“No one steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river they aren’t the same person.” Thus, goes the famous saying attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. The point is, change is always happening—both around us and within us. One attribute that we identify with God—in One who transcends the systems, rules, and constraints of the physical realm—is that God is changeless. And not just God, but God’s self-revelation of love and grace—these will not change. This is part of what Jesus was saying when he said, “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). This echoes the praise of the psalmist, “Your Word, O Lord, is everlasting” (Psalm 119:89). All of this to say that in the midst of the changes and chances of this life, God keeps God’s promises. And God has promised to “be with us always even unto the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). That’s the truth that keeps us going.
The preceding paragraph is the only way I could conceive of beginning this note about new changes that are coming soon. The diocese has issued new protocols for how we worship together in this time of change. The last couple of weeks have seen some dramatic changes in the way our country may be handling coronavirus protocols, and there seems to be a lot of confusion about it. In some ways, the situation at church is much clearer. Our rules have never been directly determined by state law or CDC guidelines. Our rules have been set by the bishop, and our relationship to the bishop is different than to any state or federal entity. As part of the body of Christ, our participation in these protocols has more to do with mutual trust, loyalty, a pastoral relationship between the parish and the diocese, and—in my case especially—a very real, consequential and spiritual vow of obedience that I took when I became a priest (some of you were in the room when I made those vows on December 9, 2017!). That being said, our bishop and his staff had made every effort to 1. Follow state law; 2. Take into account the needs and safety of us all; and 3. Use relevant guidance from the CDC, and other respected scientists and doctors. So, that’s how we’ve ended up with the rules we’ve had so far, and I trust the same is motivating what comes next. So, here’s what comes next:
Effective Sunday, June 6,
- We can reintroduce indoor congregational singing.
- We can put our prayer books and hymnals back in the pews.
- Coffee hour and other fellowship may resume.
- We may begin having in-person meetings like vestry and committee meetings again.
- Also, on June 6, we are planning to do away with the mandatory sign up sheet for church. We will still be tracking attendance for contract tracing purposes, but we’ve got a sense of who is coming, and have worked out a way to manage without the extra step of requiring everyone to sign-up.
That is a lot of changes all at once. My head is spinning. But, notice what hasn’t changed according to the bishop:
- We must still wear masks inside the building.
- We must still maintain social distance (including at the peace).
- We must still distribute Communion in the bread only.
My hunch is that some of us will be excited about these changes. Others are going to feel uncomfortable with them because they seem too lax. Others are going to feel disappointed that these loosened restrictions didn’t go far enough, especially in the mask wearing department. My one plea that pertains however you might feel: Love each other. Holy Apostles is a special place because regardless of all the confusion and division all around us we are, by the grace of God, capable of loving each other across difference in real and tangible ways. This love is going to be expressed in different ways, so I beg you to find your way! For some, love will be expressed by continuing to participate in Church from home. We are not going to discontinue our online opportunities for worship. For some, love will mean coming back to church for the first time in a long time. Things have changed around here, but the love and grace and mercy that God extends us all are everlasting. They never change. You can still find meaning and purpose and fellowship here, at your parish, so please come back if you’ve been away for awhile and you feel safe. For some, love will mean getting vaccinated. For some, love will mean trusting each other enough not to ask, or insist, or be suspicious of others and their vaccination status. Our society spends billions teaching us to be wary and suspicious, and unforgiving. God offered himself up to death in Jesus Christ to teach us a different way. However love looks for you and your family—take this seriously—God loves you and will never leave you, and God’s presence empowers us to love each other even in hard times and confusion.
The vestry and I still need to work out the exact details of how we will move forward. I will do my best to keep you informed. On the other hand, with so many things changing, it’s hard to stay on top of it all. Which leads me to one of my favorite verses, one that I couldn’t conceive of ending this Note without quoting (in the King James of my youth): “Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.” In other words, continue to live day by day, trusting in God’s grace, because nothing is certain, except grace. Grace is everything.