Dear friends,

This will be a long email, so I apologize in advance. But we wanted to share several pieces of big news with you from this evening's Vestry meeting while it was still fresh. So please read on. I even bolded the most important sentences in case you have limited time.

Extension of my Rectorship

Way back in 2018 (you know, before COVID was a household word), when Emmanuel decided to call me as Co-Rector with Rev. Ellen, we knew we were trying something new. We certainly weren't the first parish with such an arrangement, but it was clearly outside the norm. It also at least stretched the rules imposed by the Episcopal Church. As you may know, the canons specify that each parish shall have a rector who is the priest in charge of the congregation. This is a tenured position, "without limitation of time", meaning that dissolution of the relationship has to be by mutual agreement of the parties. All other clergy (often called "Associate Rector") are called to assist the rector, either permanently or for a period of time, but do not have tenure in the same way that a rector does.

All of that is background to the conundrum it created when the Ekevag family moved to Michigan. What exactly is the canonical status of a lone co-rector upon the departure of the other one? If you're not quite sure, you are in good company. This was a new situation for everyone involved. So, at the suggestion of the Diocese and with the consent of Bishop Lee, the Vestry and I agreed last June that I would stay on as Rector for a period of one year. This would get us through the pandemic and give us time to discern together the best way forward for Emmanuel. (Yes, a rector with a time-limited appointment is inherently paradoxical. But, hey...strange times call for strange solutions.) That year has now come to an end.

A few weeks ago, we completed a Mutual Ministry Review facilitated by the Director of Ministries at the Diocese of Chicago. That process capped off a period of months' worth of conversation and discernment -- both within the Vestry and parish-wide -- about the proper clergy staffing for Emmanuel to continue to thrive. As a result, I am pleased to announce that a few minutes ago, the Vestry elected to call me as the permanent 14th Rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church and I have accepted the call. While it still technically requires the consent of the Diocese, we expect that to be nothing more than a formality. It has been a pleasure serving with you all these last number of years, and now I am honored to be able to pray for many more to come.

Hiring of an Associate Rector

Another thing which became clear over the last year is that in order to provide high-quality worship and programming at Emmanuel, we need additional staff support. The Vestry has begun a strategic planning process to try and answer a number of related questions, including:
  • What are we doing well? What aren't we doing well?
  • What do we need to start doing? What should we stop doing?
  • How do we best staff ourselves in alignment with our mission?

That process will continue for quite some time, but our discernment and conversations have led us to conclude that we need another priest now in order to continue to grow. In fact, we had budgeted for the position in case the right opportunity arose...and fortunately, it has.

It is thus my privilege to announce that the Rev. Kate Spelman will be joining the Emmanuel staff as part-time Associate Rector. I have known Kate for a number of years and I'm thrilled to be working with her. Many of you will recognize her from last summer when she filled in during my vacation. For those who don't, here is a brief biography:
The Rev. Kate Spelman is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Chicago. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago (BA, General Honors, in Anthropology and Linguistics) and Yale Divinity School, where she was a Marquand Scholar and received the Mersick Prize for her preaching. Following her divinity studies, she returned to her native Philadelphia to serve as the Assistant Minister at Christ Church, 2nd and Market; she returned to the Diocese of Chicago as the rector of All Saints, Western Springs. After almost a decade serving congregations in urban and suburban settings, she recently transitioned to the secular world, where she works for AgeOptions, the Area Agency on Aging of suburban Cook County, to create programming and resources to better serve older LGBT+ adults and caregivers in suburban Chicagoland (see more about her work here: When not at work, she enjoys cooking, hiking, reading good books, and watching trashy TV. She lives in the near suburbs of Chicago with her lovely wife, Ellen, and ill-behaved dog, Chick, who is fourteen and thinks he has earned his orneriness.

We currently anticipate that Rev. Kate will begin at Emmanuel in mid-September. Her Letter of Agreement approved tonight by the Vestry is for a period of one year. That is not to say that we expect Rev. Kate to leave us next year; instead, it is intended to ensure that the fit is good for all involved and to see if any adjustments need to be made moving forward. Rev. Kate will work one-quarter time at Emmanuel (including most Sundays each month) while she continues to do her work with AgeOptions. She will share in liturgical leadership through preaching and presiding at worship as well as taking primary oversight over our adult formation programs and working with the Outreach Committee to expand our impact in the community.

New COVID-19 Protocols

As many of you will remember, over 15 months ago, Bishop Lee asked us to cease in-person worship due to the pandemic. Since then, we have been able to return to in-person worship, but under fairly strict restrictions. Following the implementation of Phase Five in Illinois and upon the advice of the Diocesan COVID-19 Advisory Group (made up of physicians, clergy, and lay members), the Diocese of Chicago has released us from those restrictions as of June 16th.

Each congregation was asked to prayerfully discern and implement its its own guidelines, and the Vestry has approved those guidelines tonight. I want to commend the Wardens, Vestry, and church staff for their leadership on this issue and their honesty during our conversations. I also want to thank all of you for being so faithful to our protocols, even when they were perhaps more than you practiced at home or work. It has been a challenge recently to balance our overwhelming desire to return to normal with the fact that people are still dying from COVID-19. In fact, Illinois has had over 100 fully vaccinated people die from the virus to date and it isn't entirely clear yet what factors may have led to the vaccine not being as preventive for them. At the same time, we believe that there will always be some base level of viral transmission in the population and we are perhaps as safe right now as we will ever be.

We have decided that the Parish Re-Entry Plan is entirely superseded by the following brief policies, effective immediately:
  • Masks are no longer required for fully vaccinated individuals.
  • Socially-distanced seating will be maintained in the rear one-third of the church, but the front two-thirds will be returned to normal and the ropes removed.
  • People may share the Peace in whatever way is comfortable for them.
  • The distribution of Communion will continue for now as it is currently being practiced: at stations with disposable cups.

I want to make a few important points, however. First, note that just because masks are not required for fully vaccinated people, they are always an option. In fact, you will still see me wearing mine with some frequency. Due to a medical issue in my family, I am still being fairly cautious. So I ask you to please refrain from making any negative judgments about those who continue to wear a mask.

Second, it is our expectation that those who are not fully vaccinated will continue to wear a mask during all Emmanuel services and events. This is based in our Christian commitment to the good of the entire community, including those who cannot be vaccinated, whether due to age or medical condition. For this reason, we require that staff and volunteers working with children under 12 years of age will continue to wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status. The ministers will also wear them during the distribution of Communion since that includes children and others unable to be vaccinated.

Third, please remember that not everyone will be comfortable with physical contact right now. In fact, I've heard from a number of people who weren't comfortable with hugs during the Peace even before the pandemic. So please do check with people before intruding into their personal space and certainly before touching them.

Fourth, and finally, I know there have been questions about whether we could now return to congregational singing. After lengthy conversations about the topic, we have decided not to do so at this time. It is our distinct hope that we will return to two services in the fall and begin singing again (both choir and congregation) at that time.

I may have missed some points in my desire to get this email out expeditiously, so if you have any questions, feel free to hit "Reply" or give me a call.

I wish you all a great remainder of the week, and hope to see you (and your faces!) soon.