COVID-19 AND THE CHURCH

Update on March 25: Drive-Up Communion is Suspended

I hope you are having a great day. And I mean that. I really do. I’ve spent a good portion of my day making phone calls and one of the most common things I have heard is: ‘I’m bored.’ Our routines have all changed, and that leaves some of us wondering what our life should look like now that it looks so different. Here’s something to perhaps shift your perspective. This time of staying home, of social distancing and distance socializing, is more than the boredom we may feel. It’s actually an act of genuine pastoral care. By staying home, you may indeed be saving a life! Just think about it. By binge watching your favorite TV show and staying in your pajamas all day, you are contributing to the health and well-being of our community. Amazing.

As an update, because of changing guidelines from Bishop Hunn and the CDC, all clergy have been instructed to no longer distribute communion. Unfortunately, this impacts the Drive-Up Kelly Hall communion distribution we have planned for Wednesday evenings. While this is a real bummer, it does give me a chance to talk about the theology of ‘spiritual communion.’ We believe that the fullness of Christ’s sacramental presence can indeed be communicated to the depth of our souls even if we cannot physically consume the bread and wine. It’s a long-held tradition that Christ is not confined within the sacrament, and for this, we are thankful. I encourage you, when watching the live-streamed services, to pray this prayer at the time you might normally receive communion:

“Lord Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Blessed Sacrament. I love you above all things, and I desire to receive you into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from you.”

I also want you to know that I, too, will be abstaining from physically consuming the sacrament. If y’all cannot share in the bread, I will not either. Once we gather again and taste of the sacramental bread for the first time, we will all be breaking bread together.

See you soon my friends.

Update on March 19, 2020:

To my friends and fellow sojourners in Christ,

At a certain point, it might seem necessary to no longer say, ‘No one expected this situation.’ But right now, I still feel the need to say that.

Nobody could have predicted what the spread of COVID-19 would do to the very fabric of our society. And it seems like every day, new information comes out that changes, once again, how we live in community with one another.

Within this context of change, however, this verse has jumped out to me: “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, and for ever.” It’s from the Book of Hebrews, a wonderful reflection on the beauty of Jesus Christ in what was then a rapidly changing world. How did the first disciples continue the movement inaugurated by Jesus when he wasn’t there anymore? How would they navigate what was obviously a division between Jews following Jesus and Jews who didn’t? The Church, when it began, was unstable by its very nature because EVERYTHING they did was new. Even familiar things were done in a new light, the light of Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s under the influence of this verse, as it were, that I need to share with you what the future looks like here at Trinity on the Hill. After an all-clergy discussion with the Bishop, and in conversation with the Vestry, it has become clear that we will not be gathering back together for Holy Week and Easter. We will certainly not be gathering together any time in April. Beyond that is unclear as well.

This is new nobody wanted, and it is news I certainly do not like writing. So, if you are reading this, pause for a minute and let yourself feel the disappointment, sadness, and perhaps anger. All of those feelings, and many others, are appropriate responses to this time of confusion.

And yet, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, and for ever.”

This verse is something we must cling to. Though the Church as a whole, our parish included, is looking quite different, Jesus Christ remains the same. He dwells within our hearts, within our homes, is with us in our cars, on our walks, and in the midst of our phone calls and conversations.

“Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, and for ever.”

So, what does this mean. Here is what we can say for certain:

• Live streamed Wednesday Healing Services, the Wednesday evening distribution of the Reserved Sacrament, and Sunday services will continue.
• All traditional Holy Week services, up to and including Easter Day, will be live streamed on our Facebook Live platform.
• The Clergy and Vestry are exploring new, enhanced methods of pastoral care and community building that will be rolled out in the near future.

Furthermore, what I have also committed to the Vestry is that whenever we do finally gather together again in the Nave, regardless of which Sunday it is, we will be treating it as the Feast of the Resurrection.. Our Lenten fast has turned into our own experience of life within a tomb of sorts. And yet, we look forward to gathering together again on a Sunday morning with all of the Easter fervor we can.

Knowing that our social distancing will now be for longer than originally hoped for, it is all the more vital for you to reach out to your family in Christ. Use your directory. Access MyTOTH. Write letters and send texts. I am also exploring utilizing other technological means of offering formation and community building as well.

During this time, let us also remember to lift up in prayer those on the front lines of combating this pandemic. All those working in the medical field, grocery workers staying open for our sake, and any others we rely on. Let us pray for their strength and well-being.

In all of this, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, and for ever.”

Let us cling to this truth. We will come out on the other side of this. Changed, yes. But not ended. With imperfections, we are all navigating this newness, this change, this chaos. But, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the service of Jesus Christ, we remain the people of God on a mission to spread the Gospel.

With love,

Pastor Chris

Update on March 13, 2020:

In conversation with Bishop Hunn, and in response to updated guidelines from the Diocese of the Rio Grande and the Public Health Department, we will NOT be holding our public worship services beginning this Sunday, March 15. At this point, to the best knowledge and guidance I have available, we will resume our Sunday worship services on April 5. This may change. However, the most critical piece is that we will not gather for worship on March 15, March 22, or March 29th.

However, I will be present at the church each of those Sundays at 10:30 am and will preach and offer the Eucharist via Facebook Live. You can access our TOTH Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TrinityOTH/ You do not need a Facebook account to access this page, as it is public. You can also access a bulletin to follow along at home by visiting http://latoth.org/digitalworship/

For some, this comes as a relief. For others, it will be a profound disappointment. However, what we must remember is that these actions are in the spirit of radical pastoral care and hospitality. It behooves us as the people of God to do our part as citizens of Los Alamos County to slow the spread of COVID-19. Throughout history, many congregations have closed during times of illness and pestilence for precisely this reason. And wouldn’t you know it, the Gospel is still proclaimed and lives are still being transformed.

I’ll be honest. It will be strange to celebrate the Eucharist and preach to an empty nave. However, with the rapidly changing climate around COVID-19, this seems to be the wisest and most responsible choice. I will also endeavor to make my sermons immediately available on our website if you are not in a position to tune in live. Knowing I will be presiding over the Eucharist, however, is not an invitation to join me. Let us be mindful of our Bishop’s instructions and our need to be faithful, responsible citizens of our community.

In all of these changes, one thing remains the same: Jesus Christ is Lord. He is Lord when we gather together in the nave. He is Lord when we gather on Facebook. He is Lord in times of bounty and health, and he is Lord in times of crisis and illness. I encourage you, dear friends in Christ, to re-commit yourself to patterns of prayer and devotion at home. You can use www.latoth.org/everyday-spirituality as a resource durig this time. If we all commit to praying those prayers, then we are reassured that we remain a community gathered in the love of Christ even as we do it virtually or across space and time.

I love you, dear friends. Don’t hesitate to call me on my cell phone at 252-452-8540 or email me at cadams@latoth.org for pastoral needs or even if you just want a listening ear.

I remain your servant.

Peace, Chris

Previous Information:

Not much in life prepares us for the kind of rapidly changing crisis that has been come about in the last few days. With the closure of all New Mexico schools and other massive disruptions to our common life, we must be willing to adapt accordingly for the health and well-being of our community.  In particular, one of our chief obligations as a community of Christians is to do all that we can to protect the most vulnerable in our midst.  Because of the unpredictability of the spread of COVID-19, we are being called upon by our Bishop to make radical adjustments to the life of our parish.  In conversation with our Senior Warden, I have determined several steps that we will take in order to do our part in slowing the spread of the Coronavirus within Los Alamos.  Though these steps represent a serious disruption to how we have customarily engaged in the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ, they should be seen not as responses driven by fear, but as responses done in a spirit of caution and, truly, pastoral care for our entire community.  These changes are temporary, and when the chaotic storm caused by this pandemic subsides, we will return to the regular patterns of our common life that we are accustomed to.  For now, however, we will seek the face of Christ and engage in ministry operating under a different set of norms.

What is Changing?

Effective Monday, March 16th and extending for the following 3 weeks, all activites of the parish are canclled.  This includes, but is not limited to, small groups, Morning Prayer, choir rehearsals, Bible studies, and Friday Eucharist. It now includes Sunday worship services.

-The Lenten Soup Suppers scheduled for Thursday evenings will not take place.

-The Finance Committee Meeting scheduled for March 18th and the Vestry Meeting scheduled for March 31st will not take place.

The Office will be closed to the public. Only members of the Staff should be present in the office at any given moment.  The Staff will work in the office for essential business only and will not be expected to maintain open, public office hours.  Please refrain from coming to the office for the next 3 weeks, even if you have a key to the office and are accustomed to using the parish office for personal business.

What isn’t changing?

-Our commitment to pastoral care: Our call to respond to the needs of parishioners remains a central component to our work as a church.  However, because the office phone will not always be staffed, please call me on my cell phone directly for any pastoral needs you have.  We have been advised to not make non-urgent home visits.  However, please do not hesitate to contact me for emergency visits.  Also, if you just need someone to talk to, know that I am here to journey alongside of you during this uncertain time.  My cell phone is 252-452-8540

-Our commitment to a robust faith community: We are good at loving one another when life is hard, and that hasn’t changed. In fact, we should all be prepared to step-up our commitment to one another.  I challenge every member of our community to maintain regular contact with each other.  While we may be seeing less of one another face-to-face, our bonds of affection need not suffer.  Never underestimate the power of an encouraging phone call, text message, or email.  As all of our stress and anxiety rises, sharing laughter and words of encouragement will go along way to ensuring our collective ability to weather this storm.

Live streaming services on Facebook Live: In order to accommodate those who do not wish to attend worship in person, we will be attempting to live stream our 10:30am service on our official Trinity on the Hill Facebook page.

A Few Final Thoughts

Be on the look out for people who aren’t present at worship: As this time of fear and isolation, many of our more vulnerable community members will opt to stay home.  I think it would be good pastoral care if all in the community, not simply the clergy, are willing to make encouraging phone calls or write letters to ensure that isolated and homebound members of our community do not feel spiritually disconnected from our common life.  Directories can be printed for every member in the office.  Remember: our clergy are not the only ministers at Trinity on the Hill.  Every baptized Christian is a minister of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Keep in mind, dear friends, that life in this complicated and confusing time brings with it a growing sense of anxiety.  Anxiety is a normal human response in times like this.  However, we need not let anxiety rule us, much like we need to resist the seduction of fear.  I encourage you to maintain, or enhance, your connections to one another through email, social media, and phone calls.  By regularly reminding one another of the faith and joy of our Christian community, we can indeed remain strong.

If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at cadams@latoth.org or on my cell phone.

We are in this together my friends.  Christ be praised, worshipped, and adored, even if for the time being we go about that business a bit differently.