Greetings St. Paulians friends and family! Grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you! God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, in chapter 43, to a frightened, exiled people—a people who felt all they knew and loved was gone, and that they were far from where they longed to be. Isaiah proclaimed:
But now, says the Lord—
the one who created you…
the one who formed you…
Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
when through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you won’t be scorched
and flame won’t burn you.
3 I am the Lord your God,
the holy one of Israel, your savior.
Later in that same chapter, God spoke through Isaiah of how precious we are in God’s eyes; how God honors us, loves us; how God is with us. There is a reason why Isaiah’s words show up in Advent so frequently. In Jesus, in this holy baby of Bethlehem, we see these promises come to life for us. Emmanuel, God is with us!
These words of comfort take on new meaning for all of us this year. We are experiencing a very different sense of exile. We are removed from places, people, and traditions that we long to experience in person. We are frightened of all the illness and turmoil and pain in the world, and in our own lives. Some of us certainly feel like we are treading water, or being swept away or perhaps burned out.
One of those places we long to be during this holy season is in the sanctuary of our beloved church home surrounded by familiar and new faces alike. We long to sing the carols together, to hear the stories, to experience the holiday hope, peace, love, and joy. How I wish that were possible! Our local and state governments are pleading with all of us to avoid gatherings wherever possible. The Center for Disease Control urges this for the entire nation. Because we have, at St. Paul’s, been gifted with the technology to bring worship into the homes of our church family and so very many guests, we will follow the urgings from those medical experts and government leaders, and hold worship online only for the foreseeable future.
We do feel very confident in the many layers of protection we have put in place to prevent the spread of the virus in our sanctuary. I encourage you to spend time with the graphic below to help illustrate how these layers work. However, we know that any contact holds some risk, and we acknowledge our responsibility as the community of Christ to model the behaviors government and medical authorities are urging. In doing this we are loving God, loving our neighbors and loving ourselves. We will do everything in our power to offer beautiful, spirit-filled, Christ-centered worship through our live streamed and Facebook live services.
For those wishing to spend a few moments in our beloved sanctuary, we are offering that opportunity. We are creating a Luminary Path, a short journey through the sanctuary with a few meditation moments along the way. The path circles the sanctuary, allowing time at the altar, before exiting the space. We will offer an opportunity for you (and your household) to reserve a time to walk the path, reading the poems and scriptures along the way; a time of prayerful, meditative walking in our beloved space. All who wish to participate will need to follow our excellent protocols—hand sanitizer, masks, social distancing with the hospitality ministers, to name the most obvious. For those who are not ready or able to come in person to the pilgrimage, we will create a video journey, posted online. The current dates and times are: Saturday, December 19 from 4:00 to 5:30 pm; Sunday, December 20 from 2:00 to 3:30 pm; and Monday, December 21 from 5:30 to 7:00 pm. Reservations are for 15 minute intervals.
At the altar, toward the end of the Luminary Path journey, you will be invited to pick up a Christmas Eve candle, and use it to light an altar candle, a symbol of what you are holding in prayer this Christmas. That Christmas Eve candle is yours to take with you (and you can certainly take one for every member of your household to use Christmas Eve). We would also like to take your picture with the lit candle to use in a Silent Night Christmas Eve video, with a picture/video montage of our church family. If you aren’t coming in for the pilgrimage, Christmas Eve candles will be available for pick up on the SIDE PORCH of the parsonage, staring December 19. You are invited to take a picture of yourself with the lit candle, or create a video with your household, sharing the light with one another, and send these to Pastor Teressa. If you are having trouble or are unsure how to do this, let me know. Email me (email@example.com) and we can problem solve this together.
I will share more details about Christmas Eve and the New Year next week in another update. Until then, be safe and careful, but don’t let fear take control. Though we cannot be together as we have been in the past, Christ is still coming to us. Christ is already among us, uniting us, loving us. The One who created you, the One who formed you, who calls you by name, IS with you. I am holding you tightly in prayer and love.