Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As you know, our Bishop ordered the closure of all churches and missions in the diocese. This past Sunday I sat alone in our empty sanctuary, and it occurred to me that our St. Stephen’s community is the church and that only the church building is closed. We’re not closed. If anything, this is a time for all of us to be even more open to the power of the Spirit working in us, a time for reaching out and praying for one another and praying for those who are ill, those on the medical front lines, and also for the increasing number of people now unemployed and those without a place to call home.
Here’s what I know:
I know that these are unprecedented and uncertain times. I know that the St. Stephen’s community is compassionate, resilient, and faithful. Your vestry, wardens, staff, and I remain committed to guiding the church through these challenging times.
I know that we’ll get through this together. We’re in the process of putting together a phone-tree program where each of you will be checked on by another member each week. Christen and I also will be going on Facebook Live on Sunday mornings with Morning Prayer from our home. It’s easy and low-tech, and you don’t need a Facebook account in order to watch. More information will be coming regarding this. Many of you are already keeping in touch via group emails, sharing art and poetry and other creations. If for some reason you haven’t yet received these emails, please let the office know. Let’s do what we do best – staying connected as the body of Christ.
Here’s what I don’t know:
I don’t know how long this situation will last, how long our churches will be closed, or what the lasting impact of COVID-19 will be. I will be joining a meeting with the Bishop tomorrow via Zoom. I won’t be surprised if he decides to keep all church buildings closed until after Easter.
In this time of uncertainty and anxiety, one thing that can help us is to keep some sort of spiritual practice. There is something comforting about having a rhythm to each day. Here’s what Christen and I are doing, and we invite you to join us if you are inclined.
Each morning at 8:00 a.m. and each evening at 8:00 p.m., we light a candle, some incense, and spend 20 minutes in silent prayer, after which we read to each other from a chosen spiritual book or the Bible, poems, prayers, etc. You may prefer reading and praying from our Book of Common Prayer. I recommend that you look at page 136 in the Book of Common Prayer, which are the Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families, which follow the basic structure of the Daily Office of the Episcopal Church. It would be lovely to know that you were joining us each day at 8:00 and 8:00, or you can choose a time that works better for you. Even if we are physically far apart from one another, we can still pray together.
I remain available to you for phone calls, emails, or texts.
I’ll conclude with Lenten advice from Evelyn Underhill, which I’ve found useful and offer to you:
“As to your Lent: No physical hardships beyond what normal life provides – but take each of these as serenely and humbly as you can and make of them your humble offering to God. Don’t reduce sleep. Don’t get up in the cold. Practice more diligently the art of turning to God with some glance or phrase of love and trust at all spare moments in the day. Read a devotional book in bed in the morning and strive in every way to make the ordinary discipline of life of spiritual worth. Be especially kind and patient with those who irritate you!”
May this be so.