Coming back from vacation is strange this time. Truth is, I’ve never been much good at taking time off – I didn’t even do it at all for the first couple of years at St. Stephen’s. But even more than normal, coming back feels awkward. Being on holiday always makes me miss my community, and the usual patterns of worship and community life. This time, coming back from vacation makes me miss those patterns more than ever, especially as I come closer to the conclusion of my ministry at St. Stephen’s later this month.
Maybe you’ve felt some of that too. A longing for community, or for worship, or for some sense that the rhythms and routines that sustained us before won’t be gone for good.
This longing makes sense. Community and worship are just part of who we are programmed to be as humans. After all, we are members of each other, St. Paul reminds us in our reading for Sunday. Linked to God and to each other, through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
If you have a moment, give it a read, and notice how St. Paul writes in terms that defy the categories we usually try to use to consider spiritual matters. Our bodies are to be a sacrifice, which is our spiritual worship. He prays that our minds may be renewed and transformed, so that we might discern the will of God. And in order to do that, we need grace, humility, and community.
We might try to segregate our lives into ‘physical’ and ‘spiritual,’ but St. Paul doesn’t see things that way. Our bodies are part of spiritual worship, and our minds grasp revelation that we experience as spiritual grace. It’s all of a piece, all ordered by God and given to us to explore as human beings.
And in much the same way, we might emphasize the individual as the primary unit in our worldview – as we collectively strive to better ourselves, explore who we are as individuals, express individual preference and pursue individual happiness. Or we might feel very individual as we experience loneliness and isolation in the midst of pandemic. But, once again, St. Paul doesn’t see it that way. Who we are is part of a larger story, a larger family, and we can no more disentangle or privilege ourselves over others than choose our favourite body part and discard the rest.
We are physical and spiritual, individual and community. And that’s why it has been so hard for us as a ministry team to try to sort out how we’re going to lean into opportunities to worship this fall as the Diocese begins to allow some churches to resume in-person gatherings.
The risks to in-person gatherings persist, the requirements around cleaning, distancing, and maintaining logs for contact-tracing are significant. And, our building presents particular challenges since it is small and lacks running water.
But beneath these considerations, we keep getting caught on a deeper truth – that a plan that doesn’t work for some of us won’t work for any us. Because that’s how we understand the nature of our community. We’re all in this together.
The truth is that we could pour substantial resources in time and money into making limited in-person worship possible, but we would only ever be able to accommodate a half-dozen or so beyond our leadership team. Where would that leave the rest of our community? To what extent would that worship reflect, honour, and express the unity that St. Paul writes about?
For these reasons and many others, we’ve decided to continue with online worship for the time being. With the conclusion of the Eucharistic fast implemented by the Diocese, we will explore together what it means to partake in Spiritual Communion – a time-honoured practice which sustained our church in the struggles of years past. We’re adding music, with our very own St. Stephen’s musicians taking part, and we’re looking to our whole community to help make sure the service can come together. We still need readers, intercessors, and people to help out. And we’ll even gather in small groups after the service to catch up and eat dinner together (even if it is bring-your-own and over Zoom).
I’m not quite sure what to make of all of this. If you had asked me last year about spiritual communion and digitally-assisted worship, I would probably would have dismissed the idea. But things are never that simple.
Is this a matter of physicality or spirituality? Yup.
Is this about individual preferences and piety, or the needs of our community? Yup.
It’s all one. And together, with God’s help, we’ll make the best of it.