From Fr. Dean+
Dear Friends in Christ,
I write to you first, to give you important updates about our life together at St. David’s, second, to answer your questions about our immediate future, and finally, to offer some of my reflections about what God’s purposes might be for us as we go through this difficult time—what spiritual opportunities that might be hidden in this time of Pandemic.
First, an update:
There has been much speculation about when we will all be able to get back into the sanctuary—to get back into church.
– The quick answer is, not yet.
The bishop and the rectors of the diocese are closely monitoring the medical situation, and we all believe that it would be reckless and dangerous to defy the medical and scientific recommendations of the CDC, and move too quickly back into our sanctuary. As the bishop put it so well in a Zoom meeting with clergy Wednesday, “We are in the Life business. We are not in a rush to put people in danger.” And I would just like to add that, in my opinion, those churches who are currently deciding to meet again, (obviously, non Episcopal), are falling into the temptation that Jesus himself rejected in the desert:
Matthew 4:7: “The devil took Jesus to the Holy City and set him on the
parapet of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself
down; for scripture says, ‘He will put his angels in charge of you, and they
will support you in their arms…Jesus answered him, “You shall not put the
Lord your God to the test’.”
I believe those churches are doing exactly that. So again, the short answer for us is, not yet.
The bishop has made one important change this week, however. Beginning this week, clergy and worship leaders (organist and readers) will now be able to record or pre-record worship in the sanctuary. This we will do, and the staff is already working on ways to improve the quality of our pre-recorded services, and we will be “live streaming” that recording on Sunday morning. Pay special attention to the quality of the music! We will continue, of course, to practice safe distancing, even among the few people in the sanctuary, and the church building will still be essentially shut down from all other activities.
Here are answers to your particular questions. I need to note, first, that every single one of you who has emailed me about the issue of our reopening has expressed strongly the concern that we please NOT allow people to return to church too quickly, and I appreciate your understanding of all that I’ve just
said about that.
Here are some other answers to your questions, at least as far as they can be
Q- Is there a date scheduled when we can come back to church in person?
A- Three weeks ago, we set the TENTATIVE date of May 31, Pentecost, (A full week after Memorial Day Weekend) as a possible date that we might return to church. This of course is subject to change, in either direction, depending on the course of the Coronavirus itself, and the best wisdom of medical science.
Q- What about Confirmation that was scheduled for April 19?
A- The Diocese has complete control of the confirmation schedule, and we
will let you know when that rescheduling will happen. We are hopeful that
we can reschedule on a week night, as St. David’s as traditionally done.
Q- When we do come back, what will that look like? Will we be safe?
A- Neither your bishop nor I will allow any kind of reentry into the sanctuary that is not safe. That said, there is much discussion among diocesan clergy, as well as among your St. David’s staff, about the return to sanctuary worship There will probably not be a “light switch” moment when we will be able to say, “As of this Sunday, we will be back to ‘normal,’ exactly as we were before.” Instead, our return will probably be in “stages,” and we simply do not know exactly what that will look like at this point. We can speculate, for example, that for that first “stage,” we would still have to practice “safe distancing” probably including no physical exchange of the peace, no hand shaking or hugs, no bulletins, no greetings at the door, and perhaps even seating restrictions. What that means to Children’s and Adult Education spaces, or to church meetings, we simply do not know at this time. But that is something that your clergy and staff are working on at this time—to find out and plan for “best practices” among parishes all over the state and the nation. Remember, as Anglicans, we truly are all in this together. But of course, for the “short term,” that is, at least for the month of May, our current practice will be followed—the church building will be locked down, except for sextons disinfecting and painting, and those clergy, organist, and lay readers who are in the sanctuary to pre-record the service.
Q—What is the staff doing during this time?
A- Like most of you, the staff is working from our homes, with Zoom meetings to plan for parish worship and education on line (except for sextons, as I mentioned above).
In our week-by-week planning, we have implemented an “on-line schedule” of offerings most days of the week, as well as helping facilitate other Zoom meetings as well. We are also learning better ways to put our services on line. And this is important—these offerings will no doubt continue after this crisis is over, for those who still might not be able to get to church. The staff is also planning for the future, to help facilitate that next “stage” where the parish will be able to return safely into the building. We want St. David’s to be “ahead of the curve” when we return. We are struggling to make decisions, as best we can, for each event that we had planned on our April, May, and even June calendars. This is difficult, since we simply do not know what the medical reality will be at the time. But your staff is busy thinking through all of these issues and planning as best we can. And communicating them to you in as timely a way
as possible. In the meanwhile, the staff is also updating our “on line platforms”—Web Page, Phone App, Facebook page and others. Part of what we want to do is to get all of our Administrative ducks in a row for the new rector.
Q- What about the Nominating Committee? Where are we in our search for a new rector?
A—Last month, the bishop (along with many, if not all bishops across the country) put a temporary halt to all search processes.
His reasoning was that each priest we might be looking at had a primary responsibility, during this crisis, to look after their parish first. I absolutely agree with this thinking. At this time, the Nominating Committee is awaiting word from the diocese as to when to continue the Search Process.
As you know, the details of the search are confidential. But they will let you know everything they can, as soon as they can. I do want to add, however, that, as for my role as your Interim Rector, I want you to know that I have no plans to leave St. David’s until the new Rector arrives, whenever that may be. As I have said before, St. David’s is a wonderful parish to be doing God’s work, and I love being here! Which brings me to the topic of God’s Providence, or God’s purposes here. As I have preached before, God did not bring this virus to the world to punish us, or to get our attention, or to make us suffer for the purpose of “teaching” us something. Matthew __ says, of the evil weeds of the field, “An enemy has done this.” However, there are opportunities here, gifts of insight and repentance and renewal, if we have the determination to find those gifts. During this time, the whole earth seems to be on “pause” mode, and that has never happened like this in our lifetimes. Maybe we should not be SO quick to impatiently rush toward a world that is exactly “the way things were.” Maybe we were too busy before, too busy to spend good quality time with those we love. Maybe we worked too long hours and wasted Sabbath opportunities, time to get to know those we love in a deeper and more meaningful way, more time to think about the trajectory of our lives, and perhaps just wonder about the deep, deep mystery of this incredible space of time that we call “our life on this earth.” Maybe we have created a society that is too ready to leave those poor and forgotten people on the bottom, and maybe we’ve forgotten that we are all
one human family; we’ve tended to think of “us” versus “them” in so, so many ways. The sheer ugliness of our politics reflects this.
Maybe this time of pulling back from driving our cars and our travel is giving the earth an opportunity to renew itself environmentally, and maybe we can go back to a “new” normal where we do not have to consume so much, and waste so much. When the ancient Hebrew people went into exile in Babylon in the sixth century BC, they loved their temple in Jerusalem so, so very much. It broke their hearts to leave that holy space and to sing “in a foreign land.” However, in that exile, they learned that God existed even apart from the temple—as we have said before, “The church has left the building.” We are learning what they learned, and I predict that we will be the better for it. Much of what I have had to say today sounds like it comes from the church “Heirarchy,” that is, as a “directive,” from the diocese, from the bishop. But I do not think of it exactly that way. I think that the bishop embodies us all in a uniquely Anglican way, and I would say that OUR LOVE FOR EACH OTHER is really our directive. We are being tested, and St. David’s WILL rise to this occasion. There are blessings to be found, and I have full confidence that this parish will come through this period with faithfulness and grace. We will stay in touch, so you all take good care of one another, and of yourselves, keep up your pledges, wash your hands, find things that make you laugh, and always, take it to God in prayer.
Rest well this evening, St. David’s.