Suspending In-Person Worship, and Other News
Saturday, March 14th, 2019

Dear Friends,

Earlier this week I saw a story: a number of women were marching in Chili: one young child was separated from her mother. In the growing anxiety of finding the child, the word spread from one to another ... and the women all kneeled. The photograph caption read that nearly 1,000 women sat on the ground for a few minutes until the child found her mother.

The parallels are clear: the lives of many were disrupted, in order for one small crisis to be averted and one family restored.

This past week I made a number of decisions that felt dramatic and adaptive in order to do our part as a community of faith to help slow and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. As strange as it feels to limit gathering as a church family, this is a moment where holding still and keeping distant is the correct moral act to allow medicine its best chance at finding treatments and cures while limiting the danger to those who have become ill and might spread that to others. It isn't because the majority of people need be fearful, but because by acting that majority can save lives among the vulnerable.

I'm writing today because we will actually be taking an even more significant set of steps, chief among them :

We will be suspending our weekly worship, effective immedialtey, per the instruction of Bishop Barker.

We plan to instead broadcast a Morning Prayer service tomorrow morning at 10:30; please keep an eye on your e-mail for a follow-up with instructions.

Worship will be suspended until at least April 4th, and our circumstances will be re-evaluated in these coming weeks.

Friday afternoon Bishop Barker convened most of the clergy of the diocese electronically in order to let us know about this. He let us know that he had written a letter to the diocese and made this decision, in order to support the health and wellbeing of our communities, both within and beyond our churches. The letter may be read here .

By and large, this matches what I wrote on Thursday: we are in a moment where many of us will undertake some flexibility and adaptation because our small changes and temporary disruptions will add up to time that the medical community can spend as healers and scientists, using their tools to care for those who have already become sick, and working towards vaccines and treatment practices that will, over time, save many lives.

So: we will not GATHER on Sunday mornings for worship, nor for many of our groups.

However, we WILL still be a church! The Church has always been the people and not the building. Here are some things that we CAN continue to do:

  • I will be working today on an electronic streaming setup for Morning Prayer, which will probably include both a "Zoom" link (an electronic platform for streaming video gatherings) and a Facebook Live video, through the simple mechanism of turning Facebook Live on using my cell phone. Morning Prayer was the traditional service of Christian communities and the Episcopal Church for many years, and the parish that sponsored my ordination used to hold this service once a week, adding in the readings and a sermon.

  • More importantly, we can keep helping our neighbors. COPE will be in need of supplies and donations through this time, and in particular is in need of cleaning supplies such as disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer. (At present COPE does not have space to stock paper supplies) Their new office is located at 1620 N 203rd St, or you can bring supplies by St A's during office hours.

  • Unfortunately, we will be canceling our intended Outreach project for Lent involving shoes and a meal for COPE families with children. We hope to be able to run this project at a later time.

  • Crisis response experts note that routine and connection are incredibly important when things have been disrupted. Connection is something we can certainly do! I want to challenge everyone to pick up the phone once a day and check on someone, either from church (use those new directories!) or elsewhere in your life. Human connection is a source of joy and strength in every kind of disruption.

  • As for routine, we will settle in to a new pattern of worship, but we will also be working to adapt as much as we can to these practices of "social distancing." For example, I will plan to stream online the Romans Bible Study I have been teaching, and I know that EfM and some of our other programs have experience using streaming tools for e-gathering. In addition, our diocese is assembling some resources for daily prayer online ... more on that as we receive it!

In addition, simply know another reminder that we are in an extraordinary moment in which the small actions many of us take are having a meaningful impact in saving lives ... living for the good of our neighbors is always the calling of Christians, and Lent is a perfect time to reflect on that. I hold to the hope that this moment of disruption has an enduring impact in teaching us that it is possible to make real changes for the benefit of others, even strangers, and even at a distance, and by that we learn a little bit more about the human heart.

Finally, keep our world in prayer. There are many moments of small care and small decisions that are having huge impacts right now. There are many who are sick or in danger, either from this virus or other tragedies. The scale of it is so large as to overawe us ... but that is also the place where we understand a little bit how large the heart of God must be to hold all our world in love, and to learn that we can be stretched a bit more into that kind of love than we realized in the routines we have been used to. Prayer is meant to transform us, and to draw us to wonder what we might do and become with hearts that have been stretched into that larger vision by what we have seen and learned.

In Christ,

Ben
Activities, Meetings & Worship Plans
We will be adapting our activities to practice "Social Distancing" guidelines for the time being, with a default expectation that groups will be suspended unless they can meet online. Fr Ben and Kate will be communicating with our ministries (some of which have a lot of experience connecting electronically!) over the coming weeks, and we'll be keeping things updated.

The staff will continue to hold regular office hours and manage various projects and concerns, and we will be updating the parish regularly about our schedule and activities.
St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
285 S 208th Street
Elkhorn, NE 68022
402-289-4058
Church Communication and Announcements
Those of you who need to share information with the parish, please be sure to send it to  parish@sainta.net  as well as  ministries@sainta.net   Jay and Kate will need to have this information by Wednesday at 10:00 am to be included in that week's communication for bulletin and newsletter. We appreciate your support.
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