“News Flash: Open Skies”
It was welcome news, an exciting announcement! A communication from Bishop Susan Goff parting the clouds and sending a ray of sunshine through an overcast sky this week. The potential for our Diocese of Virginia church spaces to welcome us back for worship – not the interior spaces yet, but the grounds around them or even elsewhere “out-of-doors” where we might choose to gather.
I remember accounts of the first church services after the arrival at Jamestown in 1607. How weary travelers seeking a new world gathered where they had landed, took an old sail, strung it tent-like between trees, sat on logs and offered profound thanks for a providential God helping them make the passage through their difficult journey to reaching new land. I think of the early Celtic Christians in Britain or indigenous peoples elsewhere around the world through the centuries sheltering under trees with wide arching canopies as they worshipped the God they relied upon for grace and protection in times of distress and times of celebration. I consider open air summer revival services along the shores of our Virginia rivers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
To gather together. This is part of our essential nature as creatures of God. And to do so under the tent of an Almighty Divine, however we may visualize the God who created us, sustains us, and calls us to be more together than we can be alone. We gather together to seek the Lord’s blessing, the Lord’s strength, protection and blessing and to give God thanks for not just helping us make it through a time certain or uncertain, but also to celebrate and find hope for the days to come.
I have already “walked” the grounds around N. Farnham Church, felt the sanctuary offered by the magnificent trees that canopy the place. Counted them. There are seven. I think of the number seven in the Bible, a number that represents “completion.” The fullness of Creation. Considering the potential of a gathering semi-circling the Cedar Grove side door of N. Farnham Church’s cruciform shaped structure. Seeing you in my mind’s eye all arriving as you are able, carrying a lawn chair and settling in six feet apart. Yes, masks on your faces, but not on your heart, mind and soul as we join in worshiping together the God who has brought us through this chaotic, disordered and threatening time so far. Our celebrating the Divine Grace that has sustained us and trusting that it will continue to do so.
At St. John’s there are also out of door “open sky” spaces that could welcome us. There the challenge is the noise around us, even on a Sunday morning. Busy traffic on Richmond Road to one side of us; over-time construction on St. John’s Road on the other side. St John’s property is in the shape of a giant triangle. I think of the theological construct of a triangle representing the Trinity as humans might visualize it. Wherever we try to set up a gathering spot on those grounds, we will be doing so in the middle of a busy, heavily trafficked world just beyond the margins of our sacred, consecrated grounds. But perhaps the vision of folks gathering to worship, pray and give thanks to God as two or three or more of us come together there will stir the heart, mind and imagination of one or two or more of those rushing by around us. And the reality is that we are called by the Lord we serve to go out into the world to love and serve, even beyond our borders. The doorway out from our church buildings is our threshold to live into this commission.
While the Bishop offers the opportunity to conduct outdoors worship even as early as this coming Sunday, June 21st, we will move more slowly into this. The potential of outside worship was addressed at the St. John’s vestry meeting last week. Likewise, it will be the main topic at Farnham’s vestry meeting this week. Your vestries and I will keep you quickly posted on the development of those discussions. The key to unlocking this expanded worship opportunity is careful discernment, considering the health and welfare of you, our church families.
One thing I am proposing is that we continue to offer a Zoom Sunday Prayer Service even as we begin outdoor worship. This offers a virtual worship time for those who choose to remain sheltering in place to avoid the risks inherent in being part of a larger group elsewhere at this time. Continuing this virtual opportunity also assures the availability of Sunday worship in the event of inclement weather (rain or summer heart) impacting an outdoor gathering. Our virtual times together during the pandemic have affirmed that love and connection is not limited by physical boundaries but is as unlimited as the air we breathe that gives us life. How amazing the grace of sight and sound carried on invisible air waves in our “virtual” times together. Reminds me of the words of St. Paul reminding us that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
The continued present reality of COVID-19 at this time means that we will need to respect specific precautions necessitated by health issues as we regather. Do not let the limitations that will need to be in place as we do so distress, depress or keep you away. If you are able and choose to come, just come joyfully and thankfully. Embrace the opportunity to simply be together under the canopy of heaven, sheltered by a Divine who holds us within the depth, breadth, and height of its Universal Love.
Onward . . . .