Announcements

Coronavirus Update from the Rector

Dear Holy Apostles,

Grace and peace to you from God.  The consensus of the CDC and other health officials is that, along with washing your hands, social distancing is a vitally important part of mitigating the spread and severity of coronavirus (COVID-19) in our community.  Social distancing means keeping away from large gatherings and creating a wider “personal bubble” when you are out in public.  And most importantly, it means staying home and away from others when you are sick.  These steps are essential parts of taking care of ourselves as well as loving our neighbors as ourselves. 

However, the danger is that in the process of social distancing we will end up emotionally and spiritually isolating ourselves.  In other words, I worry our reactions to the COVID-19 health crisis—especially reactions that are driven by fear—will only add to one of the pandemics that has gripped our society for some time, the virulent and insidious pandemic of loneliness, isolation, and despair. 

Emotional and spiritual distancing isn’t going to help anyone.  There is, in fact, a direct link between spiritual health and physical and emotional health.  This essential connection has not diminished because there is a new and scary public health emergency.  We need to maintain our spiritual connection to God and each other.  The question is:  how do we as a church take prudent precautions against the spread of infectious disease while maintaining a sense of community and spiritual care which imbues life with meaning and makes it worth living in the first place?  This is a difficult but not impossible balance.  I wrote last week about the precautions we are taking at church including wiping down high-touch surfaces before and after services, exploring alternatives to handshakes and hugs during the Peace, and increasing the amount of hand washing that goes on before Holy Communion.  I also wrote about the sufficiency of only taking Communion in one kind, the bread.

At this time I want to reiterate what you have undoubtedly heard from many sources: please stay home if you are sick.  Also if you are sick, let me know so that your faith community can provide you with support.  This is a time for solidarity not stigma.

If you are a member of a group that is particularly at risk of serious health complications, please consider your options for spiritual and emotional support carefully.  If you feel comfortable coming to church, please do so, as long as you are not sick.  A second option is that I am more than willing to bring the Holy Sacrament to you in your home.  I am currently healthy and will be monitoring my health carefully.  With God’s sustaining help, I will be available for eucharistic visitation, pastoral visits, and prayer.

Another option is to participate in our worship services digitally.  We are working to make digital options available by this weekend for those who are sick or who want to stay at home.  Digital interaction is not the same thing and face-to-face interaction and participation, and it is not sufficient or sustainable in the long-term.  But as a short-term stopgap it may be the best option for some to connect.  Be on the lookout for links to livestreams of services and other activities. 

Unless the bishop tells me otherwise, I will not be cancelling Sunday Eucharist or weekday Morning Prayer.  During this difficult time we need more prayer and more sacraments, not less.  As one of my friends put it, the prayers of the faithful are the most powerful tool we have in times of crisis.  I stand firm in my conviction that the sacrament of the Eucharist is given by God for the healing of the whole world.  It is more important than ever to continue to offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God and pray for grace and healing on behalf of a broken and anguished world. 

In consultation with the vestry, I will be making decisions about whether to cancel other church activities on a case-to-case basis, including Lenten group activities, Bible Study, and various committee meetings.  I spoke with the Rev. Doris Rajagopal today about the Darby Mission Supper next Tuesday night.  She has not cancelled the supper at this time.  Assuming nothing changes in the next several days, I would like for us to go forward with providing the meal.  However, I am strongly discouraging folks who are at high risk of health complications due to coronavirus from attending the meal.   When the time comes we will decide with Doris whether to deliver the food and leave, or to stay with a smaller group of volunteers and help serve.

Most importantly, don’t isolate yourself from this lifegiving body, our church.  Even if you cannot be physically present please reach out.  Call me if you need to talk.  Call each other.  Let’s check in on each and make sure we’re okay.  Above all else, pray for each other and for the safety and well-being of our community. 

Know that God is with us in difficult times.  God has not abandoned the world.  Jesus came into the world as a human to live among us and to demonstrate that God’s love is in solidarity with human suffering.  We are Christ’s body.  We are called to demonstrate to a suffering and fearful world that God is still present with us now. 

Peace & Good,
James+

A Note from the Rector – 9/20/20

Last Thursday, September 16, the Church celebrated the life of St. Hildegard of Bingen who lived from AD 1098 to 1179.  She was the founder and abbess of a Benedictine monastery in what is now Germany.  As a theologian, politician, monastic leader, natural philosopher (scientist), mystic, poet, and musician she was incredibly accomplished; a true polymath.  She wrote many books including an encyclopedia of medicine and medicinal plants, several saint’s lives, and mountains of correspondence.  Her magnum opus was a massive three volume work that detailed her visionary prayer experiences, which, as she reflects on the visions and their meaning, unfold as a complex and detailed work that could be described as a systematic theology.  Though not recognized until later and still underrated, Hildegard’s work is on par with other great medieval (male) theologians of the church, like Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas. 

The first volume of Hildegard’s visionary work, called (in English translation) Know the Ways of the Lord, is preserved in several medieval manuscripts, including one that was prepared under Hildegard’s supervision at her monastery near the time of her death.  This manuscript included a number of unique illustrations and illuminations created by nuns in the monastic workshop.  On its own merits, Hildegard’s writing is important and fascinating.  Her writing and the unique manuscript that was created was also important as perhaps the only surviving medieval illuminated manuscript entirely written and produced by women.  Alas, during World War II, the manuscript resided in Dresden and was lost during the bombing of that city.  By that time, a detailed copy had been made by German Benedictine nuns, preserving its illuminated contents for us (see the illustration below).  Other copies of the text also still exist.

Here is a portion of one of her visions in which she saw a representation of God as Trinity, along with its accompanying illustration.

“Then I saw a bright light, and in this light the figure of a man the color of a sapphire, which was all blazing with a gentle glowing fire.  And that bright light bathed the whole of the glowing fire and the glowing fire bathed the bright light; and the bright light and the glowing fire poured over the whole human figure, so that the three were one light in one power of potential.” 

(Hildegard of Bingen. Scivias. Trans. Columba Hart and Jane Bishop.  Classics of Western Spirituality.  New York: Paulist Press (1990), page 161)

Hildegard was also a composer of music and accompanying lyrics.  Many of her chants have survived.  Here is an example:

A Note from the Rector – 9/13/20

This week was week two of school for Haverford school district and the first week for Lower Merion.  It’s been quite a week for my family as we’re learning all over again how to do online school.  It won’t take long before my kids, members of a generation who are dubbed “digital natives,” know their way around Zoom and other applications far better than I do.  It’s an understatement and a cliché to mention that this is a difficult time for families trying to juggle jobs, school, childcare, and mountains of uncertainty.  And the difficulty of one demographic does not minimize or discount the hardship of others.  I don’t know anyone who isn’t struggling in some way.

As a community of Jesus-followers, Holy Apostles has a lot to offer during this time of adversity.  One of the things it is able to offer is something in short supply these days, grace.  Grace is the freedom from shame, competition, and inauthenticity that can only come from knowing that you are truly loved no matter what.  It is related to the realization that your worth as a human being does not depend on your efficiency, your ability to achieve goals, your online teaching skills, your bank account, your house, your car, your children’s college admissions, or any other metric society uses to categorize and measure.  Grace cuts through all of that like butter.  

All grace originates in God and God’s invincible, unflappable love for us.  Through our connection to God–our worship, our prayer, our generosity, our fellowship–we have access to an unlimited supply here at Holy Apostles.  Grace means no matter who you are, or what you’ve been up to you are welcome to join us, either for online worship or in-person worship this weekend.  We have two services: our normal 10AM service (livestreamed), and a new, bi-monthly outdoor service geared toward families at 4:30PM (off-line but with ice cream).  

Grace also means that you are loved and valued even if you can’t make it to church this weekend.  Grace means God won’t give up you no matter what.  If you can’t make it to church (online or in person), my advice is, don’t stay away for too long.  Find some way that you can engage and stay connected with this grace-filled community. There are plenty of barriers at this time. It isn’t safe for everyone to gather like normal. It can be hard to engage online. But, please find some reminder of grace, even if it’s just a phone call with a church friend and a quick prayer. Know that Holy Apostles is here for you.  

The grace and love and peace that is found in worshipping God together is something I am convinced we all need.  Humans are made for worship.  If we’re not going to worship God, we will surely find something to worship.  It’s just that our other religions—careers, possessions, pleasures of all kinds—do not leave any room for grace at all.   

A Note from the Rector – 9/6/20

A Note from the Rector – 6 September 2020

This week a came across an article (found here) from Plough, a print and online magazine that focuses on the intersection of Christian faith and culture.  The article, written by Jeffrey Bilbro, is about the Anglo-Welsh poet, R.S. Thomas (1913-2000).  Thomas was Anglican priest who served most of life in small parishes in rural Wales. I have had an affinity for R.S. Thomas since discovering him in seminary.  The veteran pastor and writer, Eugene Peterson, wrote that preachers should and often do have an affinity with poets because it is the job of both to care for words.  

The article is an excellent introduction to R.S. Thomas’ life and work.  It includes quotations of several poems that I had never read and that seemed to be particularly appropriate for these times. The article argues that a major theme of Thomas’ work was the concept of turning aside, pausing in the present moment and truly paying to attention to reality as it is.  Thomas used this as a strategy to deal with the ravages of a post-industrial society on Wales in the mid-20th century.  He writes a lot about “the machine” to represent the cold and inhuman ways technology (especially that connected to industrial farming & mining) had disrupted and destroyed the lives of his parishioners, not to mention the beauty of their home, even while most were too poor to benefit from the modern conveniences that technology affords.  So, here’s one quotation from a poem that caught my attention along with the way the article introduces it:

“In ‘Lore,’ Thomas encourages his readers find creative ways of living well amid a broken world.

What to do? Stay green.
Never mind the machine,
Whose fuel is human souls.
Live large, man, and dream small.

Notwithstanding the non-inclusive gender signifiers, that last line of the poem seems like awfully good advice for us who—five months into a pandemic—find that our lives are drastically different and seem to be shrunk in some way, a smaller vestige of the life we formerly enjoyed.  How do we live well amid a broken world?  We live large.  That is, we live with hearts open wide to each other despite the circumstances.  The opposite, to live small and dream big, represents the temptation felt by everyone to let our ambitions (big dreams) control us to the point that the character of our lives is small, petty, and closed off from true relationships.

 We must not become petrified by the difficulties and incalculable loss we feel; not that we deny or run away from reality either.  Instead, we dream small dreams of peace and mercy and care where ever and how ever we find ourselves.  This, of course, isn’t easy.  Poetry and other ways of paying attention and connecting us to faith can help.  As Thomas wrote in another poem, “The Small Country:”

Everything
on this shrinking planet favours the survival
of the small people, whose horizons
are large only because they are content to look at them
from their own hills.
I grow old,
bending to enter the promised
land that was here all the time.

The point that I see Thomas making in these and other poems is that “small lives,” those which society deems insignificant, of no value, redundant, or inefficient are in fact of infinite value and worth.  Small acts of care and beauty are the most important.  In fact, they are the only sorts of acts that are available to us.  As the Jeffrey Bilbro writes, “Perhaps the backwards nobodies from nowhere are, in fact, somebodies, particularly when they look for ways to quietly repair the rents of history with their hands. These are the true patriots, the people who faithfully love their small corner of the world.”

A Note from the Rector

We have had a “hybrid” worship service for about two and half months now.  Since mid-June, we have held small, in-person gatherings on Sunday mornings and have live streamed these services on our Youtube channel.  Someone asked me the other day what has been the most surprising thing about my first three years at Holy Apostles.  The first thing that came to mind is that I would never have predicted three years ago that I would become a tele-evangelist.  I am still surprised that during this pandemic we have adapted so well to be able to produce an hour long Youtube video every week.  Of course, this would not have happened, and it would not continue to happen without the dedication and ingenuity of some talented and knowledgeable folks. 

Those of you who have been to an indoor Eucharist lately know that the stuff we need in order to produce our online videos is sort of in the way.  The biggest distraction for in-person worshippers is a camcorder on a tripod set up next to the baptismal font, and right in front of the pulpit.  Faithful volunteers move the camcorder throughout the service in order to capture the readings, sermon, and music.  I have not heard any complaints, of course.  We’re all just happy to have church.  But I also know that it is jarring and distracting to prayer.  It has worked well as a short-term solution.  However, it has become clear that this pandemic is not a short-term problem.  As awful as it has been, this time has allowed us to imagine further ways that we can be witnesses to God’s love on the internet.  With that in mind, the vestry decided to invest in technology that will allow us to continue to livestream our services—and vastly improve the video quality of those live streams—while also getting rid of that unsightly tripod in the middle of the worship space.  So, we’ve contracted with an audio-visual company to install a remote controlled camera with a powerful optical zoom lens in the back of the nave (near the exit sign).  This camera will be able to capture everything that happens in our service in high definition.  Operated from the “command center” which has taken over our old organ loft, the camera will be completely out of the way.  It’s going to be pretty cool, but it will take a few weeks for all the parts to arrive and for the installation to happen.  

All that is left to say is that I am incredibly grateful.  I am grateful to the technology folks who know what they’re doing and have made it possible to stay connected during this difficult time.  I am grateful for the leadership of the vestry and their willingness and imagination to adapt to new circumstances.  I am grateful to those who have attended in-person worship and have faithfully taken care of each other by social distancing and wearing masks.  I am grateful for those who have joined us by watching online and who have contributed to our service using digital technology, including friends from around the country.  I am incredibly grateful that our parish’s pledging income has not decreased despite this difficult time, and grateful that this parish’s generosity toward those in need has, in fact, increased through an incredible outpouring of gifts to the Darby Mission and other outreach.  I am grateful most of all to God who never leaves us nor forsakes us; God who hears our prayers no matter where we pray or how good our WiFi is.  God is faithful to us and God gives us the patience to be faithful to each other in return.  

    

A Note from the Rector – 8/23/20

This week marks the end of my third year and the beginning of my fourth as rector at Holy Apostles.  How the time has flown! I remain deeply grateful to be here doing what I love to do, alongside people who I love, in a place that I love.  

Of course, none of us imagined what we would face together as a parish in 2020.  I won’t bore you (or condescend) with obvious descriptions of how difficult this year has been, or of what challenges this Fall will bring us.  Instead, I will share a lengthy quote from a speech given by CS Lewis shortly after World War II.  I thought of this passage, while sitting at the Jersey shore (I first typed “beach” but then corrected myself).  Faced with the awesome and awful power of the Atlantic Ocean one cannot help but contemplate the connection between beauty and goodness.  Right?  The fact is this world is heartbreakingly beautiful. If it were not so, pandemics and other terrible adversity wouldn’t hurt so much. The pathos of life is born out of its contrasts. Whether you are contemplating the grandness of the ocean, or all the splendor, life, and diversity that can be found in one square foot of your backyard, if you have eyes to see you will find beauty. That beauty raises questions about what is good and true, and about how we should live (and die).

Here’s what CS Lewis has to say on that subject:

“We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty, grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that ‘beauty born of murmuring sound’ will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet.

For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy.

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in.”

-C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperCollins, 1949/2001), 42-3.

Christian Formation this Fall: A Note from the Rector

I am happy to share with you our plans for Christian formation and education this Fall.  While I wish things could be normal, I am also energized by the creativity and determination of our Sunday School teachers and parents. 

Sunday School

Our Sunday School will have two components this Fall.  First, on two Sundays a month our committed teachers will offer online Zoom Sunday School for both ages groups.  Second, on alternating Sundays, we will offer an in-person an intergenerational, family service that includes a Sunday school-type lesson (instead of a traditional sermon) and Eucharist.  Especially during September and October, this service will be held outdoors as the weather permits. All services will follow protocols for social distancing, masks, etc.  When weather gets colder, we will re-evaluate our plan in light of current conditions. Our Sunday School teachers are working with parents to put together times and dates for these offerings, which I will pass along soon.  

To celebrate the beginning of the Sunday School year, we will be offering all families a “Sunday School in a Box.”  This will contain lots of fun items and things our teachers would like each of our beloved students to have.  These boxes will be available starting on Sunday, September 13th.  Stay tuned for more specific information.

Lastly, we would love to have more Sunday School teachers!  We have a great curriculum that gives you everything you need, and is easy and efficient to prepare.  All you really need to begin to be a Sunday School teacher is an open and caring heart, as well as the ability to complete state and diocesan requirements for background and safety checks.  As a former Sunday School teacher myself, I can testify that the benefits and rewards of being a Sunday School teacher are enormous.  There is nothing like sharing your gifts and your love to nurture a young person in their faith journey and their connection to God, their family, and each other.  

Adult Formation  

Opportunities for adult Christian formation will be online this Fall with some supplemental opportunities in print.  

Online, we will offer a 5 week Zoom conversation called “Our Story, Their Story, God’s Story.” This conversation will explore how our own stories are connected to the stories of others, especially those who are different than us. Through engagement with Scripture, we will discover how all our stories are intertwined with God’s story of salvation and healing for all. The conversations will be on Wednesday nights at 6:15 starting on September 16th.  We will end each session in the most appropriate way imaginable by joining our regularly scheduled Compline service at 7:30PM.  

Zoom Bible Study will continue on Thursdays at 11AM.  We are about two thirds done in our reading of the book of Deuteronomy, but you can join anytime!

We are also working on some “lo-fi” opportunities for learning and connection this Fall.  We are looking to reboot our monthly print newsletter.  We are thinking of offering a reading group that would meet less frequently (perhaps through a group phone call).  You can also “mail order” print versions of my Sunday sermons and a daily devotional called “Forward Day by Day.”  Keep watching for more information on all of this.  

Of course, our liturgy is also Christian education and formation. It is first and foremost worship to God and our way to offer God thanksgiving and receive God’s grace. But, it also teaches us things about how to be Christian–and more fundamentally–how to be human. I encourage you to embrace the rhythms of worship that we have available to us: Sunday Eucharist, either in-person or online; and the Daily Offices, including our nightly Compline service.

Necessity births innovation, but what hasn’t changed is our baptismal identity as God’s beloved.  Through that identity, we can find ways to honor our commitment to each other and to Jesus Christ and to grow in faith and love.   Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas with me! 

The Transfiguration: A Note from the Rector

August 6 (the day I am writing this) is the Feast of the Transfiguration.  The pivotal event is Jesus’ life is narrated in the three Gospels: Mark. 9:1-9, Matthew 16:28-17:9, Luke 9:27-36.  The story is mysterious.  Christ takes the disciples, Peter, James and John with him to the top of Mount Tabor.  There, they are overshadowed by a cloud.  Suddenly Jesus, his face, and even his clothing shine with a bright and terrifying light.  Moses and Elijah are seen next to him, conversing with him.  A thundering voice from heaven declares, “This is my son, my beloved, listen to him!”  

The disciples are rightly terrified.  Peter, not really knowing what to do, suggests that they build a tabernacle or shelter for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.  It is almost as if Peter wanted to crystalize this wondrous moment, to hold onto it and keep it from ending.  But that is impossible, for this moment on top of the mountain is just a fleeting glimpse of some greater glory that Peter won’t be able to comprehend or even articulate until much later.

Mount Tabor was one of my favorite destinations when Deb and I visited the Holy Land in 2019.  After a long, twisted van ride up the mountain, we entered the enormous, early 20th century church that is built amongst the ruins of a more ancient church and monastery.  Ironically, within the church there are three altars, the main altar dedicated to Christ, and two side chapels which are dedicated to Elijah and Moses.  The 20th century architects seem to have intentionally followed St. Peter’s suggestion and built a tabernacle for the three participants of the Transfiguration.  Every church building, including that Church of the Transfiguration, is built holding a fundamental tension.  On the one hand, places can be holy places, and buildings can point us toward the transcendent.  On the other, the mysterious presence of God, and the radiance of Jesus Christ are wholly beyond our ability to enclose within any space whatsoever, beyond are ability to fully comprehend or articulate.  Of the resources that we humans try to use to articulate God’s mystery, artistic beauty—lovely architecture, art, music—might be the truest.  But even these expressions ultimately fall short.  

The Transfiguration should be understood as a glimpse into the future.  At a moment in the narrative of Christ’s life, when he “sets his face toward Jerusalem” and begins his final journey toward his destiny, which includes betrayal and death, the Transfiguration foreshadows the way the story ends: we see a glimpse of Christ in all his resurrection glory.  Some images of the event highlight this theological truth by depicting Christ on the mount of Transfiguration with the wounds of his future crucifixion visible in the midst of his radiant glory.  

We, too, see our future.  Though we remain on this side of the “veil of tears,” Christ has promised not to leave us in this state.  He is God’s Son, and the Beloved One. We should listen to him. Even now, through Christ, God is in the midst of transfiguring all that is broken, confused, and lost.  And that includes us.

If you are in the mood, I invite you to listen to a song about the Transfiguration by the singer and songwriter, Sufjan Stevens.  A practicing Christian, Stevens’ music often contemplates biblical imagery and themes and, in so doing, translates them for his broad popular audience.  You can find Stevens’ song, “The Transfiguration” on Youtube.  

If you’re like me, once you start listening to music on Youtube, it’s hard to stop.  So, here is Stevens along with Chris Thile singing a haunting version of the Good Friday hymn (Hymn 158, in our hymnal), “Ah, Holy Jesus.” The audience joins in.  It is striking that it is a recording of an NPR radio show, not a church service.  God’s glory, also known as Christ’s radiance, also known as True Beauty can be glimpsed almost anywhere.  

The Meaning of the Red Doors

Facing Remington Road, our church building has three sets of doors that are painted red.  Recently, they all received a new coat of red paint:  A huge THANK YOU to our senior warden and his wife, John and Linda Day, for taking on the project of sanding, filling in the cracks, and painting.  

Red doors on churches is a centuries old tradition.  It is believed to have begun in medieval England, when churches were deemed outside of secular law, and were therefore places where anyone could seek refuge and sanctuary from pursuit or violence.  No one, not even the Sherriff of Nottingham would dare pursue a criminal or violate the holiness of a church with violence of any kind.  The person being pursued could enter a church, plead their case to the priest, and ask for sanctuary.  Red doors came to signify this special sanctuary.  In a related way, red doors are also symbolic of the blood of Christ.  There is a connection here to the story of the Passover in Exodus chapter 12 when the blood of a sacrificial lamb was spread upon lintels and doorposts of the dwellings of the people of Israel to protect them from the last and most horrible plague that God sent upon the Egyptians because of their oppression of God’s people.  When the angel of death saw the red blood on the door posts it passed by that house.  In the Eucharistic prayer we say, “Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us.  Therefore, let us keep the feast.”  Our liturgy references this story and the notion that in the same way that the blood of the Passover lamb represented safety and salvation for the people of Israel who were bound in slavery in Egypt until God set them free, so too the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross becomes the sign of our salvation, sanctuary, and freedom.  The red door symbolically says, “Here is a place to find spiritual sanctuary and peace that is a result of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.”  The red door is a sign to all who are weary, tired, our pursued by trouble, that within they might find the peace of Christ.  But not just within the doors or walls themselves.  The peace of Christ is found within the community of Christ, within our proclamation of the word and within our sacraments.  Indeed, it is no coincidence that the door is the same color as the wine found in the chalice of Eucharist.  

Seeing the beautiful new coat of red paint on our doors is all the more poignant for me coming back to the building after a time away on vacation.  I cannot help but think how it is impossible right now–and frankly unsafe–for all of us to pass through these red doors together at the same time and receive the safety and sanctuary and sustenance of Christ’s Body and Blood as one church body gathered in our beloved church space.  This remains an excruciatingly difficult time.  But the doors and the building itself are reminders and symbols—important, but not the most important.  The peace and love of Christ is within us as a community that strives to stay connected in many ways despite the dangers and strictures of this time.   As a sign and a real bond of that love, if you cannot make it to one of our small Eucharistic gatherings in person, please do watch online, and join us for nightly Compline.  If you are comfortable with it, I am more than willing to bring Communion to you at your home (or front porch or lawn) as a tangible connection to the gathered Body of Christ, the Church.  We can do this carefully, and in ways that minimize risk.  There is, of course, always risk, and we each need to weigh very carefully what is the right engagement with Holy Apostles for us and our families at this time.  Whatever is right for you and your situation, whether it is staying home and attending online, coming to an outdoor service, or attending our small 10AM Eucharist, please know that Jesus offers you sanctuary, solidarity, and peace, and that nothing can separate you from God’s love.  

A Note from the Rector – 6/21/20

Happy Father’s Day!

It is with joy and some cautious trepidation that we begin to hold limited in-person worship this week along with maintaining our online presence.  I am very mindful, at this time, of folks who do not feel comfortable coming back to worship.  I’ve said it and others have said it: the Church exists well beyond the walls of a building.  It is essential to the task of being the Church to make sure that we are all taken care of and have ways that we can connect to God and each other, even while some of us will need to stay at home for a while longer.  

For those who are planning to come to church this summer, things are going to look different.  Beth, Lucas, and Paige Johnson made a great video that illustrates some of those changes.  If you are signed up to attend this Sunday, the video will give you an idea of what to expect.  I want to express my gratitude to the Johnsons for their work.  

The necessity of wearing a mask is one big change that extends far beyond just church gatherings.  Almost overnight masks have become ubiquitous in American society.  Unlike many other people in the world, Americans seemed to have an aversion to masks, and it is interesting to wonder why.  I have the (bad?) habit of making everything about theology.  So, I have been thinking about a theology of masks.  Before the pandemic, in line with much of American culture, I might have spoken of masks negatively.  I might write how we all wear metaphorical masks which hide our true selves.  We “put on” personas and outward attitudes and behaviors as if they were masks, to protect ourselves from shame, disappointment, or the vulnerability to pain that comes with being truly known.  And it’s still true that a mask can be a salient metaphor, but suddenly they’ve become much more.  Masks have become a daily reality.  

From the beginning of this crisis until now, public health officials—and behind them, the scientists who are studying the virus—have done a complete 180 degree pivot on the importance of masks as one of the keys to beating, or least surviving, this pandemic.  It is important to realize that when it comes to science and health, humans are no less fallible than in other pursuits.  Of course, besides fallibility, one of the most distinctive aspects of humanity is our ability to quickly adapt based on new information.  So, we adapt, and we wear masks because the best information we have suggests they are vital.  From a theological point of view, the most significant piece of data concerning how masks help reduce the spread of coronavirus is this: you wearing a mask does not primarily protect you, it protects others around you.  Your mask’s job is to prevent you from accidently spreading the virus unawares.  Ironically then, instead of hiding our true selves, the mask exposes something about our true selves.  We are intricately, inextricably, always and forever dependent upon each other.  In the final analysis, that’s probably why we Americans don’t like them on a symbolic or aesthetic level.  We are constantly tempted by delusions of individual independence.  Masks are symbols of our inability to care for ourselves; signs of our fragility and mortality.  They are a constant reminder that my health—to some degree, my very life—depends upon your responsibility and your choices, and vice versa.  We cannot survive or thrive without each other’s care and concern.  The famous South African archbishop, Desmond Tutu, expresses this very well when he writes and speaks about the traditional Southern African concept of “Ubuntu.”  In Tutu’s translation, Ubuntu means “I am, because you are.” Or, a person’s humanity is “bound up in the humanity of others.”  (See Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness).  My humanity is intimately tied to yours. We flourish together, or we die alone.   

This is all by design.  This is how God made us in God’s image.  The Trinity is an attempt to express the dynamic inner relationship of God’s persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Three are not separate, but One God.  Their distinct persons are forever bound in a cosmic movement of unifying love.  God is always pouring God’s self out in love and God is always gathering that love back again to God.  By analogy, human inter-relationship is a big part of what it means to be created in the image of a Triune God.  Our inter-dependence upon each other is the foundation of human delight, love, and the giving and receiving of gifts.  All of this is meant to calibrate us and orient us toward experiencing God’s love and God’s life.  Human relation, when it is redeemed and restored to its fullness, is a constant invitation to be in relationship with God.  So, we wear masks not as a concession to authority (be it the governor’s or the bishop’s), nor as an outward expression of our own fear or weakness.  We wear masks as a badge of our love and care for each other, and our dependence upon each other’s love.  Masks are a gift to each other.  Like every gift, given worthily, they can be a token of our ability to participate in the giving, loving life of God.  Viewed in this sacramental way, masks are a perfectly natural thing to wear in our gatherings of worship.  

A Note from the Rector – 6/14/20

I am very happy to announce that the bishop has approved our plan to restart limited in-person worship! These small, worship gatherings will begin June 21, 2020.  Understanding that not all of us are comfortable coming back just yet, we will continue to live-stream our services on Youtube.  While important to many of us, the building never was the church, we are the church and we are determined to stay connected to one another in this new phase of the church’s life.  Below I have outlined the basics of our regathering plan.  The full plan can be found here.  We will have a Zoom Q and A session about our plan this coming Thursday, June 18 at 6:30PM.  I am very grateful to everyone who made and is continuing to make this plan a reality. A lot of people did a lot of hard work on this. Thank you!

  • Attendance for each service will be limited to 25 people.  We will use a signup sheet to coordinate attendance.  You can sign up here: https://reopen.church/r/O1YiPK9V  
    If possible, please sign up for as many Sundays as you can schedule in advance by June 19.  This will help us in planning the services for the summer.  We have also sent out a paper RSVP form.  
  • I want to assure you that if you want to come to church, you will be able to come.  We will open a second or even a third Sunday service as necessary to accommodate everyone.
  • If you have any trouble with the signup sheet or RSVP, contact Beth Johnson at bethjohnson514@gmail.com or Deb Stambaugh at 505-980-4300.
  • Before you come to church self-screen for fever.  If you are sick do not come to church.  This is a matter of loving our neighbors as ourselves.  
  • Persons (families) will be required to sit 10 feet apart from other persons (families);
  • Sadly, we must wear face masks; Please wear your face mask at all times unless you are receiving communion;
  • We cannot sing as a congregation at this time and choral singing is also not possible.  We will have a soloist/cantor and 
  • Social distancing means that we will stay at our seating areas and wave during the passing of the peace;
  • Ushers will be there to provide friendly guidance; and 
  • Eucharist will be received as the bread only.

If you have any questions, you may contact me directly, or join us for our Zoom Q & A on Thursday.  You are all in my prayers and I am looking forward to sharing this next phase of our worship together.