Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Sermon for Morning Prayer

BY REV. RICHARD PELKEY

“Bear with one another in love, through interdependence.”

Last week, I came across an article, whose title caught my eye, America’s response to the coronavirus is the most American thing ever. If you will indulge me, I want to read from a couple of sections from it.

The article begins, “The US response to coronavirus has been consistently inconsistent. It’s also uniquely American. There are no national guidelines and no organized efforts to reopen the country beyond what measures states have taken. Public health officials say one thing while governors say another and President Donald Trump says something else entirely. We Americans are left to make up our own minds.”

“It’s a symptom of American individualism, a national value that prizes personal freedoms, limited government, and free will over all else. ‘It’s always been the orientation of America on balance, compared to other countries, to put a priority on individual freedom and liberty,’ says Andrea Campbell, a professor of political science at M.I.T. who studies the intersection of politics and public health…It’s in our DNA…And it’s informing the country’s unruly response to this pandemic.”
The article goes on to describe how this pandemic is reinforcing our partisan political divides. It reinforces American distrust of centralized authority. It’s reinforcing the current skepticism of science that has been front and center in the climate change debate.

The article continues with the impact of economics on the country’s response. The article says, “American individualism is the driving force behind another national value – Capitalism, which requires people to act in their self-interest. So, when weighing the tradeoffs of social distancing, many Americans make their decision with some capitalistic cost-benefit analysis. The cost is life as we know it – going to restaurants, shopping, visiting friends, working at an office. The benefit is our health, and the health of loved ones and strangers.”

“Making sacrifices to help a stranger may be a hard sell for some. ‘The issue with the coronavirus is that it’s not very visible,’ says Ann Keller, a University of California at Berkeley associate professor who studies pandemic responses. She continues, ‘You don’t know who you’re protecting, who’s avoided getting sick from your actions. That’s a big ask of people, especially when it appears that not everyone is doing it or that the criteria seems to be different in different parts of the country.’”
“Coronavirus isn’t something we can see rip through the country like a tornado. The benefits, too, are invisible. If coronavirus guidelines work, they may not seem like they were ever necessary, because fewer people will have gotten sick. But people will remember what they lost by making those sacrifices.”

So, what I want to do this morning is weigh this American individualism and the self-interest of capitalism against what Paul says in today’s passage from the letter to the Ephesians. “Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)

“Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Paul sets the bar pretty high. “Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Do it with humility, with gentleness, with patience. Bearing with one another in love, striving for unity and peace.
Bearing with one another in love. The sacrifices we’re making: staying at home, wearing masks when we go out, the shared economic costs; these are how we are currently called to bear with one another. They are signs and actions of love.

Bear with one another in love. Bear, lift up, carry the burden. This speaks of our interdependence. American society values independence. The Church values interdependence. I need you and you need me. We need one another.

This interdependence is born out of our baptism. There is no solitary Christian. In baptism, we are knit together. We’re joined. We become part of a body. Paul outlines a variety of gifts for building up the body of Christ and closes with body imagery. But perhaps what is more helpful, and explicit, for us today is from 1 Corinthians, chapter 12. Paul says, “Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body…There are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Corinthians 12:14-16,20-21)

“I have no need of you,” is not in the Christian lexicon. Independence, individualism says, “I have no need of you. I can do it all on my own.” Interdependence says, “I need you. I need you.” The calling on our lives is to bear one another in love. I need you and you need me.

At the end of the article, the author makes a call for a unified response to the coronavirus, drawing on this country’s past moments of pulling together through common, or shared, sacrifice: like in the Great Depression, during World War II, or in the days following the attacks of September 11th.
I agree with this call. But I want for us, as Christians, to look to our Lord Jesus Christ as the example and source for our unified response. The more we can bear one another in love, the more we share our gifts and share the sacrifice, more we live into these practices that help us to grow and mature in our faith, the more we can witness to the world a way of being beyond individualism and self-interest. The more we can respond by imitating Christ, the more we can show the world the way of love.

+ Rev. Richard


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Invite others: "Come to church with me!"

Those of us in the Christ Church community have been blessed to experience joyful and centering worship on YouTube each week since the pandemic hit Virginia. We sing, pray, hear from the scriptures, and are moved by compelling messages from our clergy. We worship on our personal devices, and feel connected to God and others, prepared to face the week ahead.

Consider inviting others to join you for online worship. Share these graphics through social media, or text or email one to a friend.

Right now, we need God's healing Graces and to be in a beloved community as much as we ever have. Bring the comfort and power of Jesus to others!


Invite Others

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Looking for the Gifts


A WITNESS BY MELISSA REED

Have you ever experienced a rough patch in life and received this helpful advice?
“Cultivate a gratitude attitude”

“Have faith that God has a plan”

“Count your blessings”
These are good practices -- useful for keeping things in perspective. Useful to reassure ourselves that God is present and remains in control. But not particularly helpful in the thick of the moment when trying to make sense of the crisis at hand. I don’t need a platitude attitude.

Pastor Shirley has shared this with people experiencing trying times: “Look for the Gift.”

This isn’t the same as “count your blessings.” In this context, Blessings and Gifts mean different things.

Blessings refer to those good things that continue to happen, unrelated to the current crisis. Recognizing Blessings during times of crisis can ground us, provide perspective, and reassure us that not everything is going all wrong. In COVID-19, those blessings we notice might include:
  • Beautiful weather so we could be outdoors in our yards, walk the neighborhoods.
  • Stable internet connections
  • Availability of food
Gifts – in this context – refer to good things that would NOT have happened except for the ‘bad thing’ – the rough patch, the crisis. These will be very individualized because each person’s situation is different.

The beauty of "look for the Gift" is you can do it NOW, not wait to look back and say "Yep... God knew best!" It takes spiritual discipline to keep the faith in moments of crisis – to believe and not just hope God hasn't "stepped away". This is made easier when you're able to spot a few Easter eggs of grace in the moment – the Gifts. The good things that still manage to come out of the bad.

For me, COVID-19 has been especially terrifying because my father is in memory care. It has also been disappointing – Abby’s grad school graduation had to be cancelled. Adam’s plans to work at Camp Hanover changed. It has been irritating -- the job search for Michael has slowed to a crawl.

Even so, I have continued to experience God’s blessings – specifically in this time:
  • Comfortable and safe home environment to ride out the quarantine
  • Easy communications with those I couldn’t visit in person– calls, texts, emails, videochats
  • Good health
  • Employment
Finding the Gifts was a bit harder. Especially in the beginning, when anxieties were running so high. Remember our collective moment of disbelief when the quarantine was extended to June? We all had a choice to make: survive or thrive. We could close our eyes and hold our breath til June, or find a way to create a meaningful existence even when many of the things that gave meaning and purpose were shut down for quarantine. Survive or thrive. Identifying the Gifts helped me to see we don’t have to wait for COVID to pass before we can live fully again. We just have to be open to live differently. There are worthwhile things happening because of, even in spite of, COVID-19.

Finding the Gifts in no way negates or even minimizes the bad. It does help us find light in that darkness.

For me, the Gifts have included:

Focused time together with all four of us at home – watching a movie, having dinner, just hanging out in the kitchen sharing the latest memes and cute kitten videos. We had not expected to have more of this “us four” time, so this bonus time is a huge gift.
 

Talking daily walks through the neighborhood with any combination of Abby, Michael, and Adam. And the conversations we've had that might not have been otherwise.
 

Experiencing Spring – daily walks gave me the opportunity to watch the earth’s wake-up process – phlox, tulips, irises, flowering trees, azaleas – in a way I just don’t when zipping by them in my car.
 

Helping churches find ways to continue meeting for study and worship. Some of these new avenues may help shut-ins be a more active part of common life even after the COVID crisis has passed.
 

Learning new skills – I’d never created a worship video before. But as my Dad would say, “No sense being ignorant all your life…” I took what I did know how to do, and did my best to figure out the rest. It was fun, and a wonderful creative outlet.
 

Family projects of recording music content for online worship services.
A much-needed break from the world and its busy-ness.
Some Gifts are more easily recognized in hindsight.

When my mom had a sudden serious illness a while back, I was thrown in the deep end of her health crisis and figuring out Dad’s care in her absence. It was a nightmare. I confess at that time I couldn’t bring myself to look for a Gift -- what Gifts could there possibly be in this situation? But I did find them. We moved Dad temporarily to assisted living in Richmond while Mom recovered. One Gift was the extra time this gave me with Dad. Another Gift I recognized only in hindsight: The assisted living stay helped smooth the way when we needed to place Dad in memory care a year later.

In times of crisis, it can be helpful to look for the Gift. Sometimes you just have to look really hard.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Morning Prayer, Sunday, May 17

Welcome to worship at Christ Church Episcopal! Follow along with our worship guide at www.bit.ly/ccemay17


Monday, May 4, 2020

A Pastoral Message from Rev. Shirley

Friends in Christ,

I am grateful for God’s faithfulness and yours in this time of dealing with COVID-19. The vestry and I appreciate your expressions of appreciation for how we’ve been able to continue doing the ministry of Jesus together. I know this has been an emotional roller coaster for everyone. Yet, I believe we are drawing more closely together and recognizing in a new way how important our church community is and how much the world needs the enduring ministry of God.


As I mentioned in last week’s pastoral message, we will move toward re-entry and in-person gatherings and worship in step with the Diocese of Virginia. Exactly what in-person looks like and when it happens specifically will be decided in the future. However, Bishop Goff and the other regional Episcopal bishops have given us this helpful framework, so I wanted to get it to you right away. While the vestry and I are responsible for developing the specifics, and will do so in conjunction with staff and lay ministry leaders, I would like you to be thinking alongside of us. Only you know what your personal sense of caution and safety is, beyond the public health guidelines. Only you know how quickly you’re going to be ready to leave your homes and gather with others. Within our congregation, people are going to have different desires based on their own health factors.

After you read the attached framework from the regional bishops, I would appreciate hearing from you. What I’m looking for is...

·     What do you need spiritually, emotionally, and physically as you deal with your own health factors?

·     Are you accessing worship, fellowship and spiritual growth opportunities online, or is that difficult for you?

·     How urgent is your desire to re-gather when you balance it against your health considerations? Are there any practices that feel particularly important to you as you consider gathering with others (like you’ll want to wear a mask even after it’s only advised, or you’ll be inclined to not take holy communion)?

·     Finally, thinking about now, please let me or another clergyperson know if you are struggling emotionally or find yourself in a tough place financially and would to know how the church can help.

Thank you for taking the time to read my message today and that of Bishop Goff and the other bishops. They have been tremendously helpful to clergy and vestries while we have been busy pivoting the ministry of Jesus to do it differently. Despite the challenges, I hope you will feel similarly supported.

Love, always.

Reverend Shirley

Monday, April 27, 2020

Pastoral Message from Rev. Shirley

Dear Members and Friends of Christ Church,

I have good news for you.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”

It’s old news, and it’s current news too. This is the voice of God, delivered through the Prophet Jeremiah (31:3), when God spoke to historic Israel while it was in a wilderness of exile, before being returned to the homeland of Jerusalem.

We get wilderness. We’ve been isolated in our individual homes and away from our Christ Church heart-home. We miss the worship space; we miss the Holy Eucharist; we miss hugging one another. So we too hear with relief what Israel heard: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”

God’s faithfulness has been revealed in the faces of one another during worship over YouTube; youth worship over Instagram; Morning Prayer, Compline, Virtual Coffee Hour, Open Office Hour, Community of Hope, classes and Bible studies over Zoom; Children’s Sunday School and other ministry groups sharing over Realm, and Preschool instruction over email. We see God’s love in the masks you are making for SOAR360 and for neighbors who work in medical offices and hospitals. We see God’s love in the meals you deliver to homeless persons, and the other ways you are helping that we may not even know of.


It’s love on love. While Christ Church is founded on God’s love, your love shared with us over the years built these ministries, these leaders, these staff, these systems and information technology backbone that have enabled us to pivot boldly and keep God’s love moving all during this health crisis.

And when we’re able to worship and do our other ministries in person again, we will ask you to use safe practices recommended by the CDC, out of love for one another. There are weeks to go before gatherings are likely. We do not expect this before June 10th, since we will be moving together with the other Episcopal Churches of the Diocese of Virginia. So, in the meantime, we will continue all our ministries online or by phone. If you miss a ministry and haven’t been able to figure out how it’s happening differently, please reach out to a clergyperson so that we can either connect you to a resource or help you and lay leadership brainstorm.

Thank you for the many ways you are doing Jesus’ ministry of compassion from where you are. It may be that only God sees what you are doing, but in faith we know it is happening. Thank you also for your expressions of support for lay leaders and staff who are innovating daily to do ministry differently. Thank you to those who continue to send contributions to the church, by USPS or online. Giving is always an act of offering, whereby we trust God to bless our gifts for God’s service. But giving is also an act of faith in the future that God is bringing us to, in person.

Please continue to check our weekly eNews for updates. Sign up for the Diocese of Virginia’s emails also; they are reliably inspiring and informative. The vestry and I will be sure to keep you up-to-date about the state of our ministry with one another, as fellow disciples of Jesus Christ.

Always, love,

Reverend Shirley