(Note to reader: The accompanying video has pictures visualizing some of the images and points being made in the text).
It's the eve of Pentecost, and I can report to you that the Holy Spirit is moving in our congregations in powerful ways, specifically finding ways to move people back safely into their buildings. Every congregation is making a plan. I've seen many of these plans, and I am deeply impressed and inspired by the ways your vestries and clergy are working together to make careful decisions to help you feel safe and welcome when you do return. Some will return to their buildings sooner than others. A few will do so tomorrow. Some are waiting a few weeks. Some are waiting longer. There is no right answer. Some will celebrate the Eucharist. Some will celebrate with a few prayers on the steps of their building. Some are planning to worship inside. Some will gather outdoors. Most will continue to live stream and record services for those who are not yet ready to return. There are a variety of ways people will worship, but it is the same spirit of love that is inspiring and guiding your leaders. And for that I am grateful.
In a clergy meeting last week, I asked a group what they think is their most important job right now. And one clergy replied, "Keeping a spirit of humor." Indeed. So this is a video to you with that spirit in mind.
To borrow an image from Paul, as we gather let us put on the armor of joy, the belt of gentleness, and the shield of playfulness. Let us be guided by a spirit of humor. I say this not to make light of worship. I have a mantra about worship that goes like this: What we do is serious, so serious that it is indeed sacred. But let's not take ourselves too seriously, because thankfully God has not taken us too seriously. And we know that as the gift of grace.
So in the spirit of joy and playfulness and humor, here are a few things to keep in mind about this new season of worship.
First of all, let's avoid the Episcopal refrain, “That’s not the way we do things." Because I can tell you, whatever you do, it will not be like how you have done things three months ago. There will be bloopers and bleeps. In truth, what we do is not as important as the people with whom we do it.
Secondly, no there will be no wine or water being shot out of sanctified squirt guns, as one person asked, but there will be adjustments and some new liturgical appointments.
You may see Sarum blue tape or Pentecostal red rope marking off areas. Some will employ holy tongs to pass out wafers, others will put out the fair linen of cupcake holders, and I've seen a wafer distributor that looks a lot like a Pez dispenser. And of course, no matter where you go, there will be the rubrically required holy hand sanitizer.
Third, a word about posture. We Episcopalians like to keep moving, stand, sit, kneel. But we now have one more. That is the posture of stop. If you hear that word, know it is spoken out of love. We need to keep six feet apart. That’s farther than you think. And lordy, there will be the exchange of the peace when every fiber of your soul will want to bear hug someone. Stop.
This posture may mean you will not be able to sit where you usually sit, and that freaks out a lot of Episcopalians. It will be okay. Yes, honor your mother and father. And feel free to sit next to them, but keep six feet away from those who are not in your house.
And let's talk about singing. I am not sure why there is so much ruckus about not being able to sing. I have been trying to get people in the pews to sing for 25 years. Guess what, you are finally off the hook for a time! Don’t sing. But if a soloist does, hum along. No one can hear you hum because you will have a mask on.
Finally, and most importantly, the face covering, face protector, mask. I am not sure what the politically correct term is, but I do know this. Wearing a mask is a witness of your faith. Yes, you will look like a fool. We will all look foolish. Paul said something about that. Paul said we are meant to be a fool for Christ. So let's be fools together.
So have some fun. Make a statement with your mask. Wear your college colors. Claim your faith. Make one, buy one. But whatever you do, cover your face with cloth. When we wear a mask we are saying that we love and care for ourselves, and that we love and care for our neighbors. It is a tangible and visible witness of our love.
These past three months have been hard for everyone, and they've been really hard for your clergy. They may be more excited to see you than you are to see them. They will want to hug you, so help them out and don’t do that. But let them know you love them. Being back together as the people of God may be emotional for you. It may be for your clergy too. Some of them had professors tell them that it's not okay to shed a tear or cry in front of a congregation. That’s malarkey. They may cry. I hope you will be free to be real enough to let yourself cry too.
Here is the thing. God has got this. And because God has got this, it's going to be just fine. It's called grace. So, whether you are on the way back to your building or you choose to worship from home, remember the church is not a building. Never has been, never will be. Because the church is you.
Let us pray, (written for Pentecost 2020 by an ecumenical group planning the national day of lament).
God of all power and love, we give thanks for your unfailing presence and the hope you provide in times of uncertainty and loss. Send your Holy Spirit to enkindle in us your holy fire. Revive us to live as Christ’s body in the world: a people who pray, worship, learn, break bread, share life, heal neighbors, bear good news, seek justice, rest and grow in the Spirit. Wherever and however we gather, unite us in common prayer and send us in common mission, that we and the whole creation might be restored and renewed, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.