Spring,...it is the spectacular season of rebirth and renewal, animals awaken and the earth comes alive! As our world emerges from a year of unparalleled uncertainty, I reflect on the things that have sustained me personally throughout this time. It is through faith, family, friends and the gifts of our natural world that I have found peace and comfort.
One year ago, all that we knew as normal changed in an instant. Simple things that we took for granted were no longer possible, a handshake, a hug, or even gathering together with friends and family members. We were all challenged to find new ways to connect with one another and the world around us to revive our spirit of faith.
As I recall March, April and May of 2020, there were silver linings that I will never forget. It was the most majestic Spring weather that I remember. Day after day of cloudless blue skies, the emergence of blossoms and the songs of birds soothed the surrounding sadness. A call from a friend, or a photo of my family had a deeper meaning. Things that were unnoticed or insignificant in my busy life suddenly became the center of my focus and my joy. There was time to pause, reflect and to be thankful for these beautiful gifts.
Today as we step outside to brilliant birds and butterflies, delightful dogwoods, and verdant valleys, may we be reminded of the great joy of family, friendships and nature. In this glorious season of rebirth, I look forward to the future with renewed grace and spirituality.
While Christ Church is without a priest, individuals in our church family will be asked to contribute brief reflections to our monthly newsletter.
We began quarantine during Lent 2020, and we continue to experience restrictions a year later. Where am I now? I’ve had my first dose of the COVID vaccine. I have discovered that yoga via Zoom is acceptable and that playing the piano each day can be quite soothing. I have accepted that, for now, FaceTime will remain my main source of communication with my children and grandchild. I’ve resumed knitting a prayer shawl I began two years ago. I’ve watched more Netflix movies than I care to admit, and I’ve read my share of books.
Two books in particular come to mind as I write this reflection. The first is A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong, and the second is An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. The former focuses on how the relationship between the secular and the sacred has changed throughout human history. The latter focuses on experiencing the sacred through the secular by participating in daily practices (paying attention, walking on the Earth, living with purpose, saying no, etc.). Both books have had an effect on the way I currently experience quarantine.
I’m encouraged that I can take a simple task like working a jigsaw puzzle and experience gratitude for being able to manipulate the pieces and for being able to appreciate the shapes and colors. I can watch the birds feeding at the kitchen window and say a brief prayer of thanksgiving for all living things. I can take my daily COVID stroll sans ear buds and focus on the movement of my body as it makes contact with the pavement and on the thoughts in my head as I observe the world around me. You can probably guess where I’m going with this. But, in the event that it isn’t obvious, I’ll explain. The intentional practice of taking everyday experiences and recognizing what is inherently holy in them has made this time in the wilderness so much more bearable. During the season of Lent, I pray that each of us is able to experience our world and our humanity in it in a deeper way.
1. Describe a moment in your worshipping community’s recent ministry which you recognize as one of success and fulfillment.
We are proudest of our congregation’s steadfast commitment to worship and service, despite the challenges of the past year. As the pandemic restricted our contact with each other, we found new connections. Distanced visits, phone calls, healing services, birthday cards and notes – all of these became routine parts of our sacral life. Online services have offered more participation to the isolated and people with disabilities, and for those who have moved away or gone to college. We have also offered socially-distanced eucharistic services and gatherings. Perhaps most successfully, our church managed to host a socially-distanced version of the Dan Prince Memorial Oyster Roast, a gala fundraising dinner, with greater success than ever before. Our Loaves and Fishes ministry continues to provide hundreds of meals monthly to the needy, and enriches the devotion and purpose of all who participate. To be able to continue to perform both the liturgy and the devotional work of service, despite the safety precautions required by the pandemic, has been a blessing to us, and a proof of our community’s resilience. We are eager to serve with the priest that God sends to us.
2. How are you preparing yourselves for the church of the future?
We have made dramatic changes to ensure the continued vitality of our church. We have recently enjoyed Low-Church styles of demeanor or address, as well as greater spontaneity in the service. We embraced these changes in the spirit of experimentation and enthusiasm. Also, we have included a new generation in our leadership. Vestry now includes a youth representative, and more and more frequently, the youth of our church have been recruited to serve as worship leaders. In these young people, we are already blessed by the church of the future.
Additionally, our historic structures – the church, parish house, and rectory – have finally been brought into the 21st century. Technological and electrical updates throughout all our properties will make innovative services and programming considerably easier. Our renovated Undercroft features a brand-new nursery, which has accommodated many of the youngest in our congregation. Most crucially, we have made sure each building is structurally sound, and meaningfully repaired. Our church will be able to shelter new generations of believers in the coming decades.
3. Provide words describing the gifts and skills essential to the future leaders of your worshiping community.
Enthusiasm and joy in worship, integrity and curiosity in teaching, tolerance and collaboration in communication.
4. Describe your liturgical style and practice for all types of worship services provided by your community.
Our liturgical style is traditional. We hold two services on Sunday morning; at 8:00 a.m., we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, Rite One, and at 10:30 a.m., a Rite Two service. We have experimented with contemporary music and style of worship, including a “banjo church” event at Rooster Walk, the music festival hosted in our county. Contemporary services are usually held once every quarter. Our worship tradition for Advent tends to be more joyful and expectant than penitent.
In the past five years, we have adopted a substantial schedule of services for Lent and Easter. Every week of Lent, we shared the fellowship over luncheons or dinners, as part of a series of meals hosted by a rotating roster of local churches. Every night of Holy Week, we prayed at either musical and devotional services, and celebrated an exuberantly joyful Easter Day. We have also recently adopted various Anglican traditions, such as the Burning of the Greens at Twelfth Night, and an Easter vigil, both held at our musical director’s farm. This has allowed us to reimagine traditional liturgical practices within our own landscape.
5. How do you practice incorporating others in ministry?
Through the pandemic, we have been consistently incorporating more members into worship. We have experimented with deliberately incorporating new people into worship services, perhaps most especially young people, or people who are inexperienced with the culture of the Episcopal Church. Bringing these new faces into the spotlight of a service, encouraging them to lend their voice to prayers and readings, refreshed our older members and excited our newer members. Lay reading, the Altar Guild, and our vibrant musical program have all been reinvigorated by the inclusion of these individuals. There are very few people in our church who do not participate in one or more of our various ministries including mission, outreach, Christian education, pastoral care – in short, all the phases of church life.
6. As a worshiping community, how do you care for your spiritual, emotional, and physical well being?
Our community is especially adept at caring for those who suffer in our congregation, whether we are directed by a priest or operating entirely on our own. In ordinary circumstances, regular worship, Christian education, and participation in the many ministries of the church help the most able of our flock. For the housebound or otherwise isolated members, our church has coordinated visits, cards, and gifts as reminders of our love. Even something as complicated as the funeral service – with food, support and condolence for the bereaved, and the service itself – has been organized without the assistance of a rector. As many of our members grow older, being able to offer a variety of services has become essential, and demonstrates our commitment to each other.
7. How do you engage in pastoral care for those beyond your worshiping community?
Our Loaves and Fishes ministry, a regular dinner held twice a month, provides an opportunity to feed less fortunate people in our community. This event has served as a touchstone in the community as food banks have been strained to the breaking point, and allows our church to maintain ties to to the community despite the necessary safety precautions of the pandemic. We have also maintained a meaningful relationship with the Boys’ Home of Covington, Virginia, sending our members to volunteer and offering our donations every year. Every Sunday we offer up prayers and support for those not only in our church but in the community who face sorrow, need, or adversity. On an institutional scale, we also substantially contribute to Grace Network. Grace Network is a local charitable organization, which collects contributions so that the needy can seek out a single source for help, rather than soliciting many different churches. Our Mission Committee donates almost $10,000 annually to nonprofit organizations, part of our calling to help support the local community.
8. Describe your worshiping community’s involvement in either the wider church or geographic region.
The church has maintained a connection with the Diocese. Our participation in the youth programs offered by the Diocese have been especially fruitful, and have enriched the spirituality of our young congregants. We have recently sent more congregants to the Annual Convention, and was successful in recruiting both adult and youth representatives to attend. A local historically-black Episcopal Church, Saint Paul’s, has grown closer to our congregation, and we have attempted to foster a relationship between our churches. Additionally, we have a sister church in England, All Saints Church in Keighley. We have hosted their priest, and have enjoyed our connection to this church. We hope to sustain an open, communicative relationship with the Diocese officers and our fellow churches.
9. Tell about a ministry that your worshiping community has initiated in the past five years.
We began an outreach ministry called Public Theology, a religious discussion group that gathered at a local, family-friendly brewery. This ministry began in collaboration with a local minister, and often hosted special guest speakers who would discuss their experiences or careers in light of their religious faith. By bringing the Episcopal faith to a new context, we were able to spread the Word of God to new groups of people, and to make our church specifically a more welcoming and hospitable place. This collaboration was part of a pattern in the past five years, where our rector encouraged communication and cooperation with other churches locally. Our church is located within walking distance of many other churches, with a rich variety of denominations. We participated in a variety of interfaith dialogues, including conversations about faith, visits to other houses of worship, and sermons and talks given by other religious leaders. We are proud of our record as a good neighbor, and these contacts have been an important part of our identity in recent years.
10. What is your practice of stewardship and how does it shape the life of your worshiping community?
The past five years have been marked by extraordinary success in stewardship. This success was made possible by leaders who were willing to speak to individual donors, and by fundraising goals that were tied to specific projects. In thirty days, our church leadership raised $50,000 for the renovation of our undercroft; in a week, $20,000 was secured for a stained glass installation. Our congregation responds with speedy generosity when they are confronted with the honest state of our finances, and with worthy projects under the management of people that the congregation trusts. Besides special fundraising campaigns, our ongoing pledge drives have always been marked by generous and consistent giving, and our fundraising dinners continue to be very successful. Quite apart from the financial benefits of these activities, our members report that these opportunities for giving -- sacrificing of time, effort, and money -- are some of their most profound and enriching experiences. Congregants enjoy the fellowship and community available at our social events, and feel more tightly bound to each other and the church itself by the restoration and remodeling projects of the recent past.
11. What is your worshiping community’s experience of conflict? How have you addressed it?
The debates that have roiled the church nationally and internationally have not divided our church. We have suffered no schism over issues such as the ordination of women and the blessing of same sex unions. As in any small church, with generations of families attending and a long history of worship, there are occasionally disagreements. Most recently, there was disagreement over consolidating our two Sunday morning services into one service. Our congregation did agree to give the new schedule a fair trial. People from both the 8 a.m. Rite I and the 10:30 a.m. Rite II service showed up for the 10:00 a.m. service, but some, mostly from 8 a.m., did not. To their credit, our vestry listened to congregants who explained why this consolidated service did not meet the needs of our parishioners. We returned to the two-service schedule because offering Rite I and Rite II every Sunday allows for a diversity of worship experiences. Our congregation enjoys fellowship and Christian learning between the two services, and it is a comfort to many of our members that they have at least two opportunities every Sunday to join in worship.
12. What is your experience leading/addressing change in the church? (When has it gone well and when it has gone poorly and what did you learn?)
We have learned that significant changes to the church require respectful communication, as well as the slow, careful building of consensus. We offered the Boys and Girls Club a permanent home in our church’s Parish House, a historic home first erected in 1905. Although some had reservations, the vestry worked to present a safe and responsible way to satisfy everyone’s needs. If the plan worked, it would help the church, one of our most cherished and historic buildings, and the many young people in Boys and Girls Club. After a period of intense fundraising and planning, demolition and construction, our Parish House has taken on a new life. We finished ahead of schedule and under budget. The young people participating in the Boys and Girls Club have learned about our church and have benefitted from their time in this historic property. However, none of this would have been possible, had it not been for the careful preparation of the project, sincerity in meeting and addressing parishioners’ concerns, and selecting a praiseworthy goal. It is a testament to our congregation’s cooperation, and our willingness to experiment with the most essential aspects of our church.
Senior Warden Message
The vestry met by Zoom on January 20th. We started our meeting with The Rev. Canon Jonathan Harris, who leads transition and pastoral development, and will be our Diocesan Transition Minister.
Jonathan outlined a process and timetable that we agreed on.
Congregational Self Study
Vestry to discern and appoint a Search Committee.
Vestry to develop a search budget and new rector compensation elements.
Search Committee listens to the Parish through a survey and group meetings (probably by Zoom) to develop a Parish Profile.
We think this could be completed by early April and start receiving names shortly after Easter.
This is done through the Diocese, with updated social media platforms being important components.
Search Committee interviews candidates who fit our profile and selects one or more to visit.
Candidates interview with Bishop Mark and undergo a background check.
Search Committee enters final discernment to determine a finalist.
This could be accomplished by mid to late summer.
Call to New Ministry
Search committee recommends one finalist to the vestry for confirmation.
Finalist invited back to the parish, if needed.
Request to Bishop Mark for permission to extend call.
Letter of Agreement negotiated on salary, benefits and a date to begin.
Our target date for this is October 1st.
In our business session, the vestry elected Dan Cahill to lead the search committee. We are confident Dan will do a great job forming a committee in conjunction with the vestry, and keeping us on task to select the right person.
One of the things a new rector will be looking for is a church with a strong stewardship record. For 2021, we had 11 members decrease their pledges and 13 members increase their pledges. We still have not heard from 12 members who pledged to the church in 2020. If those pledges are received, our budget will still be down approximately 5.5% overall. We do recognize that we have some members who do not pledge but give significantly to specific needs and projects, and we appreciate that support. We also recognize that, while monetary gifts are necessary to keep the church functioning, gifts of time and talent are of equal importance.
Our January services have been recorded and available on YouTube. Lynn, Raul and Rebecca provide the music and we have a group of Lectors and Officiants to conduct the spoken part of the service. Andy Williams edits the recordings posts them to YouTube. We have added a microphone that has improved the sound. We see this as being the norm for the foreseeable future.
The Daily Office continues online three times daily under the direction of Ed and Heather Gallop. If anyone is interested in assisting with this important ministry, please contact the Gallops or the church office.
The Gallops will be doing Ash Wednesday services on February 17. And the Alter Guild is working on a way to distribute Ashes. More details later.
We are planning for a day when we can have many of you back in church as vaccinations roll out. But we understand that some will not feel comfortable. We are in the process of getting Internet in the Church so the services can be live streamed when we have permission from the Governor and the Diocese to have in-person services again. We will keep you informed as this develops.
Loaves and Fishes continues the first and third Wednesdays of the month by drive through pick up. David Cole has a small, dedicated group who provide this much needed service to the community. Many of you have given to support this cause.
Finally, I ask you to keep in touch with your fellow members, particularly those who cannot get out and do not have family in the area. Sometimes, just a simple, short phone call can make someone’s day.
8:00 AM: Holy Eucharist, Rite I
10:30 AM: Holy Eucharist, Rite II