Rector's Letter 9/24/2020
I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones safe and well. I have been especially enjoying the nice weather during our recent outdoor worship services. I wrote to you back in July that we knew that moving back inside the building was going to be difficult, but I promised to take advantage of the time we had for outdoor public worship. It has, indeed, meant the world to me to see a few real people on Sunday, and I know many feel the same way. I know that most of the congregation has not felt safe enough to return even to outdoor worship. I completely appreciate your hesitancy, and this has made the vestry’s difficult decision about the building easier. As you heard from warden Ellison Patten last week, the vestry has decided not to reopen the building for public worship. We just do not have the ability to keep everyone safe while inviting in the numbers that would make those risks worthwhile. The vestry has promised to reevaluate this decision, monthly, and may reverse course should the virus take an unexpectedly mild turn this winter, or if a vaccine becomes available more quickly than anticipated. It seems more likely that we will not have indoor public worship during the winter months and that we will do all in our power to regather outside again in the Spring. Of course, we will continue to stream our worship through our YouTube channel throughout this time.
The vestry has voted to allow me to do small private services in the church if I deem it appropriate. Small prayer services and funerals may be held if I deem it safe, though the numbers involved will likely be fewer than a dozen.
We will continue to offer some in-person formation. I am very aware that our youth are feeling “zoomed-out”. The confirmation class is meeting outside through the fall. I am about to start a Youth Bible Study for those younger than Confirmation age. This will also meet outside. I will be hosting an outdoor reenactment of the Last Supper with the younger children who are preparing for their first communions. Please let me know if you have an interest in participating. Our communion celebration will be on All Saints Day (November 1st). This will likely be our last outdoor Eucharist for the season.
The Church of the Advent is not permitted to host our usual Sunday School this year, but we will be posting videos on our YouTube channel. We are also continuing with our adult formation though all these meeting will be virtual. Our Bible Study this year is on the Gospel of St. John. John is a fascinating and theologically rich text. We have a good size group, but we always have room for more. The Bible Study meets at 8:30 am on Wednesday mornings. No previous knowledge of the text is necessary to participate, and the text will always be on-screen (though if you do not have a Bible, I would be glad to give you one). Please contact me if you are interested in participating.
We are also starting a new video and conversation series on race called Sacred Ground. If you would like to explore the issues of race in a prayerful and thoughtful way, I encourage you to sign up. We will be working with our deanery partners at St. John’s and Epiphany Parish. The meetings will be the first Wednesday of the month at 7:00pm. There are videos and short articles to read for this series, so please reach-out in advance if you would like to participate.
We also host a weekday prayer service that can be found on our YouTube channel accessible through YouTube or our website. This is typically an Evening Prayer service with a short homily. On occasion, we pray compline or a Benediction service.
We continue to use our building to the benefit of the community. We have invited back the smaller AA and Al-Anon groups (unfortunately, we do not have the space to safely distance the larger groups). We are also the commissary and kitchen for Blazing Hearth pizza and The Hot Dog Wagon. We are happy to support these local eateries during this very difficult time for small restaurants. We wish them well and are happy to see our kitchen being used again.
Unfortunately, we cannot use our parish hall for coffee hours, potlucks, and other fellowship events, but we are able to provide space to Beginning Years to run an educational program for K-2 children who are attending school remotely that day. This is a vital community service to both children who would normally be in school and their working parents. We have worked hard with Beginning Years to make sure the environment is as safe as possible with lots of open windows, air purifiers, controlled traffic patterns, separated space, mask wearing, social distancing, and strict cleaning and safety measures. You would not recognize the space. I know this can be sad to see our church space used in other ways, and I appreciate these emotions, but I feel strongly that it is part of our mission to meet community needs, and there are few needs more important than educating our children.
We are continuing our mission here at the Church of the Advent. We are worshiping God in Christ, we are teaching the faith, we are standing for justice, and we are addressing the needs of the community. As El wrote last week, “The Church of the Advent is a strong, resilient home of worship and warmth,” and indeed it is. We will come through this crisis, and we appreciate all your prayers and support.
Rector's Letter on Communion 8/11
This season which the clergy have named Covid-tide has already been long with too little good news. Thankfully, I have some good news for us today. We are now permitted to share the Holy Eucharist with each other again. It has been far too long. This news is well-timed, as we were planning on having a spiritual Eucharist this Sunday for the Feast of St. Mary, anyway. Now we can turn that service into a more typical communion service.
I know that it is not safe for everyone to attend church services, even outside ones. We have Eucharistic ministers who would love to bring you the sacrament. This is now permitted under strict guidelines. If you would like to receive the Eucharist at your home, we can bring the sacrament to you on a scheduled basis. Please reach out to me through email or contact Millie through the church office. We can then find a convenient time for you to receive. If practical, it is preferred to do this short worship service outside. The diocese has mandated that these visits be under 10 minutes. This regulation is designed to keep everyone involved safe.
Receiving the Eucharist during Covid-tide will not be the same as normal, so let me take a few moments to describe some differences from the usual routine. We will be outside in the front lawn as we have been for the past month. This time, we will have an altar with the holy vessels and not just a lectern. You will notice is that I will not be permitted to take my mask off from the offertory through the receiving of communion. This is to assure that I will not inadvertently contaminate the Eucharist with my germs. This masking will make it much harder for you to hear if you are at home or in the in-person congregation. I am also under orders not to project while I am praying the Eucharistic prayer as not to make my mask useless by the force of my voice. I can still preach without the mask as everyone is well over 20 feet away and the Eucharistic elements would not yet have been exposed.
When it comes to the time of reception, I will take the blessed hosts to where you are. We are not permitted to line up or use altar rails. We also will receive in one-kind just as in the weeks immediately prior to the shutdown. I will go to where you are sitting, I will drop a host in your hands, and when I move to the next family, you may quickly remove your mask and consume the host.
I know these restrictions change your experience of worship, but they are worth accepting so that we may again share communion together. I hope that we can continue to have some communion services through the rest of the year. We will continue to have many Morning Prayer services as those services are still easier and safer during a pandemic. We, in general, will have Eucharists during feast Sundays and have Morning Prayer during other Sundays. Stay safe. May God be with you and those you love.
Rector's Letter on Regathering 7/16
I am excited to inform you that, thanks to the hard work by the Regathering Committee in the past few weeks, our application for reopening has been accepted by the bishop. This means that beginning Sunday at 9:30 am we will again have public worship at the Church of the Advent! That is the long overdue good news.
The bad news, as you are all too aware, is that COVID-19 is still very much a part of our lives. Its reality and our need to create the safest possible environment means that we must do things very differently than we normally would. Some of these changes will not surprise you, like the fact that we will not be able to have coffee hour this year, but some, like not being able to participate in congregational singing, we have yet to fully experience.
Our building is now open, but for the safety of those who work here, I ask that you only enter the office when necessary. You may make an appointment with Millie Downing or me by contacting us via email or telephone, email being preferred. If you are having a pastoral emergency, I urge you to call me on my cellphone. We are not being unfriendly or trying to limit the privileges of being members of this congregation, we are just trying to limit the number of people physically in the building. We will still have some in-person meetings through the fall, though many meetings will continue to meet virtually. Beginning Years will also be reopening next month, but parents will not be permitted to enter the building (this is a state guideline). I am proud that this community is so accessible, and it will be fully accessible again in the future. For now, tighter restrictions must be in place to follow diocesan and state guidelines.
What will worship be like?
First, we ask that you register to attend services. The registration link will go out through email and will always appear on our website. When we move inside, this will help us regulate our numbers. Pre-coronavirus, our average Sunday attendance was much higher than we will be allowed to have back in the building now. The vestry will be observing how this goes, and if we need to institute an invitation or lottery process, we will create one. For the time being, it is impossible to know who will feel comfortable being inside our church in the fall and winter. We do not know what life will look like in October and November. It is our current hope to stay outside as far into the fall as possible.
While we are outside, those who do not preregister will have to check in with an usher, or me. For contract tracing purposes, the church needs to know who attended worship. I know that can seem to be a violation of our privacy, but it is a state regulation during this pandemic.
Please walk over, or park, as you normally would do, and enter the lawn through the parking lot side. Like a grocery store, we will have one-way traffic. This is, admittedly, less critical while outside, but we should get used to the one-way motion for when we eventually return inside the building. You will encounter a hand sanitizing station with a health reminder. We ask everyone to wear a mask and to keep six feet away from fellow parishioners. I understand the power of the sense of touch and appreciate how awful it has been to be deprived of human contact. We must not hug or shake hands during this time, however. This is a clear guideline from the bishop’s office, and it must be enforced for the safety of our members. There will also be a sign there telling you that you cannot enter our worship space if you have COVID-19 symptoms or know that you have had contact with someone suffering from COVID-19 in the past two weeks.
Everyone is invited to bring their own chair. We will have metal folding chairs available, but they are uncomfortable, and they must be wiped down before and after use. I believe you will enjoy the experience more in your own lawn chair. You will see that there are stakes marked six feet apart. You and your family may sit together, but please leave six feet of distance between your family and the next one.
We are still not permitted to serve communion, so our worship will continue to be Solemn Matins. On a day with a little breeze, it may be glorious to pray together outside and feel particularly easy to give thanks. Then there will be summer days with blistering heat and energy-sapping humidity. This has never struck me as an overly formal congregation, but please dress comfortably for the weather. Also, if the heat is too much, feel free to sit over in the shade. No one will judge you for it. On hot days, I also encourage you to bring a water bottle.
I know how important music is to Anglican worship, and it will be difficult without everyone being able to sing. Members of the congregation are not permitted to sing even with face coverings. Our diocese is following research that has shown that singing is a dangerous activity when done in groups and must only be performed at least twenty feet from other parishioners. Outside worship will also entail the use of a keyboard. I know how important the organ is for many of you, but outdoor worship is so much safer than being inside that we must give it up for a time.
After worship, please follow the arrows out toward the street. I am not permitted to greet you as I normally would. These greetings cause lines to form and run the risk of turning me into a super-spreader of the disease should I be infected and not realize it. I would love to catch up with you, I just can’t do it after our worship. You may have noticed that I am keeping an Adirondack style chair in the front lawn. This allows me to meet with you outside during nice weather.
Speaking of weather, at least in July and August, we will not have public worship if it rains or if there is a good chance of rain. I do not think we will melt, but all of our electrical equipment that we need to stream our service and amplify our voices does not appreciate water. I will post on the website if we will have to cancel service, and you should also receive an email.
While many of you will be thrilled to worship in public again, I know that it is not safe for all of us to gather. We will continue to stream our worship throughout the 2020-21 program year. I know it will be a little strange having technological equipment out, but we will become accustomed to it.
I know this time has been a real struggle for many of us. It can be a stressful time, especially for the immune-compromised. It can be a lonely time, especially for our older members, and it can be a sad time, especially for our young parents, who worry what effect this is going to have on their children. I continue to pray for you, and I ask your prayers for our church. This is just one step on a long, windy road, one that can seem to go in the wrong direction at times. We may at some point in the year need to again pause public worship. We will do what we must, but I have come to appreciate the moment we have much more. I will enjoy the time we have together how ever long or short it is.
Rector's Letter on Regathering 6/7/2020
My prayers continue to be with you during this time. I know many of you are trying to make summer plans while not knowing what summer is going to be like. The plans you had made may have already been canceled. I know all the summer activities, camps, and vacations that my children were anticipating have all been canceled. That is a tough blow to young ones, but I encourage us all to try to find time to relax this summer. The effects of the Coronavirus are bad enough, but now our nation is going through a period of protest, instability, and violence. There is so much to process and pray about during a time when we cannot meet for public worship.
I know questions are starting to rise as to why we cannot have public worship. The governor now allows us to meet, so why are we not meeting publicly? The easiest answer is the bishops from both Massachusetts’s dioceses will not allow us to meet before July at the earliest. The reasons for this are many. Massachusetts was the third hardest-hit state in the country by the virus. While the numbers are now trending in the right direction, people are still dying every day, and we must be cautious. The Episcopal Church also has among the oldest parishioners with the oldest clergy in the nation. While this is not true for our community, many of our churches have a sizable majority of their parishioners who are vulnerable to the virus. Also, churches do not have the staff to dedicate to sterilizing every surface. Churches, like ours, are busy places. They are not just open on Sundays but offer programs through the week including to outside groups. I am very proud that our church has its doors open to the community, but it does make it more challenging to keep everyone safe.
The vestry will be meeting on Monday to discuss procedures for regathering in July. I will write you as I know more about what that might look like. The diocese will be releasing a checklist of best practices to follow. When the guidelines become clearer, the vestry will let you know if we think it is best to have outdoor worship, use the parish hall, or how many services we should have. I can understand your frustration that we do not have more answers but know that our diocese is receiving advice from professionals in the field of public health as well as from the governor. I, too, am involved in some of these deliberations. What we do know is that parish life is not going to be the same for a long time. We will have to wear masks, sit physically distanced, and not have any kind of fellowship events. At least early in the process, we will also have one-way aisles, no congregational singing, and no in-person Sunday School. I hope those measures will not be necessary later this year, but we do not yet know. As many in the field of public health are saying, “It is not a linear process”, meaning this could get better for a while, worse for a while, better for a while, and then worse before we have a vaccine.
Even after we open for public worship again, we will continue to stream our services. There are members of our community who should not be out in public gatherings, and we want to continue to support them. Our Eucharistic visitors wait at the ready whenever it is deemed safe to begin this ministry again.
I miss all of you terribly. I have always disagreed with the “campus model” of church where the minister of the congregation is only virtually present. We are sacramental people who use our senses for worship. It is hard to just imagine your presence. This is also the longest I have ever gone not celebrating the Eucharist since I became a priest. One of my very favorite parts of my job is offering the Eucharist to each of you on a Sunday morning. It is a powerful personal connection among you, God, and me. This cannot end fast enough, but we must be realistic and as safe as we reasonably can be. Stay safe and know that I will be praying that you can find some way to relax and enjoy the summer.
Rector's Letter on Race in America 6/7/2020
To my fellow parishioners,
I am deeply saddened by the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Sean Reed, all unarmed African Americans killed by the police. These killings have spurred a nationwide action with protests in cities small and large. Christians throughout our country support this justice movement and pray that it will be successful in creating a more peaceful and righteous society that strives to live up to the promises of our faith and the founding ideals of our commonwealth. Our sisters and brothers of color have endured centuries of racism. Much progress has been made, but we should not make the mistake of assuming because we do not see white robed mobs that racism is something from the past. We live in a country that is racist. That does not mean that every individual is a racist, or that racism cannot be overcome, but economic, educational, and criminal justice systems within our society negatively affect Black Americans disproportionally compared to White Americans.
I do not wish to overwhelm you with statistics, but I feel a case needs to be made. Let us begin with economics. A study by The National Bureau of Economic research showed that Black Americans with Black sounding names have to apply to 50% more jobs before getting a call back than White Americans do. The Center of Economic Policy Research showed that Black college graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed as White ones. Black Americans only hold 2.7% of our country’s wealth compared to being 13% of the population. Even during this time of pandemic just under 38% of Black workers were employed in essential industries compared to 26.9% of White workers. These largely are working class jobs. This is one of the reasons why the Black community has been disproportionately affected by the Coronavirus.
The criminal justice system is consistently slanted against African Americans. In a thorough Department of Justice study of Ferguson, Missouri with results that match other communities, Black Americans were more than twice as likely as Whites to be searched by police but were 26% less likely to have contraband. The United States Sentencing Commission reported that Blacks have 20% longer prison sentences for the same or similar crimes than White Americans. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that White Americans abuse every category of drug more than Black Americans save crack cocaine (where Blacks lead by less than 2%), yet Black Americans are 11% more likely to be jailed on drug charges than Whites. The organization Mapping Police Violence has recently shown that African Americans are more than 2.5 times as likely to be killed by police than White Americans. This includes many cases similar to George Floyd where the Black American was unarmed and had not been accused of a violent crime.
The Supreme Court in the landmark case Brown v. The Board of Education outlawed segregation in 1954. For more than 30 years after this case, schools slowly desegregated. We did not solve the problem but progress was made. Unfortunately, America has re-segregated itself since that time. A ProPublica study showed that the number of “apartheid schools” (schools with less than 1% of the student body being White) have more than doubled since 1988 to nearly 7,000. The Government Accountability Office reported that poor, predominately Black schools have nearly doubled since the year 2000. A Rutgers University Study showed that the number of Black Americans living in high poverty areas has nearly doubled since 2000. I am not talking about things being bad for Black Americans during Jim Crow, or during the 1960’s; this is happening now, in the 21st century.
Professor Rucker Johnson at the Berkeley Public Policy Center did an extensive study on the effects of desegregation beginning in the 1960’s through the 1980’s before the process of re-segregation began. He followed the Black students who went to desegregated schools over their lifetimes. What he discovered would have warmed the heart of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Black students in desegregated schools were more likely to graduate and were 22% less likely to be incarcerated. These Black students earned 30% more income annually. There was a difference even in health. A Black American who attended a desegregated school had the general health of a person seven years younger than a Black American attending an overwhelming Black school (essentially a segregated school). Johnson also studied White students who attended these desegregated schools. He did not find one negative effect in any of the metrics for White students. Whites do not suffer from going to school with Black Americans.
Segregation is the enemy. It is unjust. It makes everything worse for Black Americans and does not help White Americans. Our society has grown more segregated over the last 50 years. As reported by the Washington Post, 75% of White Americans do not have a person of color in their social circle. Ending racism will require building relationships across difference. I encourage you to support charities and small businesses owned by Black Americans. Listening may involve some travel, and it may raise the question, “What obstacles exist that prevent more people of color living in my community?”
We Christians must stand up against this pattern of re-segregation. I am a proud American. I know our strengths and our faults. We are capable of fixing difficult problems. We are an optimistic bunch, but when we lose ground in a fight, we can be slow to see it. My friends, we have lost ground in the fight against racism. Black Americans are worse off now than when I was a child. I know this is not the American narrative. We believe in progress. We believe things are supposed to get better, but that is where our Christianity can save us. Christianity holds no such tenet that things always get better. I don’t consider myself smarter or more moral than the people who lived before me. We all have our sins to confess to our Lord. We, as Christian people, have the obligation to stand up and tell the truth. Things have gotten worse, and we have a problem that needs attention. We know that we have a God who will help us. I am proud of the direct action that my fellow Americans have taken. It is easy to romanticize this action with memories of the civil rights movement. However, just as in those times, we need more than protests. We need legislation. We must rededicate ourselves to the fight against segregation. Separate is not equal, and historians studying this period 50 years from now will not be surprised that anger is overflowing in a way not seen in a generation.
We find ourselves again at a crossroads, and now is the time to strike. A new CBS poll showed that a vast majority of Americans believe that Whites and Blacks are not treated the same by police. There may be an opening here for White Americans to really listen to the pain of Black Americans. We need to work together to make sure that the action began in the streets does not die there. I will be listening to your suggestions as to what the Church of the Advent can do to help. I don’t have all the answers, but I know that if we are honest about the problem, we will have a better chance of success. I know, I, too, have to listen, so I will conclude my remarks with a segment from our great American prophet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is an excerpt from his 1966 Convocation speech at Illinois Wesleyan University.
So segregation is still with us. But if democracy is to live, segregation must die. For racial segregation is a consentient body politic which must be removed before our moral health can be realized. And we don’t have long to do this. It is urgent to do it now because the shape of the world today no longer affords us the luxury of an anemic democracy. And we must not only do it because it will help the image of the United States, and it will certainly do that. We must not only solve this problem because it will be diplomatically expedient. We must not only seek to solve this problem because it will help us to appeal to Asian and African peoples, and it will certainly do that. We must not only seek to solve this problem to meet the communist challenge, and it will certainly do that. But in the final analysis, racial discrimination must be uprooted from American society because it is morally wrong. It must be uprooted from American society because it is sinful. And somewhere we have seen in all of the major religious faiths something that tells us that there is something immoral and sinful about segregation and discrimination. The late, great Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber used to talk about the I-it and I-thou relationship. And I say segregation is wrong because it substitutes an I-it relationship for the I-thou relationship. St. Thomas Aquinas used to talk about natural law and moral law and human law. And I say that segregation is wrong because it is based on human laws that are out of harmony with the natural, and the moral and eternal laws of the universe. Somewhere the late Protestant theologian, Paul Thillich, said that sin is separation. And what is segregation but an acquiescently affirmation of man’s tragic estrangement, his terrible separation, his awful sinfulness. And the great challenge facing the nation today is to get rid of a system that is evil and that is morally wrong.
Now in order to get rid of this system, it will be necessary to develop massive action programs. The problem will not work itself out. In order to develop massive action programs, we’ve got to get rid of one or two myths that are quite prevalent and that we hear a great deal around various communities. One is what I often speak of as the myth of time. I’m sure that you’ve heard this. This is the argument that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. Only time can bring integration into being. And so those who set forth this argument tend to say to the Negro and his allies in the white community, just be nice and just be patient and wait 100 or 200 years and the problem will work itself out. I think there is an answer to that myth. That is that time is neutral, it can be used either constructively or destructively. And I’m absolutely convinced that in so many instances the forces of ill will in our nation have used time much more effectively than the forces of good will. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people who would bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on time. Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so it is necessary to help time and to realize that the time is always right to do right.
Now the other myth that we hear a great deal is a myth that says in substance that legislation can’t solve the problem that we face in race relations because you can’t change the heart. And so we must rely on education to solve the problem and not even look to any legislation. Now I guess there is some truth in this, at least a half-truth. We realize that if the problem is to be solved ultimately, if we are to have a truly integrated society, men and women must rise to the majestic heights of being obedient to the unenforceable. And I would be the first to acknowledge that. So it may be true that you can’t legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, religion and education will have to do that, but it can restrain him from lynching me. And I think that’s pretty important also. And so that while legislation may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men. And we see this every day. And certainly there is need for continuing legislative proposals to deal with many problems that we face in the housing area, in the job area, in the school area and all of the other areas where we face the continuation of segregation and discrimination. And so a strong action program will recognize the need for legislation to deal with many of the ills that we still face. And along with this, is the need for nonviolent direct action.”
Yours in Christ,
Rector's Letter 4/24/2020
A continued Happy Easter to you. My prayers are with you and your loved ones. We live in strange times, but I have been comforted to hear folks in some recent virtual coffee hours complaining about the weather. What a typical New Englander thing to do! It may not be much normalcy, but I will take it.
As I shared with the clergy of the deanery last week, I had expected Eastertide to feel very disappointing, but I am holding to our life of prayer. As you know, I have been leading daily prayer on our YouTube page. I will be scheduling this practice through the rest of Eastertide so there will be a variety of different worship experiences. As time goes on, I will invite other parishioners to lead some of these. Each weekday, we will have a prayer service at 6:00pm. We will also have a morning prayer service at 8:00 am on Saturdays as well as our Sunday service.
On Mondays, we will have a time of open prayer. I will collect prayers sent by you throughout the week and pray them each Monday evening. While it seems like a lifetime ago, I took great comfort carrying your prayers with me when Gretchen and I walked the Camino de Santiago. I felt your presence with me when I prayed those prayers, and I know you took comfort having those prayers prayed regularly throughout the pilgrimage. During this difficult time, I again ask you to write some prayers. I will pray them regularly and publicly every Monday evening. These may be simple, informal prayers. They do not have to feel like collects. Just a list of petitions or even a few names are good enough. What ever you send me, I will pray, and I will add my own prayers each week.
On Tuesdays, I will pray Evening prayer with the litany of healing. I will pray our prayer list, and this will be a time to pray for our first responders, doctors, nurses, and frontline workers. On Wednesdays, we will pray Evening Prayer with a short homily. The homilies will focus on some point that was discussed at our weekly Wednesday morning Bible Studies. If you wish to join these Bible studies, please contact me. They are Zoom based, so you will need an invitation.
On Thursdays, we will have a brief time of Eucharistic adoration with a benediction service. For those of you unfamiliar, it is a very simple service, spending some time in front of the blessed sacrament. In this time of our great Eucharistic fast, I think it would be helpful to spend a few minutes in contemplation in this way. On Fridays, we will pray a brief service of Compline, which are our good night prayers.
On Sunday morning, we will continue streaming our services at 9:30am. At the beginning of this crisis, YouTube was able to turn our livestream around very quickly. This worked well for us. Our 8:00’ers could pray with me live, and our service was prepared for anyone to watch at 9:30am or later in the day. Unfortunately, with all the increased demand, they cannot turn the video around faster than 12 hours later. This means that we will be streaming our services at 9:30 am. I encourage you to watch them live if you wish to pray them on Sundays. A video of our worship will be available late Sunday night and beyond if you are finding it easier to pray along later in the week.
Thank you for all your generosity toward our Easter offering. It was very successful. We raised nearly $3,500 for the Medfield Food Cupboard. As you have read, they are getting very short on supplies, and this money will help. We raised more than three times as much as last year’s Easter offering. Our church makes a difference in this community, and I am proud of our work together.
Many have expressed their concerns to me about the church’s finances. It is true that, financially, this will be a very difficult year for the church. We are losing all our usual Spring fundraisers. The open plate has been empty, with a closed church, and rental income is also not where we were hoping it would be. I have appreciated the generosity of several parishioners who were able to pay their pledges early. This has helped us keep our commitments through April. We are applying for a Paycheck Protection Program loan which would be a big help. Hopefully, that will work out. Our application has been submitted to Rockland Trust. Thanks to our finance team and Millie for making that happen.
We are planning some smaller fundraisers. Blazing Hearth Pizza, one of our tenants, makes amazing pizza. They specialize in big parties, like weddings, so they have some time on their hands. They have generously offered to help us run a pizza fundraiser. They will make their wonderful pizza, and we can sell it to parishioners and friends. This fundraiser will be Friday, May 8th. You will be receiving more details on this next week.
I appreciate all your support for the Church of the Advent. You are in my prayers. You have done a wonderful job of caring for each other these past few weeks. I especially thank all the “shepherds” who have been diligently checking in on folks. It has been great to see so many of you in virtual coffee hours. We will continue these while we are closed.
I know many of us are going to struggle in May. It is supposed to be a month of celebrations – graduations, confirmations, weddings; also, the time of our plant sale and auction dinner – and all these events will not happen as we would have wished. Through this, let us not get too isolated. The church is a place of faith and connection. Let it still be so. Your prayers are needed as much as ever, as our society endures this virus and the recession that will follow. Please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, to a member of the vestry, or to your fellow parishioners. We are all here for you.
Blessings and peace,
Rector's Letter 4/3/2020
Holy Week and Easter is our most sacred time. It is a time to reflect on the whole Christian story. It is a time for us to remember how God can turn defeat into victory, death into life. It is a time for us to celebrate new life and new beginnings. This is a time to embrace again that Christ is alive, a very present help in trouble and a joyful presence in our triumphs.
This year, the message is the same, but the delivery is not what any of us would want. Easter has always had a strong family focus in our tradition. Easter is filled with Easter Egg hunts and rolls, visiting friends and relatives, and perhaps preparing our homes for guests. Easter might mean singing in a choir or listening to a trumpet shake the church. It might mean sharing a joke and a smile with fellow parishioners. These small comforts will return, but this year will be different. There is no spin that I wish to put on this fact. It is a loss that I know we will all feel.
This loss presents us with a new opportunity. We can focus on our faith. Our faith is sacramental, and part of our sacramentality is tactile. Our incarnational faith encourages us to worship through all our senses, and, in this moment of crisis, the sense of touch has been particularly restricted. Normally you would be given a palm on Sunday which you can hold, wave, crumple, and perhaps shape into a cross. We cannot distribute palms, but I encourage you to find your own. Take a cut of an evergreen, a budding branch, a house plant, or anything that can be waved. That branch can be your palm for Sunday.
I encourage you to create a holy place within your house. It doesn’t have to be big or elaborate. A small end table with a cloth in a corner of a room would work fine. You could place a candle on it, perhaps a cross, or a Bible. Place your “palm” on it, and say your prayers. On Wednesday of Holy Week, you could place a few silver colored coins to symbolize Jesus’ betrayal by Judas Iscariot. On Maundy Thursday, you could place a bowl of water to symbolize Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet. On Good Friday, you could place a cross or even simply two sticks in the shape of a cross. On Easter Sunday, you could place some flowers on your sacred table. This is a great time to bring church into the home.
We also will have streamed Holy Week services. As you may have noticed, I post at least one prayer office a day on our YouTube channel which can be accessed through our website. It is most often our simple compline service of good night prayers. During Holy Week, I will continue to post services, a few of which, will contain a brief homily. On Thursday, we will not do our usual worship, but I will invite you virtually into my home. I will be virtually sharing an Agape meal with you of bread, soup, and wine. This can be accessed through the web meeting site Zoom. The link to this will appear in the All Parish email. Using this service will allow us to talk to each other during the meal. There are a few short prayers that go with this, but this will mostly be a chance for us to be together.
After our meal, I will head to the church to place the webcam in front of the altar of repose. You are invited to keep a virtual vigil in front of the sacrament. It is the tradition of the church to keep vigil for an hour. If you have never done this on Maundy Thursday, it is a simple and meditative way to keep holy week. On Friday, we will again be back in the church on YouTube. This will be a more familiar Good Friday experience as we will not have to change the liturgy very much from what we normally do.
On Easter Sunday, we will again gather virtually for a joyful service. I hope you will join us online. I thank Eric and Roger for providing music and our lay ministers – Ingrid, Donna, Theresa, and Jill for serving at the altar on Sundays. I have appreciated the feedback I have received on the virtual worship. I have heard that being able to pray along with a few familiar faces has made this experience more bearable, and I am glad we can at least worship in this way. We also will have Easter flowers. The flower guild cannot meet as it normally would, but we can have a few plants around to beautify the church and to help inspire prayer.
The church, when at its best, stirs us to action on behalf of those who suffer. This ministry is especially important when every person is feeling the strain. There is not a person I am writing to who is living what can be called a “normal” life. We are all feeling it, but there are many who are suffering acutely. Many have lost their jobs during this crisis. It has been surmised that not since the Great Depression has such a high percentage of us lost their jobs so quickly. We will need our food pantries in the coming months. The Church of the Advent for decades has provided the Easter meal for clients of the Medfield Food Cupboard. Last month, we were told that the M.F.C. could not accept our food donations because of the COVID-19 crisis. We certainly understand and appreciate their caution. They will have to give gift cards to their clients to make up the difference. This will be very expensive. As a way of helping, our Easter Offering will be dedicated to the Medfield Food Cupboard. Donations may be sent to the office by check with “Easter offering” in the memo line. I thank you in advance for doing what you can during this crisis.
Even though I cannot see you, know that you are in my prayers. I look forward to a time when we can be together in person. I send my best to you and your loved ones. I ask your prayers for the those who are suffering from this virus, and those who are caring for them. I suppose that in our information-based economy, we should better understand a crisis involving a group of people who have the training and knowledge to fight our battles, but, for me, it does not help. I thank this parish’s medical professionals for the great work you are doing. I wish I could do something more active than stay home and drive my children crazy. It is easier on the brain to be active, but, right now, I ask the rest of us to pray for doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals and to stay home. The greatest gift to them is for you not to get sick. Please let me know if you need anything. We have parishioners who love to bring groceries or medications. Stay in touch and keep praying.
Blessings and peace,
Rector's Letter 3/17/2020
As I mentioned in last week’s letter, the Coronavirus situation is fast moving, and we will continue to adjust our common life as necessary. On Sunday, Governor Baker made the decision to limit gatherings to only 25 people. With that reality, Bishop Gates had little choice but to suspend all Episcopal Churches’ public worship. Our typical, daily operations are officially closed through Palm Sunday, but it is my expectation that we will be closed for public worship for a much longer period.
This news comes as a great disappointment to us all. I know that especially during challenging times, we rely on our faith and the faithful people of God to give us the strength that we need to face all that may come. I want to assure you that the church of Christ is not closed, on hiatus, or absent from this crisis. Our life together is just changed, not ended. Beginning this Sunday, we will be livestreaming church services. We have a new website. We now have a new YouTube channel that will stream worship. I may be younger than many of you, but I am not a digital native as my children are. I am learning fast, though. With each passing week, I think I will improve. I will be posting videos of morning prayer (which also serves are morning chapel for my now homeschooled children) and other content. Beginning next week (once we have the proper equipment in place), we will begin posting videos to replace children’s chapel.
If you are in a vulnerable group and do not feel comfortable entering public places, please let me know via email at Rector.email@example.com. We have a small army of people who are willing to make dinners, shop, or pick up medication. Please let me know. You are not a burden. Believe me, our parishioners want to help. These are anxious times and finding a way to be useful is a gift. It is the gift of safety for yourself, and a gift of purpose for someone else. I know New Englanders are tough, hardy folks, who are reluctant to ask for help. This is not a time to show your toughness. It is a time to be smart and to let people who love you help you.
Intention. I want to let you know of a theological principle of which we do not often speak. In our modern world, we do not often encounter the inability to receive the sacrament of communion before very old age. The church has always cared about the state of our hearts, however, not focusing on the inability to come to church as a spiritual detriment. Do you intend to receive communion with all your heart, but due to the difficulties of the world, the Eucharist is not available to you? This intention, this movement of the spirit, matters to God. God will know that you would have been in church were you allowed. This idea is usually invoked due to distance, conflict, or infirmity, but epidemic is a very good reason not to go to church. God knows the state of your heart, and your intention to receive the Eucharist is enough for God. The grace that I found in the Eucharist is what pushed me to be a priest. The Eucharist is powerful, and its grace is lifesaving. The grace and power of God will be with you, even if it is through distance worship, the internet, or simply your intention to receive. Sermons will continue to be found on our church website by clicking media, then sermon archive, or by typing in https://adventmedfield.org/sermon-archive.
Further instruction on LiveStreaming will be coming with this week’s All Parish email. I encourage you to listen to our medical leadership during this crisis. Pandemics do not usually bring the best out of humanity. I know that our church will defy the conventional wisdom and will prove to be resilient and loving.
I will continue to hold you and your family in prayer. I continue to give thanks for this community. Let us hold those suffering from this virus in our prayers, as well as those who care for them. We also pray for all of those suffering economic hardship. May the Holy Spirit push us to greater levels of love and generosity to care for those in need.
Blessings and Peace,
Rector's Letter 3/11/2020
I write to you during a difficult time. We are experiencing more disruption than has been caused by any other disease in decades. My prayers are with those suffering from coronavirus, those caring for them, and those whose jobs have been dramatically affected by the virus. It is during these occasions when the church is more important than ever – providing hope, a sense of calm, and a community dedicated to looking out for one another. God is not in quarantine. God will be with us throughout.
While the church will continue to hope that this will pass over our nation, we will be taking all necessary protocols as called for by our bishops. Some of these protocols we have already been observing with others being new.
1) As instituted two weeks ago, we will not be passing the peace through bodily contact. A simple bow or a smile is enough for the moment. The peace, remember, is the “peace of the Lord” which is always with us. A very present help in trouble.
2) As instituted two weeks ago, we will not share handshakes or other physical greetings upon entering and leaving the church. This does not mean that we must exit the building like it was on fire. I would love to chat even if only for a few seconds.
3) Beginning today, parishioners will no longer be receiving communion in both kinds. The body of Christ will also be given from the crossing and not from the altar rail. This is an effort to limit touching surfaces. I will communicate the Eucharistic Minister, Eric and the choir, the transept side, the pulpit side, and then the lectern side. I know that many people feel very strongly about receiving the common cup. We will be restoring our practice as soon as it is permitted. In the meantime, please know that it has always been our theology that Christ is fully present in the consecrated bread. I will also be washing my hands before communion.
4) Beginning this Sunday, we will no longer be passing an offering plate. For traditionalists, this was a nineteenth century innovation, anyway. We will be using a box - what used to be called the “poor box”. The box has a slot in the top where church donations and offering envelopes can be dropped.
5) When offering blessings, I will not be touching the forehead as I normally would. I will make the sign of the cross over the person and offer my prayer.
6) Coffee Hour will continue, for now, but will require some adjustment from our usual practice. Current protocols no longer permit us to self-serve. Coffee and treats will be provided by a coffee host or other volunteer from behind the counter. Milk and cream will also be poured by the kitchen volunteer. Perhaps we can all become better baristas.
7) If you are sick, please stay home.
8) If you are in a vulnerable group and do not feel comfortable coming to church on a Sunday, please let me know via email at Rector.firstname.lastname@example.org. We have trained Eucharistic ministers along with me who will be available to administer communion at your home. Sermons can be found on our church website by clicking media, then the sermon archive, or by typing in https://adventmedfield.org/sermon-archive/
9) For those who want to practice social distancing, when we include the transept and choir space in addition to the nave, there is plenty of room to get some space.
10) Your mother probably taught you good self-care, but I know we can find it difficult to follow her advice. I encourage us all to really pay attention to our bodies. Get enough sleep, wash your hands frequently, and eat well.
We have a plan, and should it be necessary, further action will be taken. This is an important time to check on vulnerable neighbors who may need help with errands or just a little company across the back fence. Pray for our scientists and epidemiologists who God uses. Please listen to your doctors and nurses. The book of Sirach says, “Honor physicians for their services, for the Lord created them.”
I pray daily for our parish community, and if our contact becomes more difficult due to a quarantine of some kind, I will be communicating more in writing than I typically do. You have my love, and I look forward with you to the other side of this crisis.
Blessings and peace,