27 January 2021. A here and there sort of day.
It is an odd sort of day – starting out with sunshine and then snow, to rain and now grey skies and cold. A here and there sort of day. I thought I had a meeting in the afternoon that was actually in the morning, so the day took a shift and now I’m here instead of there. Like I said, it’s a here and there sort of day.
This is my last week at St. Alban’s. Sunday is my last day. In the past leaving a parish felt like a tug of war, with tugs toward what one is going to and tugs by what one is leaving behind. That has not been my experience this time. I have a profound sense of grief for what “I have left undone.”
For me the crisis of the pandemic is all about community. The church is a community of people gathered to worship, learn and serve. My theology of church holds that our identity is a corporate identity, and when we cannot worship and work together a key ingredient of being church is lost. Some congregations were able to make that connection by using Zoom for their worship services. Enough parishioners from the two Sunday services told us that they would not join on-line worship – Facebook Live or Zoom – that it was not a priority for us to develop an interactive service; we started with Facebook Live.
How are we church when we are separated? For Jewish people it takes ten men to form a Jewish fellowship for prayer. There were many times when people found themselves without sufficient numbers to gather for Sabbath services and other rites of faith. There were times when persecution meant living a hidden Jewish life. A rabbi is reported to have said that for the Jews it was the weekly celebration of the Sabbath in their homes that maintained Jewish identity across the centuries.
Being Church is more than a cultural identity (which is also true of the Jewish faith). But North American Christianity has a strong character of individualism, to the extent that many will say they can be Christians without a church. If you read the New Testament you will know that this is not the witness of the first believers. If you read the Torah (first five books of the Hebrew Bible) you will know it is not the testimony of the earliest form of the Jewish faith, where covenant is of overriding importance, and being part of the covenant people is the beginning of identity. Jesus says, “When two or three are gathered together in my name, I will be with you.” Christians need one another.
The psalm that says, “how can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137) gives words to this time of COVID, when the Church is truly in a foreign land. I know that Gd was with the people of Israel in Exile, and with Moses and the people in the Wilderness. I know that Gd took the unformed ether to create a universe – or created from absolutely nothing – and so even in a foreign land the Holy One is present and active. Gd is able to do new things, and to raise up new life from dry bones. So I lay my burden down trusting that is the truth for St. Alban’s in this foreign land, and that it will be true for me as well.