Vestry in a Box
By the Rev. Mary Alice Mathison
2020 has been a strange year, a frustrating year, a year of grief, a year of fear, a year of hope, and even at times a year of joy. Collectively we have shared in facing this global pandemic of COVID-19, and with it much has been revealed. Whether 2020 has been the reminder that there is still the need for justice and healing in our history of race relations, whether one has concerns about the election, whether one is trying to figure out how to make ends meet, grieving the loss of a loved one, figuring out virtual school or work from home, or fearing wildfires in the west and hurricanes on the coast—experiences of this year have perhaps felt more deeply shared on some levels.
As a priest, personally, I’ve missed the rhythm of things like coffee hour and potlucks, and even in person meetings, but I’m grateful for our abilities to connect virtually. I also sense (as many others have) an exhaustion and fatigue of spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional proportions, not only in the community I serve, but with friends, family, colleagues, and myself. In many ways this year we have tried to make the best of what we can. Drive-by birthdays, lots of outdoor options, staycations, and making everything from school to church as virtual and socially distanced as possible has sometimes been exhausting and others times been creative and life-giving.
I wanted to take a moment and share about one of those creative and life-giving moments, and invite you to consider trying it for yourself, a small group, or even your broader congregation. I call it Vestry in a Box, but really it’s similar to activities camps and schools provided to students this summer to do at home when schedules had been shifted. Each vestry member (vestry is like the governing board at each parish in the Episcopal Church), received a box with a liturgy and objects to pray with (kind of like prayer stations in a box perhaps), and then we logged into our Zoom meeting and used this activity as a close to our time together. It was designed so that if someone couldn’t make the meeting they could do the liturgy at home on their own or with a loved one. Some of the objects I put in there were connected to our parish life together and some more general. My intention was to invite our vestry members into a place of reflection and naming of hopes, fears, joys, grief, intercessions, and remembering that might be helpful as 2020 drags on.
I’m providing a link to the liturgy as we used it, but it could easily be tweaked to fit your needs personally or communally. Pick items that might be important to you, share it with people that might be important to you, put it in a file and use it down the road during Advent, Epiphany, or Lent, rewrite the prayers for your needs. A friend suggested I share it, so here it is.
The feedback from the experienced was overall positive. Even one of my folks who isn’t crazy about these types of activities, shared the liturgy with someone they knew would like it, so that’s a win in my book. I was also immensely humbled in listening to those who shared (definitely as a group it was an “all may, some should, none must” share kind of practice). Several had reviewed the liturgy beforehand and wrote down their answers (I gave no guidance about that because I wanted people to experience it how they needed). And one moment left me filled with a deep longing—for what I can’t quite articulate yet. It was a moment where someone named a fear and then the named fear just hung there in the air. No one tried to offer a silver lining or remedy—the group just let the fear hang in the air and then we eventually proceeded to the next prayer object.
Maybe this moment was an all too real reminder of the perpetual Holy Saturday we find ourselves in this year, maybe that longing I felt was for the resurrection. Whatever the moment was, I’m grateful for it. Whatever this longing is, I hope it helps me move through this Holy Saturday year trusting that the one to whom I belong walks with us in these present times.