Through our liturgy, we express who we are and what we believe. This is most profoundly done in the Eucharistic rite, in which we come together as the Body of Christ, we receive the Body of Christ, and we become the Body of Christ, more and more. In this season of COVID, that expression and formation has been interrupted. We are finding ways to adjust, certainly. And we are grateful for the technologies that allow us to gather, to watch, to listen, to be formed in our faith. But as the season of COVID stretches out, we find ourselves to be a people of longing – longing to be together, longing to worship God in song and movement, longing for the Sacrament of the Body of Christ.
In many ways, the season of Advent couldn’t have been better timed this year. For while the season includes themes of preparation and anticipation, it also holds space for longing and waiting and weariness. As the Church of the Advocate gathers on Zoom this Advent, we include a Liturgy of Longing. The liturgy was adapted from a blog post by James Koester, of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE), The Sacrament of Our Longing. Through it, we acknowledge our longing and our thirst, and we realize our oneness with all the people of God who thirsted before us. Wherever we are, we drink a cup of water, and we are reminded of God’s promise to be with us and to give us something to drink.
As this difficult year comes to a close, we invite you to take the time to celebrate Advent. A season of anticipation and waiting, Advent can be a wonderful time to pause and reflect not just on what has happened, but what is to come. To help you celebrate this season, we’ve gathered ten resources for Advent. From all of us at ECF, we pray that your Advent is filled with health and hopeful anticipation.
1. 5 Ways to Prepare Ye is a short and practical article to help Episcopalians recognize and observe the differences between Advent and Christmas.
2. Journeying the Way of Love Advent Curriculum: The Episcopal Church has produced this four-week curriculum that moves through the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke. It’s perfect for use during your Christian Formation hour before or after church and can be used by small or large groups.
This has been a trying year. The Church in 2020 has gone through major adjustments in light of the Pandemic. Even with Facebook Live services and Zoom Bible Studies, many miss participating in the Eucharist, the singing of hymns, coffee hour, and other rituals that bind communities of faith.
Yet, there is a bright side to the present circumstances. This is a great opportunity to strengthen our spiritual lives in ways that often come when our lives are still. Here are some practices we can implement as we also practice our social distancing and our quarantines.
1. Reading the Bible: Ok. Ready for this? Some of us attend churches where both Word and Sacrament are pillars of worship, but if we are honest, the actual practice is Sacrament over Word. We love the beauty of the Eucharistic rituals, yet there is not a bible to be found in the pews: only prayer books and hymnals. Some of us need to brush up on the Word of God and meditate on it day and night (Joshua 1:8).
We’ve been in Covid time for more than four months now. It has taken a while for us to realize our spiritual needs and desires and our abilities to meet them. The human contact, the Eucharist, the singing together, are all missed sorely. We find some of our spiritual longings are met by Zoom, a technology developed just in time to allow us to see each other, to connect, to gather, to pray together on Sunday.
Still, through the weeks, the end of the day is hard. More and more, people report having trouble getting to sleep, especially if they have checked in on the news in the hours prior. The what ifs, the hows, and the realities of our personal lives, the community and the nation are alarming or frightening or discouraging at best. Those who live alone have no one with whom to process the day, the week, the season. Others welcome a transition from day to night just as much.
We’re all longing for meaningful connection in this strange, new land of Coronavirus, and especially as we try to be church online.
But, in fact, we’ve seen virtual connection that is beautiful and holy – in the face of Mister Rogers, that Presbyterian pastor-turned-TV personality. Mister Rogers knew how to connect with his viewers. So much so that many of us who watched would answer his deeply personal questions, right there, out loud, in our living rooms.
How can we ensure Mister Rogers moments – and more – in our worship, meetings, formation, and fellowship? In serving an Episcopal parish in my hometown of Memphis, TN this summer, I am wondering what might guide our vision going forward. What questions should we ask ourselves about being church in 2020? How can the online experiences, birthed so quickly in the past 15 weeks, be retained, enriched, and expanded?
Sunday worship on Facebook. Coffee hour on Zoom. Staff meetings on Teams. At first, it was great to know that we could connect without being physically present. It felt like a bridge from our current situation until that time when we could be together again.
Then I started feeling exhausted. I couldn’t figure out why. I talked with friends, and they shared the following comments:
“I love being able to participate in the Holy Eucharist via Facebook, but there aren’t a lot of us that watch live, and I feel like I need to be commenting throughout the service, or I’ll look like I’m not really engaged.”
On January 15, 1941, at the Stalag VIII-A prisoner-of-war camp, in Görlitz, Germany, a crowd of prisoners and Nazi guards gathered in a freezing hall to listen to a performance.
The make-shift orchestra, made up of four prisoners performing the four instruments available at the camp – a worn-out cello, piano, clarinet, and violin – became one of the most famous compositions to come out of the war years.
At the outset of World War II, French composer Olivier Messiaen was drafted into the French army and assigned to a non-combatant role. Nevertheless, in May 1940, as France was succumbing to the Nazi invasion, he was captured at Verdun and taken to a war camp in a town near the border of Germany and Poland.
I’m studying Matthew 9:35 – 10:23 for lay preacher school and Jesus is filled with compassion for the crowds because “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” He calls for laborers to help with the harvest at hand and sends out the disciples to proclaim and heal. Jesus did not call for biblical scholars, grand speech-makers, top-notch administrators, or anything other than ‘common laborers’.
I’m content to be a laborer and it’s from this place that I find such disappointment in the church’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. All denominations come under my disappointment, none is singled out.
What you are about to read is my sense of things and mine alone, although I did see a glimmer of solidarity in a video from Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes (CEEP), Mourning Our Changing Church, when I heard the comments of Micah T.J. Jackson, President, Bexley Seabury Seminary in Chicago. In any case, I know this is a minority view. Here goes.
This morning just after sunrise I watched and listened to a fellowship of cardinals gathered high in a maple tree. I could hear them chirping, “The Lord be with you.” “And also with you,” as they hopped among branches, munching on the tasseled buds. Sure, they get to come together for communion, I thought enviously.
Envy aside, I am grateful for opportunities – more than ever, actually – to participate in worship with hundreds of others, even with thousands on the National Cathedral’s Sunday morning live stream. There, after the bread and wine are blessed, we are led in the “spiritual communion” prayer by St. Alphonsus de Liguori (1696-1787):
“Zoombombing” is when an uninvited person joins a Zoom meeting, usually for the purpose of gaining a few cheap laughs at the expense of the participants.
Because Zoombombers sometimes use racial slurs, profanity, pornography, and other offensive imagery, faith communities have begun to password protect their online worship services in order to prevent univited Zoombomers from entering.
I would like to suggest that password-protected online worship services are a huge missed opportunity for evangelism.
It’s been nearly 40 years since the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was adopted for use in The Episcopal Church. This means that nearly two generations have been raised in the church experiencing the “exchange of the Peace.” A large number of today’s Episcopalians were raised in other traditions, or in no faith tradition at all, and for them, the exchange of the Peace is part and parcel of being an Episcopalian.
The practice emulates the greeting of Jesus in the post-resurrection gospel stories. Extra-liturgical evidence can be found in the Epistles, as Christians “greet one another with a holy kiss” (I Cor 16:20), and baptismal liturgies as early as the 2nd century record the ministers exchanging the Peace with the newly baptized. It spread from there. But the practice pretty much disappeared from the liturgy in the Church of England in the 16th century, returning in the late 20th century, and in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church. While it took a few years for many Episcopal congregations to get the hang of the practice, after nearly forty years, we are pretty good at it. We shake hands, hug, or nod. “Peace be with you,” we say, or “The Peace of the Lord be with you.”
On Easter Eve, the United States of America passed a milestone: peak resource use as a result of COVID-19 infections. Every state has a unique peak resource use date. Some have already passed them. Others have yet to. But as a nation, we are starting down the mountain. This according to The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
There is no “on” switch to be flipped. Scientists and other health care professionals continue to warn us that restarting a nation as big as the United States will have to be done with great care, in stages, over time. Balancing health concerns and economic recovery from a pandemic will be one of the most extraordinary challenges that our nation, and, in fact, the world, will ever face.
Church pastor dies a week after contracting COVID-19
This article was published on the Chicago Sun Times Wire Service on Monday, March 30. In this short but moving piece about assistant pastor Angel Escamilla, assistant pastor of the local Assemblies of God church, the lead pastor describes Angel as having had “the spirit of a dove, the strength of a warrior, the faith of Abraham and when he prayed you knew he was talking to Heaven.”
What the first article didn’t say is that he contracted COVID-19 after two weeks of the entire worship team gathering at the church’s worship center to livestream services. It didn’t report that the pastor had told the team that livestreaming from the church was an essential service, and those who didn’t feel that they were essential were welcome to stay home if that made them feel more safe. It didn’t convey the fact that several members of the worship team had also tested positive for COVID-19 and were sick or that the lead pastor had encouraged them to withhold this information from the congregation out of “pastoral concern.”
All of that news was broken by a local investigative reporter in a piece published the very next day.
In our previous post we talked about how a faithful response to the current pandemic involves more than simply live streaming worship services (congregations do not live by worship alone), but involves finding creative and experimental ways to do and be all the things that churches (and other faith communities) are supposed to be and do, and especially how we exercise our “burden of care” to our neighbors and neighborhoods. And that our responses may ultimately lead to our congregations and the communities they serve surviving and thriving together.
Subsequent posts will deal with each of those things in turn. But let’s start with what we learned from our recent experiment with online worship (last Sunday), in cooperation with Church of the Ascension in Gaithersburg, which reached 51 people on Zoom and 900+ on Facebook Live.
So what did we learn?
Below you will find resources we’ve gathered from across the Church, designed to inform and support us through the current COVID-19 pandemic. Included are the most recent messages, resources and recommendations from the Episcopal Church, recommendations from the CDC and WHO (in English and Spanish), and various worship, prayer, and community resources to use during this time. We hope you find them helpful. We join in prayer with our siblings around the world, as we navigate this difficult time together.
Note: We will update this list as new resources are made available. If you have a relevant resource to share, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Jesus answered, “This is the work of God: that you believe [adhere to, trust in, rely on, and have faith] in the One whom He has sent. (John 6:28-29 AMP)
As church workers and leaders we are often very busy in our congregations. If not mindful we find the works of the Church spilling into our Sunday worship. For example, the wardens may be tinkering with the heating, the treasurer may be reviewing the weekly finances, the secretary may be opening mail, and volunteers maybe preparing for coffee-hour all while the Service is ongoing.
As a new Episcopal Anglican in my early 20s, I consumed all I could find of the writings and interviews of Michael Ramsay, the 100 Archbishop of Canterbury. He was my ecclesiastical and theological hero.
In a late 1970s filmed conversation with then SMU Episcopal chaplain William Millsaps, Ramsay leans in and declares: "John is the Gospel of glory". This conclusion is not unique to Ramsay, of course, but it was his demeaner and accent, and my admiration of him, that brought the phrase home to me. And I quickly determined that John was my favorite Gospel of all.
When I was growing up, my family and I went to the early evening Christmas Eve worship service. It had the most kids, and I can remember some years when that service was, essentially, the Christmas pageant. After worship, we loaded into the station wagon, came home, ate dinner and my parents allowed us to open one present. It had already been a long day up to that point, and I remember being so tired – and filled with so much excitement about the next morning – that I don’t ever recall having a problem going to sleep that night.
Fast forward twenty years or so, and I got ordained a priest in The Episcopal Church. That’s when Christmas Eve, of course, took on another meaning and identity – it was a work night, although one of my favorite work nights of the year. For the past fifteen years, ever since my ordination, Christmas Eve has been a great night to work and worship. It’s also meant that I show up to every worship service, not only the early evening ones but that later one, the beloved so-called “Midnight Mass.”
Thus enters my annual time-warp!