Dear People of Saints James and Andrew,
It is hard to believe we are now three months into a global pandemic. These new circumstances have required us to find new and meaningful ways to cultivate and nurture community through virtual worship and zoom gatherings, phone calls, emails, and sending cards in the mail. It is your faithful participation in these new avenues and our church’s full court press approach to our outreach ministries which have allowed us to thrive even under the most challenging of conditions. You are the very definition of resilience, and for that we are both full of pride and gratitude. Thank you.
We wanted to give you an update on the working groups progress in our process for moving forward, the closure of our buildings, clergy presence and worship this summer.
In late May the Vestry adopted a Process for Moving Forward, in which three working groups would make recommendations to the Vestry. While following the guidelines of the CDC, WHO, the Commonwealth, and our diocese we quickly realized an important difference in language. The Commonwealth refers to things in ‘phases’, while our diocese refers to ‘stages’, and outlines stricter requirements for moving from one to another. The diocese is working with an epidemiologist who will help determine what stage Franklin and Hampshire counties are in as we move forward. (Learn more about the public health indicators for diocesan stages here).
Here is what we know so far about what these groups will be recommending to the Vestry after completing our research and conversations about how to safely reopen. When the Vestry has approved a plan after hearing parish feedback, the plan will then need to be approved by the diocese.
Bishop Fisher, by pastoral directive, closed all diocesan buildings through July 1. As each congregation discusses how to safely reopen according to diocesan guidelines, it is up to each individual parish to extend the closure of their buildings. Based on the amount of work that still lay ahead before we can safely reopen, the Vestry voted that the buildings of Saints James and Andrew will remain closed until at least September 8. In the meantime, we will keep being the Church in both virtual and traditional ways for as long as necessary. Our love of God and neighbor comes before all else.
Clergy Presence this Summer
Vacation Time: Due to the pandemic, the two of us will be taking our vacation time in slightly different ways than we have in the past. Rev. Molly, who is ⅓ time and receives one Sunday off per month in addition to her vacation time, will be in Maine from June 24-August 26. During this time, she will not be leading virtual worship, but on her work weeks, will engage in virtual meetings and pastoral care. Rev. Heather, who is full time, will be taking Thursdays off throughout the summer and parts of the fall, along with three Sundays in June, August, and September. She’ll also be away for a week in November.
Medical Leave: Rev. Heather will be on medical leave for 4-6 weeks, starting July 13, for a non-emergency surgery that was postponed in the early days of the pandemic. For the first three weeks she will be disconnected from parish life, and then presuming she feels more like herself, plans to work a reduced schedule during the remainder of her leave. During her leave our licensed worship leaders will continue to lead virtual worship on Sunday mornings (for the first three Sundays), the Vestry will host virtual coffee hour, we have a team of folks ready to cover pastoral emergencies, and Rev. Molly will be working remotely during that time. Please note due to this shift, we will be taking a break from the weekly video updates we started offering in May.
Virtual Worship this Summer: While we have been offering Spiritual Communion and Morning Prayer a couple of times each month, during the summer things will shift depending on who is presiding at worship. For the next couple of weeks we will have Spiritual Communion. During Rev. Heather’s leave, we will have Morning Prayer, which we may continue when she first returns. By mid-August we plan to resume alternating between Morning Prayer and Spiritual Communion again.
If you have any questions or concerns about any of these updates, please do not hesitate to speak to us or a member of the Vestry.
Thank you for all that you do in your prayers and in your actions to support the mission and ministry of Saints James and Andrew. Your faithfulness inspires us, and we are beyond grateful for each and everyone of you. Please join us in praying for our world and our community as we take this one step at a time and navigate the path of reopening. May God bless you and keep you, this day, and everyday.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Heather & Rev. Molly
Dear People of Saints James and Andrew,
As we begin the process of opening our physical buildings, the Vestry wants very much to have your input. To that end, we are putting together a short survey to determine how best to get your feedback and to gauge how comfortable you are returning to worship. If you are not comfortable filling out an online survey, but have input to give, please call our Parish Administrator, Beau, at (413) 773-3925. We are also aware that some people might choose to give feedback anonymously. While we would love to know who you are in the event that we would want to follow up, we will offer you the choice of whether or not you self identify. The survey will be open through June 25.
The Church Chat Working Group
Rev. Heather Blais
Rev. Molly Scherm
Dear People of Saints James and Andrew,
Over these last few months we have been forced to come face to face with our own powerlessness. It has been painful and hard, yet ultimately it has been a gift from God. This may be the first time in my own life I have been required to think so critically about my actions and motivations. If I choose to leave the house, do I wear a mask? (Yes). If I leave the house, who might I be putting at risk? (Only God knows, though science suggests quite a few people). While this kind of pandemic-induced critical thinking is new to me, it has been a matter of survival for those with brown and black bodies. Not just now, but always.
Think about that for a moment. As a privileged, white woman the only questions I generally used to concern myself with when leaving the house concerned the weather conditions and if the sidewalk was well lit enough to walk safely home alone. When I drive faster than the posted speed limit, and see flashing lights in my rearview, my primary concern is whether I am going to get a ticket. I pray the officer will let me off with a warning (an abuse of prayer if there ever was one). I have never needed to worry about keeping my hands on the steering wheel where they can be seen, or keeping my tone as respectful as possible so I’m not asked to step out of the car. I have literally never been in a position where I might have an officer take a knee on my neck and remove my very breath from my body. Nor have I had someone call the police because I look suspicious as I birdwatch, or be shot because my hoodie sweatshirt causes concern about the safety of the neighborhood. Nor must I worry about what might be assumed of my children as they play outside and ride their bikes. If that is not the tip of the iceberg of my white privilege I am not sure what is.
Friends, we have a moral obligation to address the systemic racism in the church and in our nation. We can not sit at home wishing folks would simply find more peaceful ways to protest. That is our privilege talking, and our privilege needs to be quiet and listen to the cries of our black and brown neighbors. We need to listen, learn, repent, reconcile and be changed. Black lives matter, and we need to stop passively hoping things will get better on their own. They will not get better until we collectively step up and do the work of dismantling racism.
One of the simplest things we can do is challenge our assumptions and be intentional in our language. It might be easiest to begin this work by picking up a book and doing some reading. I have been moved by the work of Lenny Duncan, who wrote Dear Church: A love letter from a black preacher to the whitest denomination in the U.S. Similarly, Molly has just finished reading Howard Thurman’s work, Jesus and the Disinherited. Others have highly recommended Austin Channing Brown’s work, I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness and James H. Cone’s, The Cross and the Lynching Tree.
Cara Hins has invited fellow parishioners to join her in reading Latasha Morrison’s work, Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s heart for racial reconciliation. If you are interested in joining her, please contact her at email@example.com.
You can check out this list of Anti-Racism Resources which features resources for white parents to raise anti-racist children, articles and books to read, videos to watch, podcasts to subscribe to, films and TV series to watch, organizations to follow on social media, and links to additional resources.
You can learn more about Becoming Beloved Community: the Episcopal Church’s long-term commitment to racial healing, reconciliation, and justice by following our local Episcopal branch Beloved Community WMA on Facebook.
You can read what Bishop Fisher and Presiding Bishop Curry have to say about current events.
Be empowered. Our experience with this pandemic might have given us a deep inside look at powerlessness. Yet it is a lesson we have desperately needed. We can now open our eyes to the oppression and systemic racism happening all around us and begin the even more difficult work of listening, learning, repenting, reconciling, and being changed.
Yours in Christ,