I am keeping vigil for my mother who is the hospital in South Carolina and (barring a miraculous recovery) at the end of her life. This is my message to you who are wondering “how do we do Easter?” The first ten minutes or so are me talking about my own story, if you want to skip to the more relevant-to-ministry section. Be well.
Three days ago we were wondering if we should shake hands. Today we’re shutting down our churches. This pandemic is changing everything, disrupting everything and putting brand-new stresses on the clergy.
(I had a bottle of hand sanitizer with me on my walk and asked a teenager to use it before petting my dog. He said that was “fire,” which I think is good? We were both very good-natured about it)
I know that many of you are getting up in the morning to go to empty churches to record a Livestream or Facebook Live or Zoom worship. I see that some of you have pre-recorded services and have uploaded them to church websites. Good for you. We are all trying to figure this out. Good for you for just staying with it, addressing a steep techno learning curve, teaching others what you know, and in some cases keeping things analog. Any response is fine. If you’re showing up by phone or email to try to figure things out, you’re fine!
I watched a few seconds of one colleague sitting at his desk talking into the camera. He said he’d be doing a reading, giving a sermon, and leading a prayer. That’s FINE! It’s not dynamic and cinematic but it’s FINE! That minister will probably spend some of this week learning some tech skills and develop something else for next weekend. Or maybe he will decide to spend his time reaching out to health care workers or leaders in his parish, or do something else entirely. I only hope that he stays out of large gatherings and protects his own and others’ health as best he can.
The thing to *not* do right now is judge anyone else for their decisions, unless those decisions are a threat to public health. Any pastors who are pooh-poohing the public safety and health officials’ warnings and instructions to stay home, avoid large gatherings and practice social distancing are willfully ignorant and pose a serious threat to public health. I hope you will feel confident in your righteousness to speak to those pastors. “God will heal” is an asinine defense for their irresponsible behavior. Remember what Jesus said to Satan: “You shall not put your Lord God to the test!!!”
This is not time to go to the hair salon, manicurist or med spa for facials and injectables. And no, you shouldn’t risk going out to get your eyebrows waxed or threaded, sorry. Do what you can at home to do the beauty things that make you feel grounded and good. Get good sleep, stay hydrated, stay faithful in prayer.
I am with you in spirit from sabbatical. God help us all.
One of the great joys of being on sabbatical is the opportunity to worship without any responsibilities beyond participating faithfully in the service. I love it. I am grateful. I am particularly grateful for the open table that welcomes me to take Communion.
We pass the peace before Holy Communion as a sign of reconcilation and it’s a beautiful practice. However, seeing that the woman one pew in front of me yesterday was coughing, sniffling and sneezing, I beelined across the sanctuary during the Peace so that I wouldn’t have to shake her hand. That might not be the height of Christian love but I was not willing to reconcile myself to spending the next week feeling miserable in bed.
I am a bit of a germaphobe and am never, ever without sanitizing hand wipes. I was therefore able to give my hands a decent cleansing after the passing of the peace when I looked up to the chancel and realized that I wasn’t sure if the priest had sanitized his hands before consecrating the Host. When the elements were distributed, I surreptitiously pocketed the body of Christ but gladly drank my little shot glass of wine. I crumbled the bread outside from the birds. Very St. Francis, but jumpin’ germy Jesus, I wasn’t about to put that in my mouth just in case the priest’s hands weren’t sanitized.
So, in the spirit of my panic, let’s please make sure that we’re not going straight from pressing the flesh of dozens of members of the congregation to distributing the bread/wafers/oyster crackers. Are you all tucking some sanitizer away on the altar these days? Maybe you have always done this. Please do tell.
I have been in fairly perfect health this entire winter. I started my sabbatical in November with a terrible cough (I have a life-long talent for persistent bronchial inflammation) but once that cleared up, nary a sniffle. Ministry is not an immunity-enhancing lifestyle. Dearly beloveds, please be very attentive to your well-being. Get your rest. Drink lots of water. Take a hot shower with a few drops of eucalyptus or peppermint essential oil after making hospital visits. Stay warm. Lent is a spiritually and programmatically demanding season. Take care of you.
I am thinking of you, all of you. I am thinking about how we have become too practiced at putting together litanies for the murdered. I am thinking about how the shocks of these hideous massacres hits all of us and reverberates, and makes all our teeth chatter.
Our immune systems take the hit, too. Have you noticed? I have been more often sick since the Orange Asshole* took power than in any memory. I know I’m not the only one.
I am on day six of some kind of intestinal thing that won’t allow me to digest any food without considerable pain. I am heading back to the doctor’s in a few minutes (I went to Urgent Care last night).
What could it be, I have asked myself. And why am I sick again? Is this food poisoning, is it a gastrointestinal bug, what is it?
Exactly a week ago I officiated at the funeral for our oldest church member. The days leading up to her passing were filled with that kind of intimate ministry I know you know. Close quarters. Germs passed among loved ones keeping vigil. Me grabbing food from here and there as I visited with her and others that week. In the previous couple of weeks I had been in at least six different hospitals and nursing homes.
We get exposed to a lot of germs and viruses, bacteria, all that.
We do intimate work.
Tell me you don’t touch and kiss ailing folk. You do it without thinking about it. And yea, you wash your hands but there isn’t enough hand sanitizer on Earth to protect us from all the humanity we’re moving through. We don’t do our work in masks and gloves.
I need to get to the doc’s but I wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you and your own vulnerability. God doesn’t call us to protect ourselves, so my prayer is that God’s love will hold you fast, guide you and guard you.
Purell can only do so much.
*Yes, I know he’s a child of God. God loves him; I think he’s a sociopathic asshole.
Some people like to hike in the forest.
Some people like to have a glass of wine and watch a Netflix series.
I like to mess around with products!
You do you, pigeons. Just be sure to exfoliate gently and moisturize.