We print below the Archbishop’s Preface to a document outlining Guidelines for parishes considering a return to public worship in church (click here to read the Guidelines). Here Archbishop Melissa reflects theologically on the extraordinary situation in which we find ourselves in the face of Covid-19. The Trustees, in consultation with clergy, staff and congregation, will have to consider very carefully both what practical arrangements will need to be in place to ensure a safe return to worship at St. James’, and when it is the right time to return. At the end of the Liturgy at Home this Sunday Fr. Kevin will outline some of the considerations, and invite some group conversation, a Zoom “Coffee Hour”, technology permitting! [click Liturgy at Home Ascension Sunday May 24 for the Sunday booklet]
Dear People of the Diocese of New Westminster
Greetings and peace to you in our Lord Jesus Christ.
As I think about our gradual return to worship in our church buildings, I’m reminded of the many stories in the Hebrew Scriptures about journey and return. Whether it’s the story of Abraham setting out from Haran, the story of the Israelites crossing the wilderness on their way to the promised land, or the story of Ruth and Naomi, the theme of journey is a central way that the Hebrew Scriptures show us what it means to be person of faith along the twists and turns of our lives.
When it comes to the theme of return, however, one story from the Hebrew Scriptures dominates–the return of the Israelites to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon. While you and I have certainly not experienced what they did–a forced removal from their homeland, the destruction of the center of their religious identity and the suffering that comes in captivity–through this pandemic, you and I have surely experienced dislocation, loss and pain.
And so what can we learn from this story?
First, in that during their captivity, the exiles lost what they had come to rely on to make meaning of much in their lives, their return was not simple or easy. It happened in phases, with different groups returning at different times and with some never returning. Secondly, the exiles’ return meant coming to terms with disrupted expectations upon their return. Things were not going to go back to “normal” in that those returning were not able to rebuild their temple or their lives exactly as they had existed before. And, third, the return from exile meant that religious life, itself, would be different. For the Jewish people were changed by the losses they had suffered and resilience they had discovered in themselves.
As followers of Jesus, we know this story. This is not just because the stories from the Hebrew Scriptures are a part of our story. Through the life, death, resurrection of Jesus, we understand what it means to be a part of God’s story as enacted in Christ Jesus: a story in which we move and are moved from fear to trust, from isolation to community, from disorientation to reorientation and from death to new life. This is what we draw on as we take steps to gather together again after a time of confusion, fear and loss.
Archbishop Melissa Skelton
May 20, 2020