Communication from the Rector

Tuesday, March 31

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

As we gathered for worship on Ash Wednesday 34 days ago and heard these words, “I invite you in the name of the Church to the observance of a Holy Lent,” who among us could have imagined a season like the one we are now living? And it continues. The purpose of this communication is to assure you of the church’s prayers, share information about the parish’s ongoing responses to the Coronavirus pandemic, and to encourage you in your faith. Christ reigns. Recall that a Christian perspective of history reveals a pattern of God bringing forth renewal and reformation from cultural upheaval and even calamity. We are people of hope.

In this current moment of the crisis, however, our call is to do all we can to love and support one another, as well as our neighbors. I could not be more impressed by our pastoral care response to the Coronavirus within the congregation. The personal outreach to the sick, our senior adults, and now a much wider swath of the parish by staff, clergy, and organized volunteers has been tremendous and gratefully received. Once more, I ask that you take responsibility for communicating with the church staff a pastoral care need within the congregation about which we may be unaware. As St. Paul exhorts believers in times of challenge, “Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14).

Of course, the mandate to cancel public gatherings is a main strategy to halt the spread of Coronavirus. But temporary suspension of corporate worship at St. George’s is a great loss. We should recognize it as such, especially as we now approach Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter Day. Our corporate worship, particularly at this time of the year, is deeply formative of us as a parish family. It is natural to grieve our inability to be physically all together, especially in Holy Week and Easter.

This is a time of loss. We have lost touch with our ordinary rhythms and routines. We have likely lost at least some level economic capacity. We have lost an important degree of connection to others. Some among us have lost our good health and are now ill. Indeed, it may be that in the days to come, some of us may lose someone very dear to us from this terrible virus even as we pray fervently against it.

In times like this – unprecedented for us but not to history – is important for Christians to believe God moves in our losses, our sorrows, as well as through our frustrations and disappointments, even though we never seek them out. Coronavirus has confronted the world with one of the earliest revelations in Scripture: we are not gods but are finite creatures susceptible to all sorts of natural vagaries given our world’s fallenness. Yet more importantly, we are also heirs of the promise of resurrection life in Jesus Christ, both now and for the future.

The great 20th century Anglican spiritual writer Evelyn Underhill once wrote that the character of a life genuinely open to God in prayer is marked by two things: first, one is willing to give love; second, one is willing to suffer pain and learn from it. I am wondering if the pain we endure today will open a path to deepened trust in Christ for the future. If so, then there is already evidence of grace working in us.

In any case, I assure you that we will do our absolute best to offer faithful and compelling live-streaming worship over the coming days that honors God, journeys with Jesus to the foot of the cross, and also delivers us beyond it to the joy of the empty tomb. I ask that you take advantage of all the ways we are communicating with you in this extraordinary season of our common life. Our goal is to be high-touch as we seek to improve our abilities to be high-tech.

I shared last week with our vestry that the staff is developing a 90 Day Plan to respond faithfully and wisely to the pandemic. This temporary “strategic plan” will conform to our sense of congregational purpose “ –to receive, live, and share the abundant life of Jesus Christ.” There are three adjectives that will inspire this plan: Brave, Creative, and Generous.

First, we seek to be brave trusting in the providence and goodness of God in Christ despite the great challenges and losses of this day. Prayer, the Bible, The Book of Common Prayer, and our live-streaming worship services will ground this goal.

Second, given the obvious reality of “social distancing,” we are exploring creative new ways to remain connected as a parish, in groups, and in our neighborhoods. Indeed, we pray that responses over the coming weeks may actually deepen our sense of belonging to one another.

Third, even in a time like this – no, especially in a time like this! – we remember our reason for being: to share the love of Christ with others. We aim to be generous in thinking anew about what it is to love our neighbor as ourselves. There has never been a better time for St. Georgeans to consider that your mission field begins with your next-door neighbors. How might you serve them now in ways befitting those who trust in Christ?

At the height of a plague that swept through the Roman Empire in the year 250AD, the bishop of Alexandria in Egypt, Dionysius, said the epidemic represented for the church “a school for learning.” Be assured that I am extremely earnest in wanting to help us learn well from the pain of this current season and to steward God’s revealed wisdom for the new day that lies ahead. Now it occurs to me that the incredibly fruitful year we had in 2019 was even more important than we originally thought, enabling us to marshal new parish resources for a world that will no longer be “business as usual.” It is in our character as a parish to hold onto and build upon the best of what we have (our tradition) while also having the discernment and courage to be pioneering for the sake of others into the coming decade.

With prayers for grace and confidence in this current crisis, as well as eager expectation for new signs of the Kingdom in our future, I am

Yours in Christ,

Leigh