This Sunday, Jesus feeds the five thousand. Our Gospel reading these past weeks have been beautiful parables about sustainable, transformative faith, growing and building and impacting us from within, even if this faith seems dead or insignificant, originating from a silent, unrecognizable place, a place comparable to the size of a tiny mustard seed.
We gather on a hill. We listen to Jesus’ teaching. We are hungry, overwhelmed, tired, and perhaps weary. And yet, in the midst of circumstances which appear dire, food for five thousand appears and feeds all who have gathered.
What are you hungry for? Are you being fed?
We find ourselves in the midst of uncertainty. COVID has gone nowhere. But our level of comfort of living with the virus has increased. Caution and precautions are evolving. Many are added to the numbers of exposure. As wearing a mask becomes the new norm, some believe preserving the lives of others is too much to ask. They refuse to wear them. School systems are preparing for the fall with multi-tiered plans. Will education be all online, a hybrid, or all face-to-face? Every decision we make seems like a matter of life and death. COVID-19’s potential to infect and to kill is exactly the same as it was in mid-March when we shut down our campus and moved community worship and life online.
For me, the month of August is a time to rest and reboot. We are a congregation called to be Christian community in the midst of COVID-19. We began our journey of faith in the midst of a pandemic in mid-March. It has been a non-stop rollercoaster ride ever since. We prayed during Lent, celebrated Easter, marked the coming of the spirit at Pentecost, and had Prayers Celebrating Pride, all while staying home, staying safe and listening to and implementing the latest recommended precautions. As we prepare to mark the beginning of our program year on September 13th, I am inviting all of us to seek out intentional time during August to read, pray, and to listen, discerning what is next for our congregation during life with COVID-19.
The most difficult thing for me to manage is isolation and separation from people. I have been blessed to spend time with my husband and mother. I miss working with others. I miss worshipping with others. I miss dining out with others, watching movies with others, and spending countless hours in bookstores with others. Trips have been cancelled. Celebratory gatherings put on hold. It is strange how, during walking in parks or riding in elevators, I may jump out of my britches if the person next to me coughs from behind a mask. I don’t like this level of discomfort. Unfortunately, this is the current reality.
What is clear is that we are going to be living like this for the months ahead. I feel discouraged and overwhelmed. I would like the COVID nightmare to be over. But it is not. We must take a moment to rest. We must take a moment to reset. We must take a moment to reboot.
We must remember to seek the sacred in the midst of change. We must listen and discover God working in our lives. We must listen in the present, to be fed, and to prepare for our work tomorrow. For these important reasons, I am asking you to join me during the mont of August to rest, reset and reboot.
Sunday worship will continue. Reflection time to connect on Facebook will be implemented. Other things will be put on pause to evaluate and reconsider during preparation for the program year.
During the July Vestry meeting, the vestry reviewed the results of the congregational survey that was circulated in July. Kara Superfine served as secretary during that meeting via Zoom. Her notes summarized our responses, noting, “Parishioners seem torn by feelings of isolation and loneliness, but nearly all polled would not feel comfortable returning to in-person worship until significant strides are made with COVID-19, such as a vaccine, etc. Parishioners believe St. Elisabeth’s has done a commendable job adapting to the pandemic in terms of online worship, groups, studies, and prayer groups.”
At that meeting, we all expressed gratitude for technology that has allowed us to worship together and to remain connected as a community, but, we all expressed a longing for people-connection no technology can provide.
Sixty-five percent of survey respondents supported consideration for celebrating Holy Eucharist on our campus lawn. A plan with precautions has been completed and submitted to the diocese. I hope we can put this plan into play on Sunday, September 13, 10AM. We are calling this our “Lucky 13 Ingathering.” Whether or not we can move forward with physically worshipping together will depend on the latest COVID data and information available. The plan includes precautions such as sitting in pods, bringing own bread and wine or apple juice for communion, and wearing masks when not sitting within an individual’s or family’s pod. The full plan can be read on our website by linking here. Services will continue to be streamed on Facebook life even when we are able to resume face-to-face worship.
As part of August being a month of rest, St. Elisabeth’s staff and clergy will take a two week break beginning Monday, August 10 thru Friday, August 21. Sunday services will be celebrated as scheduled but the office will be closed. Week-day worship and formation programs will cease and take a break. If there is a pastoral emergency, the wardens should be called immediately.
As part of my personal reset and reboot, I will be using two books which I hope will provide guidance, insight and hope during life within the pandemic – “God and the Pandemic” and “Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope.” I invite you to join me in this quest. Read along with me daily. Based on the assigned reading, I will post a short reflection on St. Elisabeth’s Facebook page. I pray you will read along and do the same by sharing your insight. The reflections we post together may be the answer to another beloved’s prayer. The reading schedule can be found on our website by linking here.
Here is what Amazon shares about the books:
“God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus” by N.T. Wright – “In God and the Pandemic, N.T. Wright uses both the Old and New Testaments to help Christians think through their reactions and responses to the pandemic. Offering spiritual guidance during a time of crisis, Wright helps readers reflect on scripture, prayer, and teachings from Jesus’ life in order to think differently about disaster and how to react to it.”
“Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope” by Joan Chittister – “Everyone goes through times of pain and sorrow, depression and darkness, stress and suffering. It is in the necessary struggles of life, however, that we stretch our souls and gain new insights enabling us to go on. Building on the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with God and on the story of her own battle with life-changing disappointment, Sister Joan Chittister deftly explores the landscape of suffering and hope, considering along the way such wide-ranging topics as consumerism, technology, grief, the role of women in the Catholic Church, and the events of September 11, 2001. We struggle, she says, against change, isolation, darkness, fear, powerlessness, vulnerability, exhaustion, and scarring; and while these struggles sometimes seem insurmountable, we can emerge from them with the gifts of conversion, detachment, faith, courage, surrender, limitations, endurance, transformation, and (perhaps most important) hope. Each of these struggles and gifts is discussed in a chapter of its own.”