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.