a resource for this time of COVID-19 social distancing
By the Rev. Bruce W. Gray
I have been quite remiss in updating this blog, and can offer any number of excuses, most of them accurate. Suffice to say that I apologize for not being online in this way over the last couple months.
The biggest obstacle to knowing what to put down in bits and bytes here is that the situation of COVID and the rest of the world has been in such flux. Perhaps a better way of saying it is that I have felt in flux as the world has done its usual twists and pirouettes. More than once, I had just about finished an entry and it would become woefully out of date before I posted it.
So today I am just writing about this moment. Holy Family returned to in person worship at 8:00 and 10:00 on Sundays inside the sanctuary. We pushed ourselves, learned some skills, and spent some money, to be able to live stream the 10:00 service. Everyone is cooperating in social distancing, wearing masks, and washing well. Socializing over refreshments continues to be deeply missed, but the time is not right yet for that step. It is also clear that it is not the right time for some folks to return to in person worship, and only they will know when it is good for them to do so. The numbers of participants on the live stream added to the in person count each Sunday gives a total the same as our average Sunday attendance in pre pandemic years, and I hope this means that people are finding that online experience to be helpful and God filled.
One deeply held value by the Episcopal tradition is that the individual is the primary source of spiritual and ethical decisions rather than the institution. This means that there is a great deal of trust in each person's relationship with God, and all the responsibilities that flow out of that relationship. This includes how often any person should attend church, what ministries are appropriate for involvement, and how to live out the Christian walk on an everyday basis.
There are within different religious traditions various degrees of the authority over one's spiritual/ethical life resting on oneself versus on what the institutions say is the right way to believe and behave. Sometimes it can be hard to know what the closest held values really are, since sometimes the written and proclaimed values are different from what actually happens within the congregation. In other words, sometimes peer pressure and parish traditions can overwhelm stated belief. A simple example is most congregations of any tradition talk of themselves as being friendly and welcoming, often written in Mission Statements, but the experience of a new comer is that the community is only friendly to the people they already know.
I feel free to use that example because Holy Family truly is friendly and welcoming, in part because there is much effort both at being so and also in following up with newcomers to see what their experiences have been so that we can improve on our behaviors.
Through my years as an Episcopal priest, I have experienced a wide range of reactions, both in myself and others, of where the Episcopal Church falls on this authority issue. Sometimes it creates frustration since it would be easier if someone else would tell everyone what to do. Sometimes it creates joy at the freedom to be true to God in more ways than written rules could ever anticipate. Sometimes there is a piece of both of those arguing within a person for dominance. Sometimes the church itself is frustrated, and tries to throw out one approach or the other, but since we need at least a bit of both, most of the time we come to our senses before taking such steps.
All this rumination is to say that if being a church from a distance for the majority of the past months has produced all sorts of emotions, questions, and odd wonderings, well then, the situation is normal but just more obvious. That is why the only thing that should be fully counted on is God's abiding love, and how we live in response is always an open question needing the best possible answer for today, and only today, and then seek tomorrow's wisdom tomorrow.