Dear friends in Christ,
While preparing this article for you, I was also thinking about the Bible texts for the coming Sunday, which include 1 Corinthians 12 (the part of Paul’s letter where he talks about the body of Christ and how each one of us is a member of it). Then I happened upon something on Facebook, written by the Rev. Greg Brown of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, that made me chuckle. It is a paraphase of 1 Corinthians 12 written for our times.
1 Covidians 12
Now concerning the wearing of masks, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that in the time before Covid, we were enticed and led astray thinking that we were not responsible for one another’s health. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the spirit of love ever says ‘masks be cursed!’; and no one can say ‘masks are a really good idea for everybody!’ except through a spirit of love.
He goes on from there, and I’m glad to share the rest of his words with you if you like (just send me an email). But I thought he was right on, because he builds on Paul’s point that the members of any body are deeply affected by each other. When one member of the body suffers, the entire body suffers with it. When one member is honored, the whole body rejoices. (1 Cor. 12:26)
For many of us, that reality has never been more present in our lives than it is right now. When one person is sick, it means that all the others can be made sick, quite literally. We cannot deny that the parts of the body will not always agree—ears and eyes and noses and fingers all tend to see things a little differently. But if one member (of the church or society) lashes out destructively at others, it means the entire body is compromised. Therefore, how do we account for different perspectives while also working for the health and well-being of the entire body?
Father Brown’s point in these few verses is that a “spirit of love” should pervade all the workings of the body. Dismissing masks as a sign of fear, weakness, or control by others is NOT a sign of a spirit of love. But neither is forcing everyone to wear masks just for the sake of compliance. Followers of Jesus are called to a higher standard: doing things not just because you CAN (that is, to show your power) but because you CHOOSE to show love. Love is not a sign of weakness.
Actually, acting with a spirit of love may be the main thing needed for healing and wholeness. Even if one of our St. Peter’s family were to become sick with Covid-19 (and I am preparing myself that it will likely be “when” rather than “if”), healing would come not from cutting that person off, but from showing love to them in ways that also care for the rest of the body’s members. Even when a cure is not possible, healing can still come through showing love.
We have many examples in the gospels about how Jesus healed others, and his methods varied a fair amount, depending on what the situation required. The consistent factors are love and restoration to community. And those are elements that we can continue offering, even when we do not have the miraculous powers of Jesus to heal, and even when the wonders of science fall short of providing that healing. Even when we are not together in body, we can be together in spirit, because love and community is still our shared goal. The “spirit of love,” which we understand to be the Holy Spirit, is acting among us and between us to bring us together in this way.
Shifting gears…I would like to share more about our plans as St. Peter’s. As I’m sure you know, our world moves faster and faster every day, and in the time of pandemic, that seems to be even more true. We can make plans for the next few months, and in a matter of hours and days, those plans seem like they were from another time. But we continue to try!
In harmony with the regional re-opening plan created for New York state, Council has focused on planning for a gradual shift to a drive-in worship service in our parking lot. This will require some new equipment, a lot of planning, and a lot of help from all of you to keep things running smoothly. Council also agreed that we did not want to rush into anything. We are proceeding with caution. If all goes according to plan, we hope to be starting this in the latter half of June, or perhaps even the first Sunday of July.
First, let me say that we will continue providing at-home worship resources in the Chatter and online worship services alongside the drive-in option. We are working on a way to provide the same worship service simultaneously, both live online and to the parking lot. There are many reasons why the at-home options might be more appropriate for your situation, and nobody will think any less of you for choosing them.
Second, you might be wondering why we chose the drive-in format. Here’s a chart that might help you understand our reasoning:
|Worship while sitting in your car
||Worship in sanctuary (with safety provisions in place)
|You can sing along to your heart’s content and join in the prayers
||No singing or communal speaking (these are two activities that turn church services into “super-spreader events”)
|You can open your windows, maybe occasionally turning on the AC
||No fans or AC should be on, as they spread particles through the room
|No need to wear masks
||Masks required (there are places in the sanctuary where it would be difficult to stay six feet apart)
|Bring your own travel mug of coffee
||No coffee or snacks between services
|Social distancing built right in
||No hugs or handshakes
||Limited number of people allowed in the building
|No health or age restrictions on who can come
||People in one or more of the high-risk categories should not attend
A few other considerations for worship in this way:
In order to minimize transmission through conversation and restroom use, the building will not be open on these Sundays. If you need to use the restroom, you may well need to start your car and drive home (and nobody will judge you!). If you need easy access to the bathrooms or have other health concerns, perhaps one of the at-home options would work best for you at this time.
Please do not get out of your cars. I cannot say it enough! We have been cleared to begin drive-in worship, but the minute you start getting out of your cars to congregate, we are classified as a different type of gathering that is more risky.
We will create a plan to mark off certain parking spots to ensure social distancing between cars (so you can safely roll your windows down). Please follow the markers!
I share this not to be a wet blanket, but to help you understand what has brought us to this choice. We certainly do plan to be back in the building at some point, but Council as well as Worship and Music plan to focus on drive-in worship for the time being.
As we prepare and wrap our brains around this idea, I also want to say one very specific thing. There may be times in the coming months, as we gradually begin to gather more often, when I am not as present with you as I once was. For example, I might not drop in on group meetings. If you reach out, I might suggest that we meet by video chat, or talk on the phone instead of meeting in person. Please do not take this as a sign that I don’t want to be with you. I love you all too much to put you at risk.
Think of it this way—if I am meeting with numerous people, then I am exposing each person not only to my germs, but to the germs of all the previous people I have met with. Scientists have told us repeatedly that it is common to have the virus and still spread it, even with no symptoms. The last thing I want is to become Typhoid Mary (Covid Katie?) to you all. I am more than happy to talk by phone, text, email, video chat, you get the idea. I am starting to do a few carefully socially distanced visits (with masks) for seriously ill parishioners, but I will be spacing those out and doing them only when other methods of connecting do not work.
Let me close by reminding you of the values I articulated in last month’s Chatter:
Through Christ, God’s love, grace and forgiveness is present with each and every believer in ordinary, everyday things.
Because Jesus loved and died for every single person, no one should be forgotten or left behind. People are more important than money or resources.
We are the hands and feet of Christ no matter where we are.
You are a part of a strong and amazing group of people who will rise to the challenge.
Thank you for your understanding and your partnership in the Gospel. Again, may the Holy Spirit fill your hearts with peace for today and hope for tomorrow as we move forward together.
Together in Christ,