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 – 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.