We are writing to notify you of changes we will be making to our worship, beginning this Sunday, in response to a Pastoral Directive we received from Bishop Fisher this past Monday. In early March, when the global pandemic began to take root in the United States, local churches were encouraged to adapt their worship in a way that made most sense for their context. Here at SsJA, we opted to live stream virtual communion each Sunday. As the weeks have unfolded, bishops and theologians across The Episcopal Church have had time to consider the thinking behind the varied approaches practiced at local churches. With the benefit of this time and consideration, a consensus has arisen that virtual communion, the invitation for parish members to consume consecrated bread and wine at home, is “an experiment born of a pastoral longing to satisfy hungry hearts”, but is not consistent with the liturgical traditions of The Episcopal Church. If you are interested in learning more about this thinking, we commend you to read “A Reflection on the Eucharist During the time of COVID-19” by Bishop Andrew Doyle of the Diocese of Texas.
In this week’s Directive, Bishop Fisher provided clergy with four options that can be practiced at local churches. We discussed these options on Tuesday with the clergy and wardens and then in the evening with the Vestry. After hearing the wisdom of church leaders, we have decided to alternate between Morning Prayer and Holy Eucharist with Spiritual Communion over the course of each month.
For many who grew up in the Episcopal Church, Morning Prayer on Sunday mornings will feel a bit like welcoming a long lost friend. Prior to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Morning Prayer was regularly a primary Sunday morning worship service. However, for many of us this worship service will be altogether new. To help us gain a better understanding of Morning Prayer, we will have an instructed version on Sunday, May 10th at 10 a.m.
Holy Eucharist with Spiritual Communion is a service of the Eucharist without consumption of the bread and wine; it involves participation in the Eucharist without partaking in communion itself, and the request to God to receive its graces in the heart. Prior to COVID-19, this has been a part of our tradition, especially in the Armed Forces. During the worship, at the moment we would normally distribute and receive the consecrated bread and wine, we will take a moment of silence and say together a modified version of a prayer in the Prayer Book for the Armed Forces:
In union, gracious God, with your faithful people at every altar of your Church where the Holy Eucharist is now being celebrated, we offer to you praise and thanksgiving. We remember your death, O Christ; we proclaim your resurrection; we await your coming in glory. Since we cannot receive you today in the Sacrament of your Body and Blood, we beseech you to come spiritually into our hearts. Cleanse and strengthen us with your grace, Lord Jesus, and let us never be separated from you. May we live in you, and you in us, in this life and in the life to come. Amen.
This Sunday we will have our first Holy Eucharist with Spiritual Communion, and during the sermon we will discuss Episcopal eucharistic theology and our thinking behind our choice to adopt a rotation of Spiritual Communion and Morning Prayer. We ask that everyone join the clergy in this fast from the Eucharist, by abstaining from consuming bread and wine for communion. We do hope you will continue to create sacred space in your homes--light candles, print a picture of a meaningful icon, put some forsythia or tulips on your table as you prepare to join us for worship.
No matter what worship service we feature on a given Sunday, you will still be able to find the links to Facebook Live, an electronic copy of the worship leaflet, virtual offertory plate, and virtual coffee hour on our website: www.saintsjamesandandrew.org We will also continue to use the Sunday Lectionary readings each week. Another modification we will be making is to sometimes simplify the service by reducing the number of readings we feature from the lectionary each week. When we do, we will be forgoing the second lesson, and have a lesson from the Hebrew scriptures, a psalm, and a gospel reading.
Since this global pandemic erupted, many of us have been wondering when things might “go back to normal”. As we have lived nearly two months in these strange times, we have come to the realization that there will be no going back to normal. Some parts of life before COVID-19 will not return. We have grief to work through as we live into this new reality. Some parts of life will be changed as a result of COVID-19. For example, we have had numerous people who would never have walked through the front doors of our church who have joined us for online worship. Even after we re-enter our building, we may want to continue streaming our worship services as another form of radical welcome, or for those who may feel unsafe to leave their home until there is a vaccine.
On Tuesday, Governor Baker extended the stay at home advisory until May 18th, and Bishop Fisher extended the suspension of in person worship until May 18th, as well. We wish we could give you a date for when we can be back together in person. What we do know is it will not be right away, it will be a gradual process guided by instructions from the national church, our diocese, the CDC, and Governor Baker.
We also want to thank you for doing your bit by staying home, washing your hands, wearing masks, sending in donations, supporting our mission and outreach, joining virtual coffee hours, bible study, online worship, and praying without ceasing. We have long known the church is not a building, but rather a people. Now more than ever, we are showing the world what it means to be the Church.
We realize this is a lot to digest, and we want you to know our virtual doors are open. Please do not hesitate to give us a call or email us if you have questions or concerns.