Grace and peace to you, my beloved family in faith:
There is a prayer by Thomas Merton that pops up in my morning devotions periodically and always speaks to me in profound ways. It is especially powerful for these days of pandemic, racial violence, stress and so much uncertainty. Let us pray:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following Your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please You.
And I hope that I have that desire
in all that I am doing.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road
although I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust You always,
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death,
I will not fear, for You are ever with me,
and will never leave me
to face my perils alone. Amen.
Making decisions and plans while the medical community struggles to understand the COVID-19 virus, and while government leaders at all levels disagree about what is safe and what is not, is nearly impossible to do. That is certainly true for the church community and communal, in-person worship. The leadership and staff of St. Paul’s UMC are paying very close attention to all information from reliable sources and are seeking to make the best decisions with the information we have from moment to moment. We so appreciate your patience and your prayers.
The leadership of St. Paul’s has decided to tentatively aim for a fall date for beginning in-person worship in our beloved sanctuary for the 10:30 am Sunday service. We will continue to offer online worship going forward through both our website live streaming and on Facebook live. Our online worship will not stop. Cynthia Lunine, our chairperson of Trustees, and her building team have done extensive research and planning and have designed an excellent protocol for our safety. As the time for in-person worship draws near, we will share a video detailing all their work and walking us all through the process for entering, exiting and being in the building. If you would like to be present for worship before fall we would love to have you serve as a scripture reader one Sunday.
Here are the reasons we are waiting for fall and not setting a firm date:
- I am taking a renewal leave from July 17 through August 23. Clergy are strongly encouraged to take this leave every four years. I have been negligent in this, and with all that has happened in the past 6 months, my body and spirit are in need of this renewal. We have some exciting guest preachers for the Sundays I am gone and our amazing staff will still be here for you during that time.
- It is summer. The sanctuary is hot. In summer’s past, we have often moved worship to the basement where it is cooler. However, the basement is a much more confined space and presents a much higher risk for the virus than our spacious sanctuary.
- The small Communion services allowed us to visualize our new protocols for safety in action, and to witness the intentionality it takes to carefully bring more than a couple of people into the building. We need time to thoroughly map out movement in and out of the building to minimize risk, and to train hospitality ministers to welcome and guide our church family. If you would like to serve as a hospitality minister, let Anne Horst know.
- Once upon a time, it was permitted to smoke cigarettes indoors. Some of us may remember how a smoky haze would hover over all the tables in a restaurant or bar. The latest information on COVID-19 shows that the virus is primarily spread through air droplets expelled from the nose and mouth. Like the smoke from a cigarette in an indoor space, these air droplets, which may potentially contain the virus, slowly accumulate and fill a space. The more people expelling air in a space, the greater the risk. The longer someone is in the closed space with others, the greater the risk. The more forcefully the air is being expelled from the lungs—such as singing—the greater the risk. Masks are critically important for slowing down this process. Social distancing also has a huge impact, as it takes longer for the air droplets to reach another person. The size of the indoor space impacts the transmission of the virus, as there is more of an opportunity for the virus to dissipate in a larger space (consider the difference between the air space in the sanctuary versus that of the dining room). Waiting to resume in-person worship allows time for more research and more understanding to emerge about the virus and allows time to see how infection rates continue in our nation.
It is hard to not be together. We miss familiar faces and spaces, and long for the comfort that personal presence brings. The most recent information does indicate that there is much less risk outdoors, especially when groups are small—and, of course, masked and 6 feet or more apart. Small groups could meet at parks, backyards, or even in the church playground for a bible or book study or simply for fellowship. Our staff would be happy to help you plan such an activity. Because we have such a large number of online worshipers (numbering in the hundreds), we cannot hold worship outside as we could not livestream to our website. Our congregation has grown with the ability to worship across any distance.
Continue to connect with your church family through all the ways we have on our website and share through the weekly emails. Continue to reach out to anyone who crosses your mind. It is a whisper of the Spirit. Continue to stay out of public areas as much as possible. Always wear your mask in public. And keep at least 6 feet of distance between you and others. In this way, we demonstrate love and compassion to the world, and we set a good example.
In closing, hear these words from Psalm 143, verses 1-8:
Listen to my prayer, Lord!
Because of your faithfulness, hear my requests for mercy!
Because of your righteousness, answer me!
2 Please don’t bring your servant to judgment,
because no living thing is righteous before you.
3 The enemy is chasing me,[a]
crushing my life in the dirt,
forcing me to live in the dark
like those who’ve been dead forever.
4 My spirit is weak inside me—
inside, my mind is numb.
5 I remember the days long past;
I meditate on all your deeds;
I contemplate your handiwork.
6 I stretch out my hands to you;
my whole being is like dry dirt, thirsting for you.[b] Selah
7 Answer me, Lord—and quickly! My breath is fading.
Don’t hide your face from me
or I’ll be like those going down to the pit!
8 Tell me all about your faithful love come morning time,
because I trust you.
Show me the way I should go,
because I offer my life up to you.
God is with us. God will show us the way. God is our food and drink. Let us trust in the Lord together. Amen.