During the past 14 months, St. John’s abstained from any kind of in-person gatherings. This meant abstaining from our central act of worship, Eucharist, for well over a year. We did not come to this decision lightly or easily. However, our two guiding values of deep inclusivity and care for all God’s people meant that we could not with integrity hold worship where some were included by virtue of their health or vaccination status, and others were not.
As the Rev’d Dr. Farwell reminded us in our study of Eucharist during Advent, the gathered assembly is a “constitutive element”, not a happy addition to our celebration of the sacrament. So, when we pray in the Eucharistic prayer that God would send down the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine and on us, we knew that the “us” implied here was ALL of us. I am proud of this faith community, the ways you showed up to one another despite the limits of the pandemic, the way we grew in our knowledge and love of God, and the ways we continued living Eucharistically despite our absence from the Eucharistic celebration. We made difficult sacrifices to keep each other safe, and by God’s grace we made it through this time with resilience and new wisdom.
I am delighted to say, the time has come where we can once again gather outdoors, with the sure knowledge that it is safe enough and thus inclusive enough for ALL of us to worship with one another at the Eucharistic table. On May 30 we will offer one service at 8am in the parking lot. This service will be a testing ground to see that our systems work and that we can safely and hospitably gather in that space throughout the rest of the summer. The following week, based on demand, we will offer two services at 8am and 9am. (Our principal worship will continue to be digital-only, livestreaming at 10am on our YouTube channel.)
The service will be spoken with no singing, with abbreviated readings and a short interactive sermon-reflection time. Communion will be offered in bread only. Participants will remain masked and distanced by household, and are encouraged to bring their own lawn chair and prayerbook for ease in participation. A limited number of prayerbooks and folding chairs will be available to those who have neither or who may not have remembered to bring one. These gatherings will be simple at first and as we learn the new rhythm of meeting outdoors, we will add complexity, including things like music and additional readings. (We will still aim to keep services short to enable multiple services.).
Our meeting space outdoors accommodates 50. To attend these services we ask that you pre-register each week. Registrations will be open Tuesday-Saturday the week before each service. If you receive Eucharist one week, we encourage you to register for the waitlist the next week to ensure that in a given two-week cycle everyone who wants to receive Eucharist is given at least one opportunity. Any open slots will be filled from the waitlist in the order in which they registered.
Additionally, starting on Thursday, May 27, we will hold Compline (Night Prayer) at 7pm every Thursday on the steps of the Church. The same precautions will be observed as at our Sunday services (there will be no Eucharist, however). We can accommodate 20 congregants at these services; please pre-register each week between Monday and Wednesday preceding Compline.
We are entering this time in a spirit of innovation and adaptability and invite you to do the same. This is yet again new territory and we will assume the posture of curiosity and openness as we see how best to worship safely within the given constraints of both the pandemic and our context outdoors.
Stay tuned for news of our return to in person worship in the Church building. Our reopening task force has already begun to work out the final guidelines for use of the building during the late stages of the pandemic, and will present those to the vestry for approval in our June vestry meeting with hopes to be back in the building in some limited ways starting as early as July. Additionally, we have begun the work with a contractor to install our streaming technology for a permanent and long term streaming/hybrid liturgy even after we return to in-person worship in the building. Please know we will continue to adapt and update our protocols in response to the best wisdom of our diocesan leadership, city, state, and national rules, and what we believe is best for this faith community. That means, in part, that sometimes what we are doing won’t look like what others are doing in the world around us or even in other churches. Know that we are doing the best we can to faithfully live into the complexity and ambiguity of this time.
While these precautions and adaptations may feel limiting or disorienting at first, know that as we gather, the joy and new life promised in Eucharist will still be given to each of us. At the same time, regathering will also bring with it a flood of feelings and concerns, and regathering in person on its own won’t take away or heal all that is hurting, broken, or uneasy within us. It is likely in fact that regathering will only add complexity to all that we feel. However, regathering, if done with the same values of deep inclusivity and care, guided by grace, and patterned after Jesus’ way of Love, might begin the work of healing, repairing, and grieving all that this pandemic has meant over the past year. This time of transition out of the pandemic is a liminal space, a transition time, a time for deep grace and thoughtfulness. I pray you will go gently into this time with the rest of the members of this faith community, that we will afford one another grace and care, and that we will experience anew the wonder and delight of what it can mean when “two or more are gathered together in Jesus name.”
I will see you, literally, in worship, in person! Thanks be to God!