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Bishop Russell Video Message: Unity in Worship in a Season of Waiting

This morning I worshiped at St. Simon's on the Sound, here in my hometown, Fort Walton Beach. At the time of communion the rector, David Knight, led a prayer that began this way, “Lord of the feast, we thank you for gathering us as your people. We call to remembrance the many times we have fed at your table and we lament our distance now.” And I was overcome. St. Simon's is where I have experienced some of the most meaningful moments of my life. The funerals of all my grandparents and more recently my dad. My baptism - though I don't remember it - the baptism of my first child and my ordination. I was even there the Sunday after the church burned to the ground. But today may be the most meaningful time of all because in each of those times the church was full. Today it was empty. But a strange thing happened. It was like the final scene in the movie "Places in the Heart" when all the people both alive and dead are reunited at a communion. And this morning though the room was empty, I began to remember where people sat and the church was full. I could see them in my heart. In the back is Sheila and not too far from her Tom and Dinah, David and Beth. On the front pew right smack in from of the pulpit there is Tina. Over to the left Ed and Alice and one pew behind, my mom. I could sense their presence. When the time came for communion I looked at the altar and it was set as it always is. The words were said by David with care and intention. But when we got to the invitation, David said, "These are the gifts of God, for the people of God." Then he put the gifts down, and silently stowed them away in the aumbry. No one consumed the gift. And it hurt. It hurt a lot. And yet, I was fed. I was fed by my memories. I was fed by the constancy of the Word. It's not often as a bishop that I read the Gospel. I did today, and when I placed the gospel book back on the altar never before has that act felt so sacred. The Word was my feast and it was enough. More than enough. I was fed by the Word. I told you all that, to tell you this. When I suspended in-person worship I did so hoping it would be for only a few weeks. Now it's clear to me this time apart will last longer. Because of that earlier today the clergy received a letter extending this season apart to the first Sunday in May. With this extension also went some guidelines about our worship. The clergy have the details. I want you to know my thinking, thus this communication. An essential characteristic of our Anglican identity is common worship. You know what you are going to get because we all do a very similar thing. This is what “common” worship means. And I am asking us to hold onto this aspect of our identity, now more than ever. Specifically, I am inviting us to join in unity by no one physically consuming the Eucharistic meal until all can do so as one. Livestreams and recording will continue. The prayers will be said. I am simply asking that we all join as one and reserve consecrated elements until the day our churches are no longer empty and we are back together. I am asking us to lean into our longing and let that longing to lead us until we are reunited. As the letter of Ephesians puts it, "Let us be humble and gentle; patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” It was some 30 years ago that I heard a sermon by Bishop Duvall in which he told a story I have remembered to this day. I might not recall every detail, but I have never forgotten the point made. It was the true story of a missionary who made a visit to a very isolated Pacific island. In the early hours of the morning before sunrise, the priest was awakened by a commotion outside his hut. He rose from his bed, walked to the window, and found the entire village gathered in the yard just outside his door. “Why are you here so early?” he asked the tribal elders. The chief responded, “We are waiting for church.” “But church is not scheduled until later today,” the priest replied. The elder answered, “What you enjoy every time you worship, we have not tasted since the last time you were here. We will wait until that time.” May we come to touch and honor the longing in our souls during our season of waiting. When we are back together, no matter what Sunday that will be, it will be an Easter celebration like none we have ever enjoyed! +Russell


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