Dear People of St. John’s,
A friend told me recently that nearly everyone who enters a monastic order has a fine time for the first few weeks. But universally, around the two month mark, the true magnitude of what they have committed to begins to sink in, and that is when the existential questions arise. Having surpassed months’ mark in our new pandemic era, it is time for me to lay out the thinking of your vestry and I as we look into the future together.
The governor has placed houses of worship in Phase 4 of New York’s slow re-opening, and our bishop has chosen to honor this approach. Religious gatherings have proven to be a major vector for Covid-19 transmission, and so it is prudent for us to move slowly and with great care, lest we put anyone in danger. As St. Paul reminds us, our freedom should never become the cause of someone else’s stumbling—just because we can do something, does not mean it is prudent or wise. As Christians, we are called to use our freedom in the service of others, and especially with an eye towards serving the most vulnerable among us.
In line with our bishop’s directive, once all areas of the diocese are cleared to enter Phase 4 of the governor’s reopening plan, parishes will be allowed to slowly return to their buildings in small groups. The vestry and I have discussed ways St. John’s will do this, and we have decided that it is best that our initial phase will be a small team of people, live-streaming worship on Sunday morning from the sanctuary.
To date, we have not done this, and I know for many of you, it is a felt loss. It is my hope that seeing the familiar site of our space again will be a comfort in the midst of the chaos of these days.
But we do not yet know when this can occur; for the time being, we continue to worship in our homes, as we are able. Online worship will continue, with Morning Prayer offered each morning, and Sunday worship offered on Sundays. I am working on how to incorporate prayers over a conference call for those in nursing homes, and those without easy access to the internet. Our Kendal residents have been wonderfully helpful in these ongoing experiments!
It may feel that we are being overly-cautious. I know that the pain of being apart is real, and the longing for Eucharist powerful. I know that this time requires of us so many new skills, and it is exhausting.
I told you at the start that we would be guided in this time by our mission: our sense of Christ’s call to us in this world. One of St. John’s strengths has been the gift of unselfish love for one another, in all our variety and in all of our diversity. When your vestry and I discussed how we might consider reopening, one of the dimensions we were conscious of was that we wanted to continue our pattern of openness to all. We didn’t want to create a situation where the elderly, the sick, or those who didn’t get a ticket in time would be denied access to worship. We wanted to stay true to who we believe Christ is calling us to be: a place that keeps its doors open for all, and is safe for all.
As we have journeyed through this time together, I have been humbled and awed at the generosity and the grace of spirit that you have showed time and again. At the Stewardship Committee who created a wonderful weekly YouTube series on all aspects of giving. At the staff, who cheerfully figured out how to work from home, and how to take on new internet responsibilities. At the lay readers, who embraced their moments in the live-streaming sun with vigor. At Loaves and Fishes, who figured out how to serve roughly five times more people in a week than they had prior to the start of the pandemic. In a time of stress, uncertainty, and anxiety, you all have responded with such grace and love. It is an honor to witness and to minister with you in this time.
As we move forward into the future, I remain confident, knowing that the God who has brought us this far will continue to carry us, and that the faith that has bound us together will continue to shape our path together.