Photo of St. John's Tower
Categories: Parish News

Update on COVID-19 Closure

Hi St. John’s.

I had a conversation with a Jewish friend of mine yesterday. She’s very active in her local synagogue. And I asked her, well, are you guys live streaming on your Shabbat services? And it was so funny. I can’t believe I didn’t think this, but she goes, no, because you know that we can’t use electronics on Shabbat. And I just had this moment when I was like, wow, I didn’t even think about how complicated COVID-19 has been for our religious Jewish brothers and sisters. And it simultaneously made me really grateful for St. John’s and for the ability to live stream and to use Zoom and all these online platforms on Sunday as a way of remaining connected.

And I was also thinking, as many of you have been recently, about when will we resume in-person worship. As many of you know, the vestry and the staff met together this past week to discuss this question. We can all agree that it’s been a difficult, I think, experience for many of us to not be able to worship in person, together, seeing each other, and connecting with the elements that we’re so used to, that feel so central to our spirituality.

And as I’ve been thinking about this, I started thinking about this passage that we find in the synoptic Gospels in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but especially in Mark’s version of this, where the disciples are hungry and they’re with Jesus and it’s a Saturday, it’s Shabbat. And they start to pick wheat off of these stalks in the fields and start eating them. And some of the religious community members come up to Jesus and say, what are you doing? You’re letting your disciples work on Shabbat. They’re not supposed to be doing anything like this, actively using their hands to do something. We all know you’re supposed to prepare in advance for Shabbat. And Jesus says to them something very simple, and this is only found in the Gospel of Mark, which is really powerful. He says, remember that the Sabbath was made for humans and not humans for the Sabbath.

And what Jesus was referring to was this very deeply ingrained theology in Judaism, which is that the Sabbath is not to be broken. It’s meant to be observed in the way that it’s been handed down. And yet, there’s one thing that really surpasses the Sabbath and that is saving life. That’s taking care of another human being. And sometimes people lose sight of that. I think we all lose sight of that sometimes, our religion becomes more important than the people. But at St. John’s, I’m really glad to say that we try really hard to keep that in mind, that at the end of the day, it’s the Sabbath for humans and not humans for the Sabbath.

And that is a lead in to the decision that I want to share with you about the vestry and the staff in which we have concluded that this is not the right time to open up our space for in-person worship. And the reason is because we believe that the person comes first and saving life comes first. And we just can’t guarantee that everyone who’s going to come to the church is going to be 100% safe. It’s just hard to guarantee that at this time. There is going to be a time down the role when we will have many more guarantees in terms of health and safety, but now is not the time yet.

The other big piece that informed our decision as the leaders of the church is that one of the things that we celebrate as a community is saying, “All are welcome.” This has been the thing that makes the Episcopal Church what it is, but especially St. John’s. And should we open up the church right now and say that, okay, we’re going to resume in-person worship, we know that that would not mean for everyone because there are parishioners in our congregation, many who are in higher risk categories. And the Diocese has been very clear with us that for the safety and for sake of love for those who are in higher risk categories that the church will have to say, I’m sorry but you’ll have to stay at home.

And so, there just was this sense of among the vestry, and it wasn’t 100% unanimous, but it was definitely a strong sense that we should really honor this part of our belief as a church. That if we are going to resume in-person worship and it’s not going to include everyone and that we’ll have to say yes to some and no to others, that that is not in keeping with this very important and very sacred thing that we hold to, which is that all are welcome.

And so I just wanted to share with you kind of the development as things are transpiring in relation to that and to resuming in-person worship. But also to acknowledge that these are really difficult decisions for us because never in my lifetime – and I’ve been speaking to other clergy who are much older than me – never in our lifetimes has the church ever had its doors closed like it is during this season. And just to recognize that and to pause with it and to just be with the grief of that is really important. But to also at the same time celebrate the fact that we’re still able to connect with one another using these online tools. And even though it doesn’t feel as connected for many of us, just to be grateful for that for the time being and knowing that this season will come to an end. We will be back together when the time is right.

And so please join me in praying for one another and praying for just advancements in the medical field as we pray for just a medical solution to COVID. And then, in terms of what we’re doing, just that we’ll stay the road and keep doing what we need to do in order to keep one another safe.

If you are feeling particularly disconnected from the church and would like for me to know that, I invite you to send me an email. I’m already thinking about ways that we can open up some spaces for in-person, social distancing connection and hearing from you would be really helpful at this time.

God bless you, St. John’s, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

Sari Ateek
Sari Ateek

The Rev. Sari Ateek is the rector of St. John's. One of the many gifts Sari brings to the church is his conversational preaching style.