Anglicans are pushing back the darkness of the pandemic in which we now find ourselves. In one community after another, hope is being brought to those in despair and isolation. Healing is happening through the service of sincere and loving Christians. In the online clergy covenant care group to which I belong, I listened today with thanksgiving to the stories of how fellow clergy are meeting needs of their congregations and those who literally walk in off the streets. There is no “normal” for any of us as we struggle to meet the needs around us. In this disorienting time when we are doing “church” in a way we could never have imagined, nothing is the same…and yet Christ’s love, the authority and clarity of God’s word, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit are exactly the same! I have been blessed to receive stories from many of you, our readers, of how your congregations are adapting your worship, your pastoral care and your mission to the need for social distancing.
Here are three stories from around North America that I’ve come across, three congregations who are sharing the transforming love of Jesus Christ in creative ways– adapting worship and prayer, pastoral care, and outreach just as the Church has done during plagues throughout history —one little act, one kind word, one prayer at a time.
When the internet is not the best option:
Many, if not most, of our Anglican congregations are learning to host Sunday worship to members at home through the internet: live-streaming, pre-recorded or by a video conferencing platform like Zoom. The Province has published a wonderful list of those congregations and their online Sunday worship times here: http://anglicanchurch.net/?/main/page/1994
But St. John’s Anglican Church in rural Americus, GA, decided differently. For a variety of reasons, their members felt more comfortable with listening to the service on radio. Everyone has a radio, but not everyone has a computer, laptop, tablet or I-phone. They discovered they could purchase time on the radio for Sunday mornings. Now St Johns celebrates the Eucharist Service along with the Daily Office from the Prayer Book on WISK 98.7 FM at 10 AM Sunday. After listening to the service, members can drive to St. John’s where from 10:30 to 12:00, their Rector, Fr. Jim Parker offers the Reserved Sacrament at the church steps for two members at a time.
When you can do ‘social distancing’ and still bring the love of Christ:
In the heart of Pittsburgh, the Rev. Jonathan Millard and the staff of Ascension Church listened to the many medical professionals in their congregation who advised them urgently to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic by asking the congregation to observe “social distancing.” They did so immediately, weeks ago, but as they observe on their website:
“The danger as we take these necessary measures is that social distancing would turn into isolation, and that we would no longer be able to fellowship or to care for one another as the body of Christ. We have asked community groups to continue to meet in virtual form, through Google Hangouts, Zoom, or some other online tool, and we are committed to continuing to pray for one another and offer assistance as we are able.”
But then they took an additional wonderful step in creating a “Congregational Care Hub” through an on-line questionnaire “to understand what needs exist within our congregation and beyond, and then deploy the vast resources of our congregation to meet them.”
Here are some of the questions they ask their members to address:
- Do you have all the supplies (food, prescriptions) you need if quarantined for a 2-week period?
- Are you in a Community Group? (Community Group leaders will regularly check in with their members)
- If not in an Ascension Community Group, do you want to be partnered with a ‘buddy’? Buddies will check in on you regularly by phone, will pray with you and for you, and will alert church leaders to your needs should you become ill or be in extended quarantine.
- Would you be willing to be a ‘buddy’ to someone who needs one during the current crisis (the next 8 -12 weeks)?
- There are populations that are more vulnerable – those 60+, those with underlying conditions, those adults who are single and living alone. Will you actively reach out to 3 – 5 people in your Ascension family in an ongoing way who fit these descriptions, communicating with them at least weekly for the next 8 – 12 weeks (or until the crisis subsides)?
- Similar to above, will you actively reach out to 3 – 5 individuals beyond your Ascension family – in your neighborhood and professional worlds – who are particularly vulnerable or who are in isolation due to exposure and/or sickness, communicating with them at least weekly for the next 8 – 12 weeks (or until the crisis subsides)?
The form goes on to ask if members would be willing to prepare meals for home delivery, to deliver those meals, to run errands…and more. You can find the form on the Ascension Church webpage “Covid-19 Response: Serving our Neighbors” here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdzDNMd9fu-FTyV-Z_0mwZjJK052tMfQRi7UxznLFYg9xkKLA/viewform
At Ascension, pastoral care is not merely “in-reach”—it has come to be at the heart of outreach to neighbors!
When anxious neighbors need the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
St. Mark’s is a mid-sized Anglican church in the Philadelphia suburb of Rydal (in the ACNA-REC Diocese of the Northeast). Last week, their Rector, Fr. Jason Patterson, wrote to the members and asked them to change their thinking from being a “congregation” to being a “parish.” Historically, a “parish” was and is a church responsible for the spiritual welfare of everyone in the geographic area in which it as founded—whether they attend the church regularly or not. This is how the local church functions as a parish in the Church of England to this day.
Fr. Jason invited the people of St. Mark’s to see their neighborhood in the same way. They already have a classical Christian School as part of their “parish” church, but he wanted to do more. Seizing the pandemic and social distancing as an opportunity to connect with their neighbors, he wrote:
“[We have] a particular duty towards those who live in our neighborhood. We are a visible presence here, and we need to be a spiritual presence as well. To that end, we have drawn up a short flyer (which is attached) and I’d like to see this flyer placed on as many doors and mailboxes in this neighborhood as possible. To do this – we need help. It is still ok to take a walk outside and we will not be knocking on the door or seeking to engage with the people – we will simply leave the flyer and invite our neighbors to respond.”
The flyer presents a brief outline of the Gospel and an invitation to “turn to God” in times of trouble (Phil. 4:6-7). On the other side is a question: “Are you anxious or afraid, or would you simply like to talk or to know that someone is praying for you?” followed by an email and phone number for the church and the Rector, and an offer to pick up and deliver supplies to those shut in. You can find the form here: https://www.saintmarksrec.org/neighborhood-handout
St. Mark’s parish is caring for their neighborhood spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Who knows how far this simple act of caring may open doors and eternal turning points to their neighbors?
There is also now a new global prayer network that prays for 8 minutes at 8:00pm in every time zone across the globe. It was launched by one of our AAC Board members with the help of others just last weekend, and in a few days over 4,000 signed up! You can read all about it here: https://americananglican.org/current-news/eight-at-eight-a-global-prayer-initiative/
You see, this is an incredible time for each one of us, no matter where and how we serve, to push back the darkness of death and disease. One simple act, one kind word, one prayer at a time in Jesus’ name!