Friends in Christ,
It was good to be with you in worship this past Sunday. I heard from many of you, sharing your experience of our “virtual worship,” live streamed from a nearly empty Centennial Hall. One worshipper characterized the experience as ‘surreal,’ watching as the pastors led worship in an empty church but noting that “the Holy Spirit was with all of us and will continue to be with us as we work through this new reality.” I shared with him that I did begin to envision the people of Trinity as the service went on; for me, the emptiness of the room was transformed. I knew that you were present. Many of you likewise shared that our “virtual worship” provided a connection with our faith community, and a needed moment of hopeful praise and prayer. We were together in our separateness and seeking to step into the reality of this time with grace, in prayer….
We are most certainly called to pray for one another. Pray for Sarah and Ted and their three children. Thankfully, Sarah tested negative for the COVID-19 virus this past weekend after being hospitalized with symptoms. Still, Sarah’s separation while in hospital from her newborn son, born last Monday, is heart rending. Pray for young adult Audrey, scheduled to fly back from New Zealand to Detroit next Sunday, via Auckland and Houston, before New Zealand closes all flights on Monday for three months, and pray for her anxious family. Pray for Jerry, recovering from surgery last week, for Marian as she adjusts to residency at Porter Hills, for Marilyn as she battles debilitating back pain. Pray for Bill and Deb’s twin granddaughters Joanna and Evelyn, now nearly 40 days old after being born 15 weeks premature. Pray for doctors and nurses, medical technicians and support staff, first responders and all who are seeking the health and welfare of our communities in this time. Pray for those who sit near you in worship, those whose hands you would regularly grasp in friendship at the sharing of the Peace, and those who would process forward with you to receive the sacrament. Pray for the day when we will be physically reunited in community.
As Bishop Satterlee has said, “We will gather in worship as a community again. We will be fed at God’s table again.And we trust that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Let this time be a Lenten fast from the sacrament, so that our Easter joy may be even greater when we are welcomed again to taste and see that the Lord is good.”
In the meantime, let us hold one another in prayer.
Yesterday we received Governor Whitmer’s “stay at home” executive order, the “temporary requirement to suspend activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life.” Trinity’s staff and leadership will comply with this order, and we will continue to learn a new way to be Church. Our intent is to continue to live stream Sunday worship at 9:15 am, and to remain in contact through these congregational emails on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Pastor Dan is convening the youth of our congregation via video platforms, and our Sunday School staff are sending out lessons to our families with children. We are seeking to learn a new way to be Church.
Even as we are cloistered away from one other, it is springtime in our west Michigan world. One Trinity member shared this image yesterday following our live streamed worship:
A sign of spring, the Lenten rose is blooming.
Other signs of new life, of springtime, continue to unfold even in this time of separation, anxiety and uncertainty. Communities of faith are responding to this time of our Lenten suffering, exemplifying the surprising capacity of ancient traditions to adapt and respond to the complex challenges of a virulent virus with innovative ways of being present, practicing compassion and courage, and building relationships in the face of the threats of social isolation and tribalism. We are reminded, in the words of University of Chicago Divinity School’s Dr. Cynthia Lindner, that “receiving the bread and cup during a Sunday celebration of the Eucharist in the sanctuary that has sheltered one’s family for generations” is not an incidental consideration, but rather, “an enactment of the deepest realities of one’s faith and life.” Lindner goes on to say that for millions of believers, it is simply impossible to separate prayer, people and place. And yet thousands of religious communities are doing just that, “calling people to prayer, into reverential relationship with God and with one another, by closing the doors of their gathering spaces and urging their worshippers to stay at home.”
Judaism teaches the principle of pikuach nefesh, the principle that preserving life trumps almost every other religious rule. We join with our Jewish sisters and brothers in doing what was previously unimaginable, telling members of our faith communities to not come to Sabbath worship in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Christian congregations around the world have pivoted from holding worship services as usual to posting virtual worship services online in less than a week’s time, urging their communities to stay home to care for “the least of these,” those most vulnerable in their communities. Even before the governor’s order today, many of us have been making retreat from one another as a way to care for one another.
Last Friday I lifted up an insight from Lindner’s article as we prepared to ‘live our prayers’ on Sunday by staying away from our customary place of worship. Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea Congregation in Los Angeles, after cancelling Sabbath services two weekends ago, urged his congregants to stay in touch with each other even while keeping their physical distance. He wrote:
Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place.
Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern.
Every inch and foot that we physically place between ourselves and another,
must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise.
My sisters and brothers, may this time of “social distancing” become a time of “spacial solidarity,” as we seek to care for one another and our wider community in imaginative ways, without inhabiting the same physical space. May our treasured spiritual practices of prayer and meditation, even our virtual worship, be intertwined with discipleship practices of care and concern for our neighbor. May we find deep connectedness in this time of separation.
It is a privilege to be a pastor among the people of this congregation. Let us keep one another in prayer.
(with inspiration from Dr. Cynthia Lindner’s article, “Faith in the Time of Coronavirus: The Power of Spacial Solidarity” in the March 19, 2020 issue of “Sightings; Reflections on Religion in Public Life”)