Posted on: March 13, 2020
Dear friends in Christ,
A far greater theological mind than mine, the Reverend Samuel Wells, argues passionately and thoughtfully that the essential character of God is found in God’s radical “with-ness.” Jesus enters into the world to be with us. The Holy Spirit is promised to us as an Advocate, a constant and abiding presence, to be with us always. God’s promise expressed in Isaiah, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you” is a promise as relevant now as it was when first spoken by the prophet. And, we are called, as the body of Christ, to make manifest and incarnate that fearless presence, to courageously show up and be with one another. In moments like our present health crisis, as the world faces and endeavors to respond carefully and compassionately to the COVID-19 pandemic, we as the church are challenged to live into this call of manifesting God’s “with” in new and creative ways. Manifesting that “with,” showing up to each other in ways that are tangible, spiritual, incarnate, and caring, in light of this viral outbreak, will require our most thoughtful, faithful, and patient selves.
It is my belief that the church’s responsibility is first and foremost to those on the margins of society and to the most vulnerable in our community. In light of the best guidance from healthcare professionals and experts, and the belief that we can do the most good by practicing social distancing, in conversation with your wardens, Lynn Hertz and Holly Weinkauf, and in collaboration with our Associate Rector, the Reverend Craig Lemming, our deacon, the Reverend Margaret Thor, and our Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull, I have decided, effective immediately, to suspend or cancel all in-person group activities, worship, events, or functions at Saint John’s until or after April 1st. This will, sadly, include this Sunday’s worship and afternoon Chilcott concert, and many other ongoing and important programs such as our upcoming Basics class, Wednesday evening Television and Movie series for Lent, Compline, Noonday Healing Eucharists, and Morning Prayer.
Please know that this decision was not made lightly or without serious consideration of the invested hours and good energy of many talented staff and volunteers. Please know this decision is based not in fear, but in hope that by doing so, we will be a part of solving this crisis and helping slow the spread of this virus. Please know that while church is not meeting in person, we intend to continue being church and being with one another in new and creative ways.
On Saturday your vestry met virtually to discuss and make further plans about how best to handle the ongoing functions of the parish in ways that make manifest God’s “with-ness” and simultaneously honor the safety of our members. Our intent at present is to live-stream Sunday service for those that can join us digitally, and to find other ways to invite and resource members who may not have access to digital worship to do so in their own homes.
During this time, when activities and groups are suspended, please know that Saint John’s staff and clergy will continue the day to day activities of the church. Staff will be working remotely, but messages left at the church will be checked and responded to in a timely manner. The business of the church will continue albeit in creative ways, and we will be in touch about ways that you can connect virtually and spiritually. Saint John’s Circle of Care Team and clergy will ensure that pastoral and physical needs are handled in a timely manner. Please note that pastoral care may take different shapes and forms depending on the guiding wisdom of social distancing, hospital and care facility policies, and any regulations issued by state and federal officials. Please be in touch with either the Reverend Craig Lemming or myself about any pastoral needs or prayer requests.
I would also invite and encourage you to be a part of the creative solution to caring for one another and being “with” one another during this crisis. Check in on each other. Call, write, or email one another. Create an online happy hour, or meet over the phone to discuss the Lenten read. Pray for one another, for our health care professionals, for those already sick, and those who will find this time isolating and lonely. If you know of anyone who does not have email, does not check email, or is otherwise not likely to receive this message, could you please pass along this information to them? We want to make sure all parishioners receive this message. Thank you so much for your help!
More than anything, during this time, it is important to reiterate the basic guidance on personal health and hygiene. These remain the best ways to prevent the spread of any contagion and to keep us and our individual families healthy and safe:
- Wash your hands frequently, for 20 seconds or more, with soap and water;
- Avoid touching your face, eyes, and mouth;
- If you or a member of your household feel symptoms of sickness, stay home;
- Sneeze or cough into your elbow or a tissue;
- Once you’ve used a tissue, throw it away and wash your hands;
- Regularly disinfect any frequently touched surfaces, door handles/knobs, and any equipment like keyboards and phones;
- Be prepared with groceries and medicines in case you get ill and need to stay home;
- Check in on family members and neighbors.
For questions or concerns about COVID-19 please contact MN Department of Health’s Hotline 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903 7a.m. to 7 p.m.
To read the COVID-19 response from the ECMN, please click here.
To read Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s statement regarding worship in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.
I am aware that the decision to suspend community gatherings and worship might be welcome by some and frustrating to others. As the Reverend Paul Lebens-Englund, the dean of our cathedral wrote yesterday, regarding their similar decision,
“At its root, this is a decision to invest sacrificially in the Common Good – to relinquish some of our own cherished rhythms and practices for the sake of those among us whose vulnerabilities may be known to them alone. It is a practical, life-saving way for us to be and to build up the Beloved Community by taking pause together – giving thanks for the life we share, recognizing and celebrating those things we’ve “given up for Lent,” all toward the reward of savoring them all the more when they resume at a time that is safe for all of us.”
As we support one another I offer this, perhaps you’ve already seen it, by poet Lynn Ungar, a poem that is making the rounds and which I think could be our prayer today,
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
Let us be with each other, in acts of kindness, in love and empathy, in prayer and spirit, in faithfulness and a hope for a better world.