online services continue even after we are able once again to gather together in person for our traditional forms of worship.
We have also activated, from the start of the outbreak, a telephone ministry in order to reach out to and keep connected with those members of our parish who do not have access to the internet or to electronic means of communication. The members of our Vestry, in particular, have been extremely generous and diligent in this ministry, regularly reaching out to our parish family to offer prayer, conversation, human connection, and the presence of Christ to everyone.
At this point, the novelty of quarantine and "shelter-at-home" is beginning to wear off. The "new and strange" is perhaps even becoming for us the "new normal." Prevented from gathering in person to worship, we are (hopefully) becoming accustomed to gathering around our electronic devices, or looking forward to phone calls from fellow church members, to share prayer and worship across the physical distances we must maintain in order to stop the spread of the virus. I can tell you that neither I nor my seminary classmates at Sewanee imagined that we were training to be televangelists!
The truth is, none of us have prior experience with situations like this one. But as the novelty wears off, it will become more difficult to maintain the disciplines that are in fact slowing the spread of the virus. Here is where our ancient tradition of prayer can and will sustain us. Our ancestors faced hardship, isolation, exile, desolation, anxiety, fear, disease, and death. One of the things that got them through it all was prayer. So let us all continue to pray ~ to pray for each other, to pray with each other ~ confident in the knowledge that prayer unites us to God through Jesus Christ and to each other through God's Holy Spirit.
Elsewhere in this newsletter, you'll find an updated schedule of online services. Please join in as you are able, and "like" and "comment" freely as a way for us to stay connected, until such time as we will meet again face to face before God's holy altar.
Peace & blessings,