A pastoral letter from our Rector, The Rev. Lael Sorenson
This past week Bishop Brown wrote to the diocese regarding an updated diocesan response to the corona virus, which will mean significant changes to our lives. Effective immediately, St. Peter’s, together with all Episcopal churches in Maine, will suspend in-person gatherings in our buildings for eight weeks. This suspension of gatherings includes in-person worship, governance and formation meetings, Loaves & Fishes, and meetings of outside groups who use our space.
These are new times, and none of us has lived through anything like what we are experiencing now. But we know that staying apart slows the spread of the corona virus and limits the numbers of people who will develop COVID-19, so not gathering has become one of the most loving things we can do. Still, St. Peter’s is Christ’s Church in Rockland. How else can St. Peter’s be a place of common prayer, a witness to the mystery of divine love, and a source of outreach?
First, I feel it is important that St. Peter’s continue to be a place of prayer. We are considering a way to make the church available to individuals at set points in the day for private prayer. In addition, though the doors will be locked and I will be alone, it is my intention to celebrate Eucharist every Sunday morning. I will read the lections, post a homily or reflection for you to read on my blog, offer our prayers, and celebrate Eucharist (alternating between the Book of Common Prayer and a Celtic Service). I invite you in your homes to pray along with me or with one of the many churches in Maine prepared to live-stream services. HERE is a list of churches doing just that. We are not yet ready to offer that at St. Peter’s, but are considering a number of different methods for worshiping together virtually.
If you follow along with any of the online services or just quietly in your home, you may want to offer a devotional prayer asking God for “spiritual communion” which you can ask for any time you are impeded from receiving Holy Communion. One such prayer goes like this:
Holy One, I believe that you are truly present in the 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 spiritually into my heart. Let me trust in your indwelling presence that I may live, day by day, into the fullness of my true life with you. Amen. (after St. Alphonsus de Liguori, 1696-1787)
Yesterday, I met with the wardens, treasurer, and other key leaders of the parish to begin addressing how we can begin living into this new way of being. In addition to working with Barbara Jean O’Brien and other liturgical leaders to consider ways of worshipping online, we also had first training in Zoom, a videoconferencing application. Zoom will be how we conduct meetings at St. Peter’s. The Vestry will meet via Zoom as will Bible Study to start with, but, eventually so will budget & finance, pastoral care, and others. Over the past 10 days I have attended four Zoom meetings of diocesan clergy and the bishop and can attest to its value. We could hear and see one another, get good work done, all the while feeling connected, understood, and cared for.
We also had a good discussion about Loaves and Fishes. People cannot gather at St. Peter’s, but we are going to experiment with preparing to-go meals for people to take away. Food insecurity is real in Rockland, as you know, and the corona virus work stoppages, temporary business closures, and lay offs mean that the numbers of vulnerable people will be growing. Under Ron Staschak’s leadership, we will work to produce meals in accordance with CDC guidelines to all who want them to take away.
I will continue to make pastoral calls and home visitations. In all but the most grave cases, I will not be able to anoint, but I will be able to visit so long as we adhere to appropriate social distancing guidelines, and under certain circumstances may be able to offer holy communion. I have a colleague in Washington State who has taken to visiting her parishioners by driving into their driveway and calling them on her cellphone. They then converse and even wave to one another through the window. Is this something you would welcome? If you would like a visit or have suggestions, please call me at the office (207-594-8191) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are experiencing a significant challenge and need financial help, let me know. The Rector’s Discretionary Fund was established for just such a purpose. We are here to help you.
It is equally true that, though in-person worship is suspended, the life, work, and responsibilities of the parish will not be on hold. It is vital that we keep our commitments regarding payroll and benefits to our staff, that we maintain our building, and support our diocese. One of the most loving and faithful acts you can do, then, is to keep current on your pledges. You can pay them online through this page on our Website, establish a direct debit from your bank, or mail your checks in. You might also consider continuing to support the businesses and services that are also temporarily closed. I just wrote a check to my hairdresser, for example. They are closed, we did not meet, and my hair is going to get a bit scraggly, but, eventually, it will get cut, and in the meantime I know she depends on that income and tip for her livelihood.
Two days ago, the Rev. Lee Karker sent to the Wednesday morning Eucharist folks advance news of our suspension of in-person worship along with copies of the readings he had chosen for the next day. When 7:00 AM Wednesday came, our chapel was empty, but I know from hearing from nearly all of that body, that individually they had prayed, found great richness in the readings, and experienced a sacred togetherness that many recognized as communion. It was communion. And it was holy.
These kinds of challenges – of living through extraordinary and difficult times – this what the Church does best. We will figure out how to be together in love in new and meaningful ways, to recognize the mystery of God in all things, and to give thanks to God for awakening us to the divine presence within and among us, even when we are at a physical distance.
Bishop Brown will be writing on a weekly basis, and I encourage you to begin receiving his posts directly. There is a link at the top of his latest letter inviting you to join the email list. I will continue with the Weekly News, so you can stay on top of new developments at St. Peter’s.
Please, take good care of yourselves and stay in contact by phone or email. If you want me to read your prayers of petition or thanksgiving this Sunday, email them to me at email@example.com.
Finally, I invite you to keep me in your prayers; you are daily in mine.