May 14, 2020
My friends in Christ,
I find myself thinking a lot about the Apostle Paul these days, which is uncharacteristic of me. I’ve generally stayed away from him in my reading and writing for two reasons: 1. He seems too sure and too pious for someone like me, and 2. He sometimes acts like a jerk, which I try to avoid. So why has he been on my mind? Paul famously wrote letters to churches all over the Hellenistic world not long after the ministry of Jesus. In those letters, he offered encouragement, admonishment, advice, and theological reflections. He was attempting to be a good pastor to churches, even though he was far away from the worshiping communities he loved. In the days of COVID-19, I have more in common with St. Paul than I would have previously imagined.
St. Mark’s is currently fielding sixteen weekly, online offerings—from garden and film clubs to daily worship to bible study. We are still the church. If you haven’t connected online, please do. We need to see your face, and perhaps you need to see ours. All events are located at the church calendar here.
While I don’t have anything concrete to offer in terms of when and how we will gather again—the vestry, wardens, and I meet next week, and I’m sure we will have robust conversations about next steps—I want to offer to you some broad thoughts about the coming months.
Church is different now. And it will be different for the foreseeable future. I believe our shared lives will be a hybrid of small gatherings and online offerings until the pandemic is declared over by community health experts. This will be a time to grieve those things we have lost and to also lean in to the creative ways we have to be the church together even in this time.
The historical church has survived and thrived in famine, war, and, yes, plague. I see no reason that we are any less faithful or creative than our ancestors. If the Eucharist can be celebrated amidst the rubble of a bombed-out church in England after the Blitz, we can figure out how to be a church in these challenging times. We will absolutely rise to this moment.
We are doing well financially, and that might not always be true. We are strong, in no small part, because of the faithful giving of this community and the wise handling of our finances by our vestry, our Finance Committee and Bruce Jacobs, our intrepid treasurer. Should more members become adversely affected financially, then I expect that effect to trickle into the church. Some people may simply not be able to give at previous levels. Perhaps some lucky people are able to give more. I don’t know. But I do know that we will figure it out and will continue the ministry that we have been given by God to be healing to each other and this city, even in this difficult moment.
Our job has not changed. At St. Mark’s, every week, we seek to bring healing to one another, to new members, our community, our city, and our world. Just because we are meeting differently than we used to doesn’t mean that our job has stopped. Christians don’t get furloughed. Your Outreach Committee released over $3,000 in funds to The Gathering and the Riverwest Food Pantry. The Rector’s discretionary account has supplied over $3,000 in hunger prevention support as well as about $1,000 in rent support. And I expect that urgent needs will continue as will our response. I appreciate that it can feel daunting to think about taking care of others when so many of us feel isolated, worn down, scared, and/or listless. Just because we cannot do all that we could do before does not mean that we can do nothing. Write to me with your ministry ideas, and let us get them implemented. Donate money broadly if you are able to do so—to the church, to the food pantries, to organizations seeking justice in our communities for the poor and the vulnerable. If money is in short supply, call others in the parish; make phone dates; go on distanced walks with one another; notice who is missing and who needs to be contacted. The disciples cast out demons and healed the sick. You have no less power than they did.
This is a time for great gentleness to the self. Concentration may be difficult. Tempers may flare. Hopelessness can be real and can sit like an elephant right on your chest. All of those feelings are welcome here. Just as gratitude, joy, and lovingkindness are welcome. We are complicated creatures, made in the image of God. We say in church, “God knows our frailties and our failings,” and I think that’s exactly right. Ask God for great gentleness for yourself. And gentleness for your neighbor. Every person you encounter is literally trying the best they know how to respond to this pandemic, and it is inevitable that sometimes that response will have more grace than others. Use this time to think about the vulnerable communities—particularly poor communities and communities of color—who live in economic uncertainty every day of the year. Perhaps this experience will help those of us who are relatively comfortable to work for greater solidarity with those at the margins who experienced lockdowns of violence and degradation well before COVID-19.
Continue your walk with God. Move deeper into your sense of vocation. What is it you are being called to do in such a time as this? What is it God imagines for the world at a time like this? St. Paul wrote these words to the church at Philippi two thousand years ago, and I don’t think I could find better: “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.”
In God’s Providential care and in the hope of the Resurrection,
Fr. Ian Burch