I am reasonably sure this has been a difficult week for most everyone, as the grim realities of the pandemic and its multiple consequences take full effect. For us on the staff, the thought of facing Holy Week and Easter without the physical gathering of the congregation has been particularly hard. So, personally, I have been looking for signs of hope and encouragement, as well as for any hints of normalcy amid these fearful times. I found a few, and want to share them with you:
First, in response to someone who asked me about the church closing for an extended period of time, I said that the church is not closed, only our gathering space. The church is actually deployed. I encourage you to think of this time as a period of First Church’s extended deployment and service in behalf of our city – offering Christ’s kindness and compassion, grace and tenderness to everyone with whom you have contact – from family members to delivery persons to grocery clerks to those who have no place in which to “shelter.”
Second, I have become aware of so many people reaching out more frequently to others by email and telephone, stopping to talk with neighbors (at an appropriate distance, of course), inquiring about their well-being, establishing new patterns of greater connectedness.
Third, folks have been showing up for our Bible study and Wednesday night Lenten vespers and Sunday morning online worship. Just so you know, your pastoral and program staff members spend a lot more time preparing together for those services and programs than we ever did before. Last week’s Sunday service was livestreamed from four different states. We will get better with the technical issues as we go forward, and we value your patience with us as we learn this new way to worship.
Fourth, the Pastor Nominating Committee continues to meet and work. It is a wonderful committee, and we are in their debt for their diligence. As they continue working, we continue to explore ways of doing a virtual congregational meeting, so that we can be ready when they are ready to report.
Fifth, your officers continue to meet and work to oversee the church’s worship and program, to lend pastoral support to the congregation, and to monitor the fiscal operation of the church.
Sixth, in an odd kind of normalcy, we are running behind on both pledges and annual giving. This is not a “normal” that I celebrate, but one I note with an earnest request that you take a few moments to make an online contribution HERE.
Finally, as in previous weeks, I want to share four posts that I have found helpful in recent days.
The first recognizes the sadness of those who are high school and college seniors this year – those whose years have ended abruptly and whose graduation ceremonies have been postponed. It is a prayer offered by Michelle Thomas-Bush, a pastor on the staff of the Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina: . https://pres-outlook.org/2020/03/prayer-for-the-class-of-2020/?fbclid=IwAR0fcihNL3cBJ4ouCjwgE7528SrfbK9wl6GjEhUkw1V9idU-9FSCBt3w7Go
A friend shared a poem by the Kentucky farmer-poet Wendell Berry that has long been one of my personal favorites, “The Peace of Wild Things.”
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
A colleague in another state shared with me an op-ed by Washington Post columnist David von Drehle, who contracted Covid-19. It was headlined, “What the gift of this unpleasant virus has helped me understand.” I hope you can access it behind the Post’s paywall. If not, let me know. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/this-is-the-way-sickness-has-shrunk-my-world/2020/03/27/b26da7fc-7039-11ea-aa80-c2470c6b2034_story.html
In closing, as our Jewish friends prepare for Passover (Pesach), which begins at sundown next Wednesday, I share these words from a rabbinical prayer, suitable for these days:
We give thanks
for the many liberations
we have experienced in days gone by.
And we pray that those
who suffer still
may go forth from bondage
into a new day of freedom…
Let all the human family
sit at Your table,
eat the bread of freedom,
drink the wine of deliverance.
Stay safe, dear friends. Hold fast to the One who always holds fast to you.