As the weeks of the social distancing go on, I know that more and more of us are identifying with the cry of the Psalmist. I know I am feeling the loss of community, of life disruptions, of being able to share the life of the church with you all in person. I know many are feeling the loss of being able to receive communion. I know many of us are missing church.
Our faith tradition talks a lot about longing. St. Augustine writes of longing as often placed in us by God. A desire, even though it cannot be fulfilled, is still drawing us nearer to what has been placed in our heart by God.
If you have noticed, each Sunday in the bulletin we have placed this prayer written by St. Alphonsus de Liguori. Even when one is not able to receive the Eucharist in person, it still is manifest to us in our heart. It speaks how in the longing; we are united with God.
A Prayer for a Person Unable to Take the Eucharist
My Jesus, I believe that you are truly present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. I love you above all things, and long for you in my soul. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though you have already come, I embrace you and unite myself entirely to you; never permit me to be separated from you. Amen. (Written St. Alphonsus de Liguori, 1696-1787)
The conversation in our public life is now turning to the subject of reopening.Many of you have asked about St. Paul’s. I want to be clear that at this point, we don’t know. We do know that it is important for us all to remain vigilant in our social distancing and care for public health. We also know that churches, including some Episcopal churches, have been major vectors of transmission of this virus.It is important to proceed with care.
The Governor has indicated in the weeks to come some restrictions will begin to be lifted. St. Paul’s is developing a plan to reopen that is informed both by the public health guidance of the state and county governments, and the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Though there is a lot that is not yet clear, some things are beginning to be so. First, this will happen in phases, over time.And it will be a progression from where we are now to a “new normal,” that does not look like life before COVID19. And we may be in this “new normal” for many months or years.
Another aspect that is also clear is that members of vulnerable populations will need to continue to shelter in place and stay home, even as other parts of our society begins to resume activity. It is important that we as a church remain steadfast in protecting the vulnerable, and make sure that they are cared for. If you are not a member of a vulnerable population, this will be our invitation and opportunity to serve.
What will our new normal look like in church? We don’t know. Streaming services will continue into the future, maybe accompanied by an in-person congregation. We will probably be wearing masks for some time, and will be roping off pews and spreading out to maintain social distance. We probably will need to increase the number of services to help spread people out, and maybe even have a sign-up system. We may not be able to sing for some time - singing is shown to increase spread of the virus, and it’s hard to sing with a mask. Many aspects of our common life with continue online, and probably continue to grow. Small groups will grow, as an alternative to large gatherings. All of this is something we will continue to discover together. Our community life, and our life with God, will not be ended by COVID19. Instead, we will adapt, and we will continue to grow in our faith.
I am so grateful also to see aspects of our common life grow and flourish in this time. Participation in outreach and service is amazing. Folks joining small groups and bible studies, and now joining in Evening and Morning Prayer each day. The Building may be closed, but our spiritual life is growing and growing. The life of the church is certainly not closed.
Laura and I are beginning a plan to recruit a small army of Eucharistic Visitors who can help to distribute communion to those who are not able to leave their homes as things begin to open. We believe we need to recruit 50+ people who are not members of vulnerable populations to take part in this ministry of delivering communion to people in their homes. We are developing a method that is safe and caring to do this. If you may be called to serve in this way, please let Laura know. You can reach her by email at [email protected]
Last, if you or your family are experiencing financial hardship at this time – Laura and I have funds to help. Please reach out to us and we can assist you.
Know that we are all in this together. And that I am grateful for the ways that our parish community is pulling together at this time. Please pray for me, as I continue to pray for you.
The Reverend Noah H. Evans, Rector