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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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,
As we watch the world around us beginning to re-open from the restrictions we have lived with since the COVID 19 pandemic began, we are all eager to know when and how we can begin moving forward into new ways of being a Saints James and Andrew that provides us the joy, comfort and inspiration we value, but which is a safe and responsible environment for everyone involved.
The Episcopal Church in Massachusetts has issued a set of guidelines to accompany the state’s guidelines for houses of worship; we will also receive a set of guidelines, in June, with further guidance for parishes in our Diocese. These documents make it clear that getting ready to move forward in compliance with diocesan and state requirements is not going to be quick or easy. Until such time as we have a world in which the coronavirus is no longer a serious threat to human wellbeing, it is not going to be safe for us to return to the ways of being that we’ve fondly thought of as “normal”. The conversations we’ve been part of and plans we’ve read from others have increased our awareness of how very complex the challenges before us are.
We have outlined a process for developing specific guidelines for our parish and making decisions about moving forward; primarily responsibility lies with the Vestry and other key lay leaders, but we have also provided for parish-wide input.
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.
Rev. Heather & Rev. Molly
on behalf of the Saints James and Andrew Vestry
A Process for Moving Forward
Saints James and Andrew, Greenfield
The Vestry met and adopted a Process for Moving Forward.
We reviewed Bishop Fisher’s latest Pastoral Directive, stating that our buildings will remain closed until at least July 1. The Directive states that diocesan guidelines for moving forward will be made available no later than July 1.
We identified three working groups who will be prepared to meet, discuss, and plan how we will implement these new diocesan guidelines:
July 1 or before
Diocesan Guidelines will become available.
Working groups will begin to meet approximately once a week to identify how we will live into these new guidelines.
To Be Determined
1. The Worship Working Group and the Property Use, Outreach, and
Events Working Group will each draft a document with instructions for implementing new diocesan guidelines at SsJA, while the Zoom Church Chats Working Group will draft a plan for church chats and/or other means through which parish members will be able to ask questions, share concerns, and provide feedback to the thinking of the Working Groups.
2. The Vestry will review the draft documents and make modifications as appropriate.
3. Relevant Ministry Team leaders will be consulted and provide feedback on the current drafts.
4. The working groups will make additional modifications.
5. The Vestry will review and finalize the documents.
6. The clergy will merge the documents into draft Parish Guidelines and use both Diocesan Guidelines and draft Parish Guidelines to create a FAQs document.
7. The parish will be sent a link to Diocesan Guidelines, the draft Parish Guidelines, and a series of scheduled Zoom church chats (and/or other means of joining the parish conversation) in the newsletter. This information will also be made available on our website and social media.
8. The parish will gather through Zoom church chats to share feelings and discuss concerns about moving forward and to offer feedback on the proposed Parish Guidelines.
9. The feedback from the church chats will then be used to modify and update the Parish Guidelines.
10. The Vestry will vote to approve the Parish Guidelines.
Based on the Diocesan and approved Parish Guidelines, along with government guidelines, we will begin to move forward in phases, as appropriate.
We are writing to notify you of changes we will be making to our worship, beginning this Sunday, in response to a Pastoral Directive we received from Bishop Fisher this past Monday. In early March, when the global pandemic began to take root in the United States, local churches were encouraged to adapt their worship in a way that made most sense for their context. Here at SsJA, we opted to live stream virtual communion each Sunday. As the weeks have unfolded, bishops and theologians across The Episcopal Church have had time to consider the thinking behind the varied approaches practiced at local churches. With the benefit of this time and consideration, a consensus has arisen that virtual communion, the invitation for parish members to consume consecrated bread and wine at home, is “an experiment born of a pastoral longing to satisfy hungry hearts”, but is not consistent with the liturgical traditions of The Episcopal Church. If you are interested in learning more about this thinking, we commend you to read “A Reflection on the Eucharist During the time of COVID-19” by Bishop Andrew Doyle of the Diocese of Texas.
In this week’s Directive, Bishop Fisher provided clergy with four options that can be practiced at local churches. We discussed these options on Tuesday with the clergy and wardens and then in the evening with the Vestry. After hearing the wisdom of church leaders, we have decided to alternate between Morning Prayer and Holy Eucharist with Spiritual Communion over the course of each month.
For many who grew up in the Episcopal Church, Morning Prayer on Sunday mornings will feel a bit like welcoming a long lost friend. Prior to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Morning Prayer was regularly a primary Sunday morning worship service. However, for many of us this worship service will be altogether new. To help us gain a better understanding of Morning Prayer, we will have an instructed version on Sunday, May 10th at 10 a.m.
Holy Eucharist with Spiritual Communion is a service of the Eucharist without consumption of the bread and wine; it involves participation in the Eucharist without partaking in communion itself, and the request to God to receive its graces in the heart. Prior to COVID-19, this has been a part of our tradition, especially in the Armed Forces. During the worship, at the moment we would normally distribute and receive the consecrated bread and wine, we will take a moment of silence and say together a modified version of a prayer in the Prayer Book for the Armed Forces:
In union, gracious God, with your faithful people at every altar of your Church where the Holy Eucharist is now being celebrated, we offer to you praise and thanksgiving. We remember your death, O Christ; we proclaim your resurrection; we await your coming in glory. Since we cannot receive you today in the Sacrament of your Body and Blood, we beseech you to come spiritually into our hearts. Cleanse and strengthen us with your grace, Lord Jesus, and let us never be separated from you. May we live in you, and you in us, in this life and in the life to come. Amen.
This Sunday we will have our first Holy Eucharist with Spiritual Communion, and during the sermon we will discuss Episcopal eucharistic theology and our thinking behind our choice to adopt a rotation of Spiritual Communion and Morning Prayer. We ask that everyone join the clergy in this fast from the Eucharist, by abstaining from consuming bread and wine for communion. We do hope you will continue to create sacred space in your homes--light candles, print a picture of a meaningful icon, put some forsythia or tulips on your table as you prepare to join us for worship.
No matter what worship service we feature on a given Sunday, you will still be able to find the links to Facebook Live, an electronic copy of the worship leaflet, virtual offertory plate, and virtual coffee hour on our website: www.saintsjamesandandrew.org We will also continue to use the Sunday Lectionary readings each week. Another modification we will be making is to sometimes simplify the service by reducing the number of readings we feature from the lectionary each week. When we do, we will be forgoing the second lesson, and have a lesson from the Hebrew scriptures, a psalm, and a gospel reading.
Since this global pandemic erupted, many of us have been wondering when things might “go back to normal”. As we have lived nearly two months in these strange times, we have come to the realization that there will be no going back to normal. Some parts of life before COVID-19 will not return. We have grief to work through as we live into this new reality. Some parts of life will be changed as a result of COVID-19. For example, we have had numerous people who would never have walked through the front doors of our church who have joined us for online worship. Even after we re-enter our building, we may want to continue streaming our worship services as another form of radical welcome, or for those who may feel unsafe to leave their home until there is a vaccine.
On Tuesday, Governor Baker extended the stay at home advisory until May 18th, and Bishop Fisher extended the suspension of in person worship until May 18th, as well. We wish we could give you a date for when we can be back together in person. What we do know is it will not be right away, it will be a gradual process guided by instructions from the national church, our diocese, the CDC, and Governor Baker.
We also want to thank you for doing your bit by staying home, washing your hands, wearing masks, sending in donations, supporting our mission and outreach, joining virtual coffee hours, bible study, online worship, and praying without ceasing. We have long known the church is not a building, but rather a people. Now more than ever, we are showing the world what it means to be the Church.
We realize this is a lot to digest, and we want you to know our virtual doors are open. Please do not hesitate to give us a call or email us if you have questions or concerns.
Rev. Heather & Rev. Molly
P.S. We also recommend reading Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Word to the Church: On Our Theology of Worship.