Pastoral Letter from our Bishop, Audrey Scanlan

Dear Faithful Ones,

I am asking that you read in detail the attached Pastoral Letter from our Bishop, Audrey Scanlan which shares with you the news that indoor in-person worship will be suspended beginning next Friday through the end of the year due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases.

When the pandemic began in the winter, Bishop Scanlan developed a Task Force comprised of people from around the diocese, lay and ordained, with varying professional backgrounds to study the data of COVID cases, listen carefully to scientific information available, and to ensure our compliance with any state and federal mandates. This group was charged to make recommendations for a re-entry plan to in-person worship. As you know, we began worship this summer outdoors and have since moved indoors for both Saturday evening and Sunday morning services. Worship has been glorious, deep and true. It has been one of my greatest joys to push open our red doors and welcome many of you as you have come hungry for communion and community. This opportunity has been an incredible blessing to each one of us and to the soul of our parish, refreshing and renewing many of us so that we can continue forward in the work Christ has given us to do. We have also met the spiritual needs of those who preferred to worship at home due to health concerns with our weekly recorded virtual service. However, as the number of COVID cases is escalating, it was time to re-evaluate our safety protocol and take this step to once again suspend indoor in-person worship.

This decision means, of course, that we will not be worshiping in person for Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, which most likely will cause deep grief in many of our hearts. These holy days and all the many heart-warming traditions we love manifest the in-breaking of God in our world, as we believe was true with the birth of Jesus in the manger, and we may not be able to imagine how Christmas could ever be the same without singing Silent Night by candlelight in our darkened sanctuary. It is fine to feel the sadness; in fact I encourage you to allow the grief to come. I know last night when I heard this news, my heart sank and grief welled up within my soul and tears welled up in my eyes, for what I love most is watching our young ones scramble forward with Mary or baby Jesus or with the glittery stars to place tenderly in the creche and then of course, celebrating the Eucharist with you on this most holy night. But then I remembered why we celebrate Christmas and the hope that was born in the manger and which always comes with this feast day and I knew that somehow the presence of Christ will be known to us, outside of our regular traditions, outside our beautiful sanctuary, in new ways and equally meaningful ways.

There will be options available for you to receive pre-consecrated bread in the safety of your home with the liturgy of Communion under Special Circumstances, and I am still available to bring communion to you in your homes, or you may come to the church to receive on an individual or family basis. I promise you that you will be fed by the "Body of Christ" as you may desire.

We are able to continue our outreach efforts with our "to go" community meals and Christmas Day Dinner and to host AA meetings. In fact, this may be a time when we can increase our giving to our community and focus more on how we can "give" with generosity the presence of Christ, rather than our focus on receiving. For the funny thing about moving with the Spirit, is that often when we give our hearts to others, we are actually renewed in a very holy way.

We will continue our recorded worship services and we have some very special ways for the congregation to be aware of our connection with one another throughout the Advent season, so keep your heart open to one another and God will fill in the gaps. It is what our faith teaches us-- and it is what will happen.

I must say, after my period of grief last evening, I felt relief that this decision was made. I love you all and my first priority is always that you are safe. Spiritual and physical safety go together and I want you each to be well and whole, in all ways.

I am here with and for you in your response. Please ask me any questions, please share with me your thoughts and concerns. Please ask me to find a way to bring the sacrament to you safely. There is nothing that is more important to me than that.

Now, my homily this week is talking about how we "as children of the Light" see the blessings in the midst of the darkness, so if I am preaching this, then I better live it. So here is my list of blessings I created this afternoon which I see in this decision to suspend worship through the end of the year -- I invite you to add to my list ---

With growing love, Barbara+

1.    We have faithful leadership at the Diocesan level who care about our health and well-being. Our bishop is supportive, caring, and faithful in her shepherding of our souls and lives of faith.
2.    We can understand that it is in our absence from one another to keep each other safe, that we are fully “loving our neighbor” as Jesus calls us to do.
3.    We can still offer our community meals (3 Mondays per month) and provide space for AA meetings (Sunday and Monday).
4.    Many have been fed by our worship experiences on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings so our spiritual well has been replenished. We have the sustenance to carry forward.
5.    We love each other – and that bond of love, infused by the Holy Spirit will hold us together. We did this before and we can do this again.
6.    There is no new learning curve with this change in routine. From what I hear from others, we have figured out the technology and have applied the creativity to produce a good weekly recorded worship service. It’s not the same as in-person worship, but it works okay for many and some have found it very engaging and rewarding.
7.    Without the time spent on creating 3 or 4 worship bulletins each week, I will have more time to spend offering pastoral care (phone calls, Zoom meetings, visits) which will be beneficial to the parish and will feed my priestly heart. Melanie and I can also use this "extra" time to update our communication through our website, Facebook, and our e-newsletters to better meet your needs.
8.    With the recorded services, we are able to engage more people in the music program and provide more varied styles of music, which meets the desires of the committee which searched for our new church musician and who in the process discerned the spiritual needs of the parishioners to be met through diverse music.
9.    I, with others, had already planned the Advent and Christmas season with an emphasis on resources being in the homes of people and/or online. Very little reorganization will need to happen for our plans.
10. We have many wonderful memories of previous Christmas Eve services that will carry us through this one when we can’t be in the sanctuary. We had already planned on a virtual Christmas pageant which will now be able to be viewed/engaged with by many other people (especially out of town relatives).
11. We are a parish who by and large are very responsive to opportunities to be engaged remotely. Most of the people I email for photographs (pets) or to provide virtual music are very happy to be invited and respond eagerly. We are figuring out how to engage us all differently and the positive response is growing.
12. The recorded services allow for those who cannot come to church due to their high-risk health status to be readers, and they are so grateful for that chance.
13. Jesus is always out ahead of us and will meet us along the way as we move into yet another new season.This we know to be true. We just have to stay on the journey.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church | | 717-532-8089 ||