Author: The Rev. Greg Hein, St. Jude's, Niceville
In the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic, when we are physically distancing from one another, in-person worship is suspended, trying to create virtual worship and trying to be the church in the world and be as normal as possible, the last thing any of us need is an unexpected emergency with the church facilities. After enjoying a quiet Saturday morning at home and watching two of my granddaughters having their B’not Mitzvah, I received a panicked call from one of my parishoners who had been doing some work around the church grounds and noticed water coming out of the external doors leading to the parish hall. One of the fire suppression sprinkler heads had gone off and was spraying water in the parish hall. He was frantically trying to stop the water which had been spraying for quite some time according to the amount of standing water in the parish hall, class rooms, storage rooms and hallways. When I arrived about 10 minutes later, I was shocked to see the standing water and the amount of water that continued to spray from the sprinkler head. After making a call to the fire safety people, we were able to get the water shut off, but we had two inches of standing water in the parish hall and elsewhere. After getting Serv Pro on site to remove the standing water we (senior warden, junior warden and me) decided that we needed to get some members together the next morning (Sunday) to get furniture and all the things in the various rooms out of the way. We sent a message out by Facebook and text, hoping to get some people to help at 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning.
Before 9:00 a.m. members started showing up, men and women, young and old. Most were wearing masks and everyone was aware that we were still maintaining some distance from each other because of the virus restrictions. Throughout the morning people showed up. Members showed up to help prepare for the cleanup that would start again the next day. What was beautiful to see was that even though everyone was working hard, they each took some time to engage with their fellow parishoners whom they had not seen face to face for too long. They smiled at one another (yes you can tell even with a mask on) they didn’t hug physically, but I could tell that they embraced one another in a very special way. They were a family who had spent too much time apart from one another. There was a longing to be together. They caught up and rejoiced to see and hear that all were doing well. Throughout the three hours we worked to take care of the task at hand, there was still time to say hi and to celebrate being reconnected, if only for a short time.
When the work had been completed, we all went into the nave which thankfully had not been affected. We spaced ourselves throughout the pews, but we were together in that very familiar and, for that moment, very comfortable space. I said a few words of thanks for coming out and working so hard and my deep thanksgiving for who they are as my parish family. We prayed together in that place and then we were dismissed to go into the world again. It was a sacred time and it was a blessing for each of us.
It was for me a foretaste of what will be when the restrictions are relaxed and it is safe for us to come together again on Sundays as the Body of Christ and worship together. I know for our parish family that the first Sunday together will truly be a Resurrection Sunday for us. We will have risen. We will have been changed by the experience, but I believe it will be a glorified body even more dedicated to be the Body of Christ for one another and for our community.