Everyone reacts differently during stressful times. I’ll always remember Canon Pam Mott’s sermon to the small, anxious congregation of the former St Andrews. We had just begun contemplating a huge change and challenge in our lives; one that ultimately led to the joyous union we call James and Andrew. When Pam visited, however, we were feeling stressed. She told us the story of her cats; they travelled with her to her vacation home, and upon arrival each reacted in their own way. One crawled under the bed and pretty much stayed there for the duration. One sniffed and explored carefully and curiously and finally found a comfy spot. I suppose another might have misbehaved in ways only a cat-lover can imagine!
Social distancing, quarantine and isolation can be overwhelming and can cause strong emotions in adults and children. This can manifest itself in emotional and physical ways: fear, worry and anxiety, changes in sleep and eating patterns, difficulty concentrating, worsening of chronic health conditions including mental health, and increased use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances.
Here are some thoughts on how to cope with stress:
There’s the simple “Breath Prayer”; a phrase on the inhale, a phrase on the exhale. When anxiety builds, a few minutes of this can diffuse that anxiety, slow your heart rate and restore some of those helpful, relaxing endorphins.
There’s a beautiful practice called “Viseo Divina” . We invite God to speak to our hearts as we gaze at an image. For me it often is the antics of our favorite hen (her name is Lovey!), or the blossoms on the purple foxglove in our garden. Simply pray, “God speak to me”.
Any activity can be transformed into a spiritual practice; how about all that hand washing we are doing these days. A tiny litany for washing: “May I be centered in God’s presence, may my family be centered in God’s presence, may my community be centered in God’s presence”, etc.
Your reactions to these unusual times are your own and they matter. Take time to talk them over with someone you trust. I keep hearing God reminding me that she is always here, in the backyard, at the desk top and in the grocery store.
Here is a beauty of a little poem by Terry Tempest Williams.
I pray to the birds.
I pray to the birds because
I believe they will carry the messages of my heart upward.
I pray to them because I believe in their existence,
the way their songs begin and end each day,
the invocations and benedictions of earth.
I pray to the birds because they remind me of what I love
rather than what I fear. And at the end of my prayers,
they teach me how to listen.
Faith Community Nurse
SsJA Pastoral Care Team
You can contact any clergy person by reaching out to the office to reach the Pastoral Care Team. If you have a pastoral emergency, our office number is forwarded to an answering service after business hours.
Email Office Call (413) 773-3925
The Department of Mental Health
The state government's Department of Mental Health website
(CSO 24-hr access number) 1-800 562-0112
First Call For Help
Providing referrals to a number of community resources and supports in the Franklin, Hampshire, North Quabbin and Hampden County areas.
National Alliance on Mental Illness of Western Mass
Providing support and resources to individuals diagnosed with a mental illness, their families and the community in Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties.
413-786-9139 or toll free 1-800 295-2121
New England Learning Center for Women in Transition (NELCWIT):
Serving individuals who have experience domestic or sexual violence in the Franklin County/North Quabbin area.
413-772-0806 or toll free 1-888-249-0806.
Clinical & Support Options:
Mental health and crisis services in Hampshire and Franklin County.
Mental health services primarily in Franklin and Hampshire counties.
Western Mass Recovery Learning Community
Healing and recovery through peer support.
CHD (Center for Human Development)
Community-oriented human services.
A letter from Rev. Heather & Rev. Molly on behalf of the Clergy & Vestry
Many of us have hoped that we might be able to reopen for some level of in-person worship soon, while also recognizing some of us will not be comfortable returning until restrictions have eased and a vaccine is widely available. We want to provide you with a comprehensive update on the status of reopening and our plans for moving forward. Please note that our diocese is using the language of ‘stage’, whereas the Commonwealth is using the language of ‘phase’. Diocesan stages are generally more conservative than the Commonwealth’s phases. Please see the chart below outlining some of the public health indicators of the diocesan stages.
In May, we outlined a Process for Moving Forward (view here). We have made great strides in nearing the completion of this process. SsJA leaders have worked tirelessly to give serious consideration to each aspect of the diocesan guidelines for reopening, keeping in mind the unique aspects of our buildings, demographics, and ministries.
The working groups have established a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) which we hope will answer the most important questions of what reopening will look like in Diocesan Stage 3. View them below.
The Church Chat Working Group has scheduled a Zoom Church Chat Listening Session on Sunday, August 30 at 12 p.m. The purpose of this informal virtual gathering is to give the Vestry an opportunity to check in with church members about the ongoing pandemic and how it has impacted our church community. Specific topics will include the continued suspension of in person worship, growing our faith during a pandemic, and holding onto hope in uncertain times. It will be an opportunity for questions and answers, and if you are unable to attend, we invite you to call or email the office with your questions. A recording of the meeting will be sent out to the congregation in a newsletter following the church chat. Information on how to join the meeting by phone or video may be found in the announcement further down in the newsletter.
We also plan to provide an update of the Reopening Status, using this image in each newsletter, in order that everyone may know what steps remain before we can safely resume some kind of in-person worship. Please note, we are quite close to being able to submit our application. At the same time, our building will remain closed until all four conditions outlined in the image below are met.
Finally, when we are near being able to reopen we will send out a survey to worship leaders and the entire parish, soliciting volunteers for the many responsibilities that support our shared worship. Some jobs will be similar, while others, such as ushering, will look drastically different and will require a good many more volunteers each week to safely carry out our reopening plan. In the survey, we will ask that anyone who is already a worship leader will let us know whether they feel comfortable returning in Diocesan Stage 3, while also welcoming new participants into these roles.
Most importantly, we want to thank each of you for ensuring SsJA continues to live into our mission of cultivating a community of love, joy, hope, and healing--even during these strange times. While our buildings remain closed, our hearts and hands for serving our neighbors remain open and as loving as ever.
Here are some other important links you may find helpful:
Frequently Asked Questions
View our entire Application to the Diocese and Additional Notes from the Working Group.
1. When are we reopening the buildings?
The SsJA Vestry is committed to reopening our church for in-person worship for
those who would like to attend in Diocesan Stage 3 on the following conditions:
2. Could we worship together outside?
We considered this at length and developed a model for how we could safely worship outdoors, but the Vestry concluded that the number of volunteers and effort required would not be justified by the number of people who, according to our survey, would be interested in attending.
3. Will there be limits in the number of people that can attend worship?
Yes, required spacing for safety and limits on gathering size, required by both the Commonwealth and Diocese, necessarily limit how many will be able to gather for worship, at least until health statistics are much improved.
4. How do you determine who can attend worship?
We’ll have signups for worship each week, either online or by calling the office. If there are requests beyond the number who can be accommodated in a given week, those people will be given priority in subsequent weeks.
5. Will I be safe if I choose to come to worship?
Nothing we can do can guarantee perfect safety, but we are doing as much as we can to make it as safe as possible. We’ll require wearing masks and provide hand sanitizer, designate seating to ensure physical distancing, and depend heavily on an expanded group of ushers to manage and assist with traffic flow.
What is going to happen if we discover someone is sick?
Lists generated by worship signups will serve to allow contact tracing, and the CDC provides detailed protocols for deep cleaning and disinfecting that we would follow.
6.What will we have for music in the service?
Diocesen guidelines don’t allow singing at this time, but we will have instrumental music provided both by our Parish Musician and by other talented musicians from the congregation.
7. Will we have eucharist?
The Diocese has provided us with guidelines for safe administration of the eucharist. When we’re ready to begin in-person worship we will initially continue with Morning Prayer and Spiritual Communion for a few weeks while we get used to new routines for worship before we add in physical administration of communion.
8. If I plan to come, how can I help?
It’s going to take a village! Shortly before we return to in-person worship we will send out a survey requesting volunteers for all of the jobs that will need to be done in leading and supporting our worship, and we hope that both those who have served in the past AND new volunteers will step up to help us move forward into our new ways of “being church”.
9. If I am a ministry leader and need to to complete a task in person, inside, are there safety procedures to follow?
We are asking that as we each use church spaces, we sanitize after ourselves; disinfecting wipes are provided in our bathrooms and other common spaces, and signs direct us that “If you touch it, you wipe it!”
10. What are we doing about cleaning and sanitizing?
At this point our Sexton is covering routine cleaning of common spaces with special attention to high touch surfaces, and as individuals use the space, “you touch it you wipe it.” We’ve learned that spaces only used once a week (such as the sanctuary) are safe with this routine cleaning.
11. Are small groups and gatherings allowed inside the facility?
Parish groups and gathering will continue on a virtual basis until most limits on gatherings are lifted and physical restrictions eased, per diocesan guidelines, and we will, likewise, not be providing indoor meeting space to outside groups. We have approved two outside groups to use our lawn space under specific health precautions, and may approve others in the future.
12. When will our outreach ministries (2nd Helpings, Whitney’s Pantry, etc.) be able to take place in our buildings?
Again, these outreach ministries will continue to operate on a “to go” basis until most limits on gatherings are lifted and physical restrictions eased, per diocesan guidelines.
13. How has the pandemic affected us financially?
We have been fortunate. Thanks to most members’ ability to fulfill their pledges, to additional contributions received, and to the assistance of the Payroll Protection Plan funds provided by the Diocese, we are in better shape than we might have been, given our loss of “loose plate” and property use income. We currently project ending 2020 with a deficit of about $12,618. Depending on the course of the virus with, in particular, its impact on property use income and fundraising, planning for 2021 will be critical, and challenging.
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