Yesterday, Bishop Perry, along with the other Episcopal and Lutheran bishops of Michigan issued a statement directing the parishes of the Diocese to suspend our Sunday services and other gatherings through the month of March. I invite you to read the joint letter and Bishop Perry’s additional pastoral letter here .
What does this mean? Most practically, it means we will not be holding regular Sunday services, Bible study, Choir rehearsal, or Bell Choir rehearsal for the next few weeks. The office will remain open. I remain your priest and pastor. And I will be doing all I can to stay connected to each of you and to continue to guide your formation in the faith. We just need to be a bit creative about that in this season.
As I said to the Vestry, this decision does not mean we are panicking. Togethre, we are facing a world health challenge. But the world is not ending. We are not suspending our services because we believe this virus is stronger than Christ or Christ’s Church or the abundant life God promises; rather, out of our love for one another we are willing to forego our common life for a time, out of an abundance of caution. We are abiding by the guidelines for “social distancing” (avoiding crowded areas, maintaining 2-6 ft. radius, avoiding physical contact: CDC guidelines here ) in order to care for the most vulnerable among us and the most vulnerable around us. This is not panic; it is solidarity.
But that means we will need to be more intentional in the ways we care for one another. Social distancing should not mean isolation. There are many who come to St. Mary’s for fellowship and to stave off loneliness. We need to be vigilant in checking in with each other by other means (by telephone or online). I encourage you to think about who might need to hear from their St. Mary’s family and to pick up the phone. Consider it a Lenten discipline, to take thought for those who might otherwise be forgotten. Please do not plan to visit one another: if you think someone is in need of a pastoral visit, please let me know! If you know someone is ill or scared or lonely or upset, please let me know!
I will have much more to say about all of this in the days to come. There will be economic costs and there are those in our communities who will lose wages and income they cannot afford to lose. As a church, we will need to pray deeply and think strategically about how we might meet the needs that will arise. If you are aware of someone in financial distress or who needs help getting groceries, please let me know! I have some emergency assistance funds available.
There is some peril in this moment, but there is also a gift. We are so often distracted by the business of life that we fail to attend to the things that matter most. Lent is a season for paying attention: for listening to our own hearts and pondering the shape of our own lives. Most of all, it is an invitation to acknowledge our dependence on God for all that we are, and to return to the fount of every blessing and all joy. There is something fitting in this Lenten fast we will all observe. I will be posting reflections and resources on the website (www.stmarysinthehills.org) and on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/stmarysinthehills) to continue to encourage your journey through Lent. If you are not connected to the Facebook page yet, now is a good time to get connected. I will try to have something for you to ponder, resources to guide your prayer, at least a few times a week. I will also be working on possibilities for streaming Morning Prayer over the next few Sundays. And for those who do not have internet access, I hope to be able to distribute some printed materials.
In the meantime, during this uncertain season, I encourage you to continue to heed the handout from last week’s bulletin: Be a person of wonder. Dwell with God. Walk with God. Immerse yourself in God’s story. Open your existence to God’s essence. Every day, discover more about God’s goodness, truth, and beauty – in scripture, in history, in the world, in the universe, in happiness, in the face of tragedy, in abundant life, in the shadow of death: and call that praise.
If you need to talk or have further questions, please do not hesitate to text, email, or call: (319) 750-4991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
May God’s blessings rest on each of you this day and in the days to come,