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.  

A Note from the Rector – 6/7/2020

I want to congratulate two young men from the parish this week.  Michael Zorc and Elliott Brown both graduated from Lower Merion High School this past week.  Graduating high school is something to be celebrated and proud of generally, but these two young men and the rest of their classmates in the class of 2020 have had a particularly challenging Spring of their senior year and I am all the more impressed with their accomplishment in the midst of difficulty.  If you have the opportunity, please join me in congratulating them and wishing them the best in their next steps.   


Last Sunday, I attended a rally at City Hall that was sponsored by the NAACP.  I went because I felt that God was calling me to go.  I believed I needed to listen and give witness to the pain and suffering of African American in our community and in our nation.  I listened to mothers who told of the terror they felt each and every time their sons left the home for any reason because it feels like it is only a matter of time before they too will under someone’s knee crying that they cannot breathe.  I listened to the chants of I listened to African American community leaders and pastors who spoke of the depth of the suffering experienced by their communities in Philadelphia.  I listened to their calls for concrete reform to public policy.  I listened to their calls for reparations.  I listened to their plea that white people in America, and particularly white police officers would stop killing them.

  Last Monday, after a night of listening to police helicopters coming and going, I went over to City Avenue where I heard that there had been some property damage.  Over the course of the morning, I joined 40 or 50 neighbors from Overbrook Park, Winnefeld, and Penn Wynne in cleaning up broken glass and other debris.  I listened to the stories of our neighbors who are people of color.  They expressed a lot of sadness that their neighborhood had been damaged and grief that young people felt so lost and powerless and hopeless that they resorted to destruction.  There was anger that the stores and businesses they patronized and depended on were damaged.  Almost everyone I talked to said they could understand the impulse, even if they didn’t condone the action.  It was the mothers and the neighborhood teachers who were leading the clean up and restoration efforts, and I am deeply affected by the sense of dignity and personal agency these powerful women expressed.

I am writing this not to glorify what I did or to throw my hat into the political circus that swirls around these topics and distracts us from the truth.  I am not writing so that you will either agree or disagree with me. I am writing as a pastor and a priest whose call is to listen, to bring what I’ve heard to God in prayer, and then to listen to what God might be calling me and our parish to do.  I am writing to invite you all into this movement of listening and prayerful response.  

One step—not the only or adequate step, but one step—toward healing our country and our community is to learn to listen to others better.  I believe that one thing our church is called to do is to create opportunities to listen to difference, to listen to the stories of those who have been oppressed; even when, quite frankly, these stories are going to make us uncomfortable.  We are called to take what we’ve heard to God in prayer and to listen to God in return.  Done right, this process of listen and prayer will lead to other actions.    

Where do we start?  We start in our own neighborhood, looking for, recognizing, valuing and protecting the diversity that we find here.  Then we look at our partners.  We can listen to our friends in Darby Borough.  We can listen to, cherish, and build our relationship with our mother parish, Holy Apostles and the Mediator.  This is simple work but it is not easy work, because as we listen we are going to be called to change and change is hard.   

We are still in a pandemic, but an immediate opportunity for this prayerful work is on Monday, June 8.  The bishop has called the entire diocese to participate in a litany for those who have been slain by violence.  The Litany will be led by diverse voices from around the diocese and broadcast on the diocesan youtube channel (https://youtu.be/3xXN9tC9bc4) starting at 10AM.  It will end with noonday prayers led by the bishop.  I encourage each of you to join in these prayers, in full or in part, as you are able.  I pray that all of us will have the clarity and resolve to follow Jesus where he leads us in this time.  

A Note from the Rector – 5/31/2020

On Sin and a Spiritual Discipline of Anti-racism

Three events in the last couple of weeks have been weighing heavy on my mind: the revelation of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery by white men while he was jogging in a neighborhood not unlike ours; the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by four Minneapolis police officers while he was in custody; and a video of a woman who called the police and lied to them about being threatened by a black man, clearly using his race as a weapon against him because he asked her to leash her dog in a bird-watching park.  There are many issues at stake in all three events, and many things to say. What follows here is a theological and biblical reflection, not a politically partisan one.    

Sin is a liberating category.  Sin itself is not liberating.  Sin seeks to limit our freedom to be who God wants us to be.  But, the category, being able to name things as sin, that is liberating.  In a world where we don’t have the language of sin, we also don’t have the language (or the reality) of forgiveness.  If we’re all “good” all the time, then we constantly have to hide the fact that we really aren’t from others and from ourselves, and that hiding is the definition of bondage.  It’s an exhausting and perverse version of “keeping of with the Jones,” and it’s one of the ways sin works to divide and isolate people toward the purposes of fear and despair.

Racism is sin.  In God’s kingdom there is no room for it (Galatians 3:27-28; Colossians 3:9-11), but all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  That’s what sin is, the Greek word harmatia, translated in English as sin, means “falling short”, as if you were aiming at a target and your dart sticks in the wall two feet below the bull’s eye.  Sin is when our actions fall short of God’s vision of wholeness and reconciliation for the entire cosmos.  Sin can be quite a bit more complex than just individual actions, however.  There is a such a thing as systemic sins which are vast networks of individual choices, experiences, and histories that have built up for centuries, even millennia.  This is what the New Testament calls the “powers and principalities” of this world that work against the will of God (Ephesians 6:12).  As people who believe in the existence of God, we cannot logically rule out the existence of other spiritual forces.  I believe that some of these vast networks we call systemic sin are more than the sum of their parts, and that behind them are malign spiritual forces bent on destruction and evil.  What I am describing to you is racism: the cumulative effect of centuries of words, choices, actions, thoughts, economic systems, public policy, fearful hidden agendas, and more, all—I believe—being used and guided by the spiritual forces of evil with the intent to undo and make a mockery of everything that God wills and wishes for God’s creation.  Who can rescue us from such a body of death?  It overwhelms us and leaves us helpless in its wake.  Indeed, who doesn’t feel helpless watching these events unfold?  That’s the point.  We are helpless.  We aren’t going to win against systemic racism on our own.  But, thanks be to God for our Lord Jesus Christ, who emptied himself of his glory as God and took upon himself both all sin and all the suffering that results from sin, and through his life, death, and resurrection conquered sin, death, hell, and the grave once and for all.  

God’s kingdom that was inaugurated in Jesus Christ has not been fully consummated.  When we watch the news we want to cry out with the Biblical prophet, “How long, O LORD, must I call for help?…“Violence is everywhere!” we cry (Habakkuk 1:2).  But we cannot merely sit around and cry.  As the vanguard of God’s kingdom and witnesses to a different world, we are called to act.  What’s more, when we are baptized into the Body of Christ, we are freed from the power of all sin.  Death no longer has dominion over us.  The Church’s call to act against to the vast sin of systemic racism is threefold.

  1. A spiritual response.  Racism will never be solved by pure political will, because it has a significant spiritual component.  We must pray and fast for the destruction of racism’s domination over our society, which keeps both the oppressed and the oppressor in slavery to death.
  2. Physical acts to confront and dismantle systemic racism. Our prayers will invariably lead us toward concrete action.  That’s what prayer tends to do. 
  3. Physical acts to confront and dismantle personal racism.  Before I can be effective against racism’s systemic aspect, however, prayer and reflection will confront me with my own sin, my own racism. 

Remember, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  I was born with the stain of original sin, which in this case means that I was born into a system, a culture, that has ingrained certain racist tendencies into me.  I’d like to think I’m vastly morally superior to the person in the park who purposely used a black man’s race to threaten police violence, but spiritual realism informs we otherwise.  Naming sin as a reality in myself helps to liberate me from it.  

We are free from sin’s bondage by virtue of our baptism.  But, living in this fallen world and being enculturated in certain ways, means we must work to ingrain ourselves with God’s ways of thinking and acting.  The Church calls this the practice of spiritual disciplines.  Here, we need to practice the spiritual disciplines of anti-racism.  I will focus on just one spiritual discipline which is commended to us by the Apostle Paul in the second letter to the Corinthians: 

“Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

This isn’t talking about arguments on social media.  We are applying it to internal arguments and strongholds, turmoil and struggle within ourselves.  Obstacles that keep us from knowing God fully.  In short, we must learn to take every (racist) thought captive to obey Christ.  

The hard part is identifying racist thoughts.  We seldom examine our thoughts, either as we think them or later.  But, developing the ability to examine thoughts is key, and it takes practice.  Reading and listening to people who think differently than us helps.  Listening to God—the ultimate Other—through prayer helps the most.  

So, we identify a racist thought as it comes into our head. Then we renounce it in the name of Jesus Christ.  Literally, we say to ourselves: “I renounce this racist thought in the name of Jesus.”  The book of James explains why this works in spiritual terms, “Submit yourself to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee” (James 5:7).  In the words of Bob Dylan, “you’ve got to serve somebody.  It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”  Serving God means freedom from sin.  Pretending you don’t serve anyone is the saddest kind of slavery.  Submitting our sinful thoughts to Christ is act of spiritual realism and pure liberation.  It’s as simple and as difficult as that.  

Almost two years ago, we put our daughter, Nora, in a local pre-school program. Before school started we went to meet Nora’s teachers and classmates.  As we walked into the classroom, we discovered that both of Nora’s teachers and the majority of her assembled classmates were people of color.  My immediate internal reaction was, “This isn’t safe.  This isn’t what I was expecting.  We can’t leave our daughter here.”  Then I recognized those thoughts and reactions were racist, pure and simple.  I renounced them in the name of Jesus, and immediately felt at peace.  Nora has learned and grown as a student of that pre-school ever since (until the pandemic, actually).

Embracing my daughter’s pre-school was a very small and un-heroic action on my part.  But, the thoughts and actions that have built up over centuries into systemic racism are, in most cases, equally quotidian.  Our struggle against evil has to start somewhere.  For most of us, our part in dismantling racism is comprised, at least in the first instance, in small acts of spiritual realism and submission to the Christ.  It means struggling against our own sin out of the conviction that we are loved by God beyond our wildest imaginings—and so is everyone else.  

A Note from the Rector – 5/24/20

We have all felt this long and terrible absence from our normal experience of Church.  As great as it is to be able to use technology to stay connected, it isn’t the same as meeting face to face.  We have missed receiving the Eucharist, singing together, and simply being with each other in the sacred space that we have all come to love—the building of Holy Apostles.  This past week, the bishop released a detailed, comprehensive plan that we will need to follow in order to re-open our building and begin worshipping together again.  This process is going to be challenging, and it is going to require creativity, patience, determination, and a firm trust in God.  We are going to have to be committed to finding a way forward together in uncharted waters over the course of the next 18 months or so.  The most important thing is that we are committed to caring for each other and journeying together with each and with Christ.  It is also important to remember that measures outlined by the bishop are temporary.  We will get through this together.  Here are some highlights of the plan for re-entering our building, along with my commentary that situates the plan for us.

+ When the Governor deems that Delaware County is in the “yellow” phase, and when CHA has met all of the protocols required by the diocese, we can begin having in-person worship together again with restrictions (see below).  The criteria for entering the yellow phase is that there are less than 50 new cases per 100,000 residents per day averaged over 14 days in the county, along with adequate PPE for health workers, and adequate testing available.  We are right on the county line, but we have to follow Delaware county because the majority of the land upon which the church is situated in located in there.  

+ In the yellow phase, we cannot have any worship gatherings of over 25 people.  Our average Sunday attendance in 2019 was 56, although it is less in the summer months.  Allowance also needs to be made for guests and visitors. Believe it or not, we often have more visitors in the summer (especially late summer) than normal, even as regular attendance is down. So, we will need to determine how many extra services we will need in order to comfortably accommodate everyone who wants to attend and make sure that everyone’s spiritual needs are met.  We will also need to create a system for coordinating who comes to which service in order to avoid overcrowding.  

+ Thorough disinfecting will need to take place in-between services.  Having one or more services outside when possible might help to alleviate some of the strain and cost of disinfecting.  

+ Masks will need to be worn by everyone except when receiving Communion.  I will be allowed to take off my mask while preaching and while praying the Eucharistic prayer, but I will wear a mask while distributing Communion.

+ Thankfully, we can celebrate the Eucharist together.  Bread and wine will be consecrated, but Communion will be received in one kind only—the bread.  

+ Strict social distancing will be observed.  We will have to sit and stand at least 6 feet away from each other (except those who live with each other), and we can’t shake hands or hug during the peace.  We will have to change the way we receive the offering. We will also have to change our habits for entering and exiting the building.

+ Congregational singing cannot happen for awhile.  This is because evidence suggests that singing can spread the virus farther than normal speech, up to 27 feet.  We can have a lead singer along with instrumentalists, as long as the singer is 30 feet away from everyone else (a potential challenge in our building, but we will be creative).  We can also creatively use our virtual choir recordings.  

+ Live-streaming the services and other on-line worship opportunities will continue.  Some of us may not be comfortable to come back right away and we will need to continue to offer other ways to connect.  One of the blessings of this time has been that we have been forced very quickly to adapt, and I hope we will continue to utilize some online services even after all restrictions have been lifted.  

Phew!  It is a lot to take in (the 26 page document is even more detailed!), but with God’s help we will continue our worshiping life together while doing everything we can to keep each other safe. There may be some of us who do not feel comfortable returning right away and that is ok.  There are tough decisions we all need to make.  Please know that however you decide to be involved with your church right now, you will be always be loved and supported.  No matter what!  As you read this note or read the bishop’s protocols, you might have questions or concerns.  Please reach out to me, or to John Day our Senior Warden.  I am more than willing to speak with you about any of this.  Like I said, this is going to require some patience and I want to make sure that we are all on the same page as much as possible.

As the vestry and I make plans for re-opening the building, it is important that we have more information to make the best decisions.  We have created a survey to help us in this task.  Please complete this short survey at your earliest convenience.  There is a convenient online survey, and I am also sending print surveys to those who I am aware do not have internet access.  If you would prefer a print survey, let me know.  I cannot stress enough how important this information will be for us.  There are no wrong answers.  Don’t be discouraged, trust in God, and remember that nothing can separate us from God’s love for us.  

A Note from the Rector – 5/17/20

Today we observe Rogation Sunday, which is always the Sunday before the Feast of the Ascension (Ascension is this Thursday, May 21st).  Rogation comes from Rogare which is the Latin verb “to ask.”  Rogation is a time to ask for God’s blessing on agriculture and the resources of creation.  It recognizes these resources as gifts from God upon which all humans rely for life.  This aspect of Rogation days has often been marked, especially in Anglicanism, by a special form of procession called “beating the bounds of the parish” in which the parish congregation led by the priest would encircle the boundaries of the parish (usually a defined neighborhood or village), stopping at points to read Scripture and pray.  Especially In rural areas, an important part of these processions was to visit and bless farmlands and agricultural operations.  

This forms a Spring bookend to traditions of Autumn harvest blessings and of offering a portion of the fruits of our labor to God in thanksgiving for God’s blessings.  The Rogation Day trip around the parish is probably the origin of the Easter home blessing tradition.  For the last several years, our version of the Rogation Day celebration has included a procession to Wynnewood Valley Park next door, where we’ve read Scripture and offered prayers and blessings over God’s good creation that is represented there. 

Rogation-tide has also been a time to ask God for protection from calamities, including the ending of plagues and protection from natural disasters.  Here, it is important to remember that the Church has weathered many a pandemic in its 2,000 years history, and much more besides.  A special form of prayer arose in response to these calamities called the Litany.  The Litany as we know it originated probably in the 5th century.  Some scholars trace both the Great Litany and the first Rogation procession to a bishop named Mamerte who lived in 5th century France and held a Rogation Day procession with a call and response type prayer to ask God’s protection during a looming disaster.  The exact nature of the disaster, interestingly, is contested.  Some contemporary sources say it was a volcano threatening to erupt, others that it was a series of calamitous earthquakes.  One source claims it was an on-going attack on the city of Vienne by a demonic pack of wolves.  Whatever the case, the Rogation procession around the town and the tradition of praying the Litany as a petition for God’s protection has long been a tool in the Church’s toolbox of prayer.  It’s sort of like that giant monkey wrench you pull out when your home plumbing project takes a serious turn and you don’t have time to mess around anymore–that’s the Great Litany.  Rogation processions and litanies were common in Europe during medieval and early modern outbreaks of the Black plague.  In 1544, the Great Litany was the first part of the Latin Liturgy to be translated (and heavily edited) into vernacular English by Thomas Cranmer.  Cranmer was in a hurry to bring his version of the ancient prayer to the public as a response to England’s devastating wars with Spain and France.  Five years later Cranmer finished the first Book of Common Prayer, which stands at the fountainhead of our own style of worship.  

All that to say, it seems especially appropriate to keep the tradition of Rogation Day this year during this pandemic.  As part of our 10AM service this Sunday, we will have a small Rogation procession led by me and my quarantine-mates (my children).  I’ll pray the Great Litany–you’ll be able to follow along at home–while the kids march along with a processional cross and Deb records the whole thing on a camcorder.  It could be a solemn moment, a bizarre spectacle, or a complete disaster.  Probably it will be a little bit of all three.  However, pleading for the renewal of all creation and asking God for protection against grave dangers and an end to our affliction–all this is not a joke, and our intentions will be in the right place.  

There is another way you can participate in the celebration of the Rogation Sunday from your own home. Below is a short Scripture reading and prayer that you can pray alone or with your quarantine-mates in your own garden.   

Rogation Sunday Garden Devotions

Leader                          Blessed be the God of all Creation

Others (if present)       The Lord, our God, makes all things new

A reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 8:19-23)

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray

Gracious God, along with all your creation we wait with eager longing.  Help us to be revealed as your children. Let us fulfill our small part in the great work of reconciling all things to you.  Let this garden be a sign of that day when creation is freed from its bondage to decay.  Bring order, growth, and tranquility to this place.  Send your blessing on this garden, on all the plants in my [our] care, and in all the creatures who visit and whose lives are sustained here as I am [we are] sustained here.  This we pray in the name of the Resurrected Lord, whom Mary Magdalene recognized as a gardener on Easter morning, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

A Note from the Rector – 3/29/20

12 days.  As of the day I am writing, that’s how many days since I last received the life-giving food of Christ’s body and blood.  It’s been a decade since I’ve gone that long without receiving the Eucharist.  I’ve seen and heard many people talk about how this is a time to realize what we have taken for granted in our lives.   For me, the Eucharist is on the top of the list.  I am sure I am not alone.  The Eucharist has come up a lot, as I’ve spoken to people from our parish in the past two of weeks.  More than one person has wondered if we could do a digital Eucharist, where each person gathers their own elements of bread and wine and I bless them remotely over the internet live-stream.  I have been moved by these conversations and the desire to participate in the great Sacrament of the Church that they express.  I love and admire you all for the strength of your faith and your hunger for the healing food of the Eucharist.  

The thing about the Eucharist is that it is inescapably physical.  The Eucharist embodies the incarnate, the en-fleshed, body of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is made present in the elements of wine and bread for the physically gathered community of the body of Jesus Christ, otherwise known as the Church…otherwise known as you.  This is a material, personal, face-to-face act of thanksgiving and sacrifice.  While the internet can do many things for us, especially in this time of crisis, it cannot simulate the immediacy and intimacy of the Eucharist.  The essential physical nature of the Eucharist is expressed in the Book of Common Prayer in the only instruction during the Eucharistic prayer for what the Celebrant (the priest) must do with their hands.  When saying the Words of Institution–“This is my body…” and “This is the blood…” the priest must touch the bread and touch the chalice.   It’s not that I have magic hands or that there’s anything special about me personally.  It is that the priest (who is standing in for the bishop, actually) represents the entire gathered assembly, offering up everything we have as a sacrifice of praise to God and receiving everything back, blessed, broken open, and dripping with God’s grace.  Good WiFi is no substitute for the real thing.  

As a priest I could celebrate the Eucharist with only another member of my family present.  But to do this for my consolation only, would be (to my conscience) a selfish act.  The intention of the heart is key here.  I do not question the motivation of priests who are celebrating the Eucharist in the absence of a congregation.  I am personally grateful that many of my colleagues have continued to pray the best prayer of the Church (the Eucharist) and to offer up the body and blood of Christ for the healing of our lost and broken world.  But for us, the vestry and I decided that we would livestream Morning Prayer instead of Eucharist as our main service for the time being.

So, we’re in a pickle.  In direct consultation with the Commonwealth’s health department, the bishop has suspended in-person worship services through the first Sunday of May.  I cannot even express how sad I am about the implications.   We cannot gather in person for Palm Sunday, or any of the services of Holy Week, or on the most important and glorious and meaningful day of the entire year—Easter Day.  Nevertheless, the bishop’s decision is the right one.  We need to stay home to save lives and to reduce the pressure on our healthcare system.  This is what loving our neighbor requires of us, and to violate that love—even for the sake of something so intrinsically good as gathering together to worship—is wrong.  

As unprecedented as all this sounds, we are not alone in this.  Our ancestors in faith dealt with similar and even more difficult circumstances.  As the fly said when he fell into the preserves…I’ve been in much worse jams than this.  The Church has lived and faithfully thrived through much worse jams than this.  It is also helpful to remember that not too long ago the norm in the Episcopal church was Morning Prayer three Sundays a month and Eucharist one Sunday a month.  In the Middle Ages, despite daily Eucharists celebrated in most churches, the average faithful Christian would only receive the Eucharist once or twice a year—perhaps only on Easter and Christmas.

The Book of Common Prayer also offers a way forward for us who so desperately want and need the Eucharist:

“If a person desires to receive the Sacrament, but, by reason of extreme sickness or physical disability, is unable to eat and drink the Bread and Wine, the Celebrant is to assure that person that all the benefits of Communion are received, even though the Sacrament is not received with the mouth.”

BCP, page 457

This concept is known as Spiritual Communion.  Even though we cannot receive with our mouths, God’s grace is imparted and made present to us through the holy desire and intentions of our hearts.   We are embodied people and Spiritual Communion is no permanent substitute for the material Eucharist, but in this time, it will carry us through.  So going forward into Holy Week we will create opportunities to make Spiritual Communion and to sharpen the desires and intentions of our hearts toward union with God and each other.  And when this thing is over, and we can gather again, we are going to have one heck of a party and one heavenly Eucharistic feast together.  

Right now, do not doubt that God’s loving presence is everywhere.  God is with you right now.  God hears our cries and sees our desperate moments.  Lord, hear our prayer and let our cry come to you.  Lord make speed to save us.  God make haste to help us.  Amen.   

A Note from the Rector – 3/8/2020

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).  I am using this week’s Note to address our parish’s response to COVID-19.  As followers of Jesus, we are called away from fear and toward trusting in the healing mercy of Jesus Christ and the invincible power of God’s love.  God promises not to abandon us in suffering, illness, or even death (Romans 8:38-39). In this season of Lent, we are preparing our hearts and minds to encounter the mystery of the Empty Tomb and to experience the Resurrected Christ in our own lives. As a people who serve the one who has conquered death, hell, and the grave, we reject the kind of fear that seeks to control our lives.  Instead, we continue always, no matter what, to celebrate the life God has given us and the promises we have received through Jesus. As an expression of our faith in the faithfulness of God, the Church continues to gather and worship the One from Whom we came and to Whom we shall return. 

The faith we have in the power and love of God, however, does not conflict with prudence and common sense, what Timothy might have called a sound mind.  In light of that our bishop, Daniel Gutierrez, has provided some guidelines and suggestions for some common sense moves we can make as a parish to protect each other from communicable diseases including COVID-19.  I do not want us to institute these measures out of fear, but I do think they are reasonable steps to take out of genuine love and care for each other, and especially those who are vulnerable to illness in our parish and community.

Door Handles

Efforts will be made to wipe down all door handles before and after church with disinfectant.  

The Peace

I am asking that we do not hug or kiss each other on the cheek during the peace.  You may consider an alternative form of passing the peace apart from hand-shaking as well, such as elbow tapping.  Some may prefer to not come into contact with another at all, and instead give the “peace” sign with their fingers.  Let’s respect each other’s comfort levels.

Handwashing

Immediately after the peace and announcements you will see me head to the sacristy where I will wash my hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (while saying the Lord’s Prayer, which takes roughly 20 seconds to say, hint, hint) in order to make sure my hands are clean to handle the elements of Communion.  I am asking that our chalice bearers please follow me in this practice.

Offering

At the bishop’s suggestion, I am asking greeters not pass the offering plates from hand to hand, but attempt to collect the offering while holding the plates themselves.  We’ll play this by ear and see if we can come up with a system that works.  

Common Cup

The bishop has asked for a temporary end of the practice of intinction—that is, taking the bread in your fingers and dipping it in the cup.  The reason for this is that a person’s fingers or knuckles often come into contact with the cup or the wine during intinction (I can certainly attest the accuracy of that observation).

We believe that Christ is truly present in the bread and the wine, and Christ is sufficiently present each.  Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable to receive in only one kind—the bread—if you would rather not drink from the common cup.  You won’t be getting less Jesus. Jesus is present through and through. Our Prayer Book, however, mandates that both bread and wine must be consecrated and made available to any baptized Christian who wishes to receive them.  So, we will continue to offer both bread and wine. At the bishop’s behest, I strongly discourage you from intincting, and please don’t drink from the common cup if you are uncomfortable doing so.

Coffee Hour

Let’s please use additional caution in food handling during coffee hour.  

God is with us during this time.  Let us come together without fear, with love and care for each other.  Let us recommit ourselves to earnest prayer for those who are ill and those who are afraid and lonely.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

In Christ,

+ James