Dear friends in Christ,
I am writing with an additional update regarding COVID-19 and our faith community’s response to this global pandemic.
After significant thought and prayer—and in consultation with medical and scientific authorities—we have made the difficult decision to suspend in-person worship at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church effective immediately. Please note I use the word ‘suspend’ rather than ‘cancel.’ The Church does not—and, indeed, cannot—suspend its worship.
We will continue to gather together as a parish community in the midst of this global pandemic, although our gathering will be digital for the most part. Saturday and Sunday worship will be live-streamed on Facebook Live. I know that this is new technology for most of you and, truth be told, is pretty new technology for me, as well. Facebook Live allows us to broadcast our service online and have you join in real time. You won’t be on the camera, but will be able to offer your comments. You can tune into Facebook Live without having a Facebook account, so everybody can participate in this service as long as they have internet access. Facebook Live will especially be important during the open time for prayer and intercession. We are a praying body and must continue to pray for the needs of the Church and the world during this uncertain time.
We heard the story of the woman at the well in yesterday’s gospel (John 4:5-42.) In the course of a life-changing conversation, the woman says to Jesus, “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus’ response startled the woman at the well and perhaps will startle us: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. But the hour…is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” Although worshipping together in-person is always the ideal, the reality is that we may not do so safely right now. And so we will take Jesus at his word: it does not matter where we worship God as long as we worship in spirit and in truth.
Again, effective immediately all worship services—including the principal services on Saturday night and Sunday morning, as well as Daily Evening Prayer—will be offered online only. There will be no in-person worshipping assembly at St. Andrew’s for the time being. As soon as it is safe to resume in-person worship, I will communicate that. The truth is, we do not know how this pandemic will progress or regress. We will continue to pray for the best while preparing for the worst.
I anticipate that our in-person gatherings will be suspended through at least Easter. I will confess to you here and now that this breaks my heart in two. There is no celebration more sacred to the Christian than the celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection. Although we will find ways to offer worship in spirit and in truth digitally on Easter—and make provisions for you to receive Holy Communion, which is appropriate and traditional on Easter—I commit to you here and now that when we do resume in-person worship services, we will have the biggest Easter celebration we can possibly muster. All of the horns we can blow, all of the flowers we can pluck, all of the sparkling juice and champagne we can drink, and all of the alleluias we can shout. This Easter celebration might be in April or it might be in June. But it will happen. Let us remember the Mystery of Faith: Christ has died. Chris is risen. Christ will come again.
Worship is the central part of our life together, but it is not the only part of our common life together as a parish. We will continue to offer opportunities for social time and religious education/formation during this period of ‘social isolation.’ We have a Zoom account which lets us host private video chatrooms where members of the congregation can call in—on a phone, a tablet, or a laptop—and we can almost simulate being in the same room with one another. We will use Zoom for small groups, classes, and ‘coffee hour’ on Sundays. Stay tuned for more information on how we will utilize this great technology.
The office will be open only to clergy and Leni for the forseeable future. Even if you have a key, please do not come into the church without one of us knowing about it. As I said the other day, this is to ensure proper sanitizing. I know that we all feel ‘at home’ in the church, but please exercise restraint during these trying times.
I am available by phone (text or call 320-247-9277) and email (firstname.lastname@example.org) per usual and for one-on-one pastoral appointments by phone call, FaceTime (iPhone users), or Zoom session.
Please ‘like’ our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SaintAndrewsRapidCity/) and join our Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/st.andrew57/) if you haven’t already done so. The Facebook page will be the quickest way to communicate with people. All pertinent information will also be posted to the website.
Our needs and outreach as a church will continue throughout this time—including payroll for staff and clergy, bills, and charitable giving in our community—so I urge you to continue your financial giving to St. Andrew’s as you are able. Please mail your offering/pledge to the church or drop it by the mail-slot on the door closest to the Parish Hall. If you would like to give additional funds to the parish discretionary account, that would be most appreciated. We are already seeing an increase in need during this pandemic. I anticipate that this need will only grow during the weeks and months ahead.
I communicated information about small groups in a previous email. I encourage you to start calling and getting to know the members of your small group. The small group list is attached below, including phone numbers and email addresses (sometimes we only had one, but we’ve given as much info as we have available! I encourage you to call one another regularly, perhaps weekly, and check in. Offer to pray together. Share your thoughts and concerns and frustrations and fears. Get to know one another. We can’t meet in person, but the life and ministry of this church will continue!
Finally, if you are in need of somebody to do grocery shopping or errand-running for you, please let me know. We have a volunteer who is ready and able to help out!
Life is short, dear friends, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So be swift to love and make haste to be kind, and may the blessing of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—dwell among us and remain with us all now and forever.
The Rev. Cody E. B. Maynus
Diocesan Curate, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
A couple quick updates:
Profound thanks for your patience and grace during these uncertain days. I realize that some of these precautions might sound drastic to you. The goal, however, is to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. The medical experts, both nationally and right here in South Dakota, tell us that the best way to do that is to practice social isolation – keeping distance from one another. This goes against our usual friendly practices here at St. Andrew’s. However in this current context the most loving thing we can do is to stay away from one another.
Heaven only knows how long this will last. We will keep ourselves informed and make the best, most loving decisions possible.
In the meantime, know that Marty and Cody are praying for you each daily by name. Pray for one another and for us, as well.
God bless you abundantly,
Doug and Shelli Vallis
Barb Cromwell & Family
Cindy Rains & Sandy Kaitfors
Jane and Ed O’Leary
Peg Christie & Marcia Dunsmore
Tim and Joyce Wolber
Bill and Kathy Donhiser
John and Rhoda Burrows
Mark and Kim York
John and Patricia Dorgan
Tim and Linda Haggar
Obie and Vaud Oberlander
Cheryl and Brad Benham
Cal and Cindy Sievers
Steve and Debbie Renner
Don and Charleen Wince
Clayton and Linda Baysinger
Annette and Jeff Brant
Bjo and Gary Schreier
Duane and Connie Jelkin
Dear friends in Christ,
Grace to you and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ!
As you are no doubt aware, our Governor has confirmed that there are active cases in the state of South Dakota which are 'presumptively positive' (awaiting confirmation from the Center for Disease Control and Development.) This includes a case right here in Pennington County, which has unfortunately ended in death. As Christians who are united, one to another—and, indeed, to the whole world—we must mourn this death and pray for the repose of our neighbor's soul, while also working actively to ensure that more of our neighbors,especially our neighbors who are most vulnerable, do not come into contact with this virus.
I have been in discussions with medical and church leadership, both at home here in South Dakota and elsewhere, about how we, as a parish community, can best respond to this growing crisis in ways which are a) effective and b) non-anxious. Below are some thoughts, followed by some concrete measures. I ask you to read these prayerfully and with an open heart and mind. You may disagree with these decisions, but I trust that you will receive them in the spirit with which they are made.
Although the guidance from medical professionals—especially a bevy of ICU nurses and an epidemiologist whom I spoke with yesterday—is crucial, our response to any crisis must first be rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I commend you to a couple passages, both of which are from the Gospel according to St. Matthew:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).
"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)
Among our chief concerns as Christians who worship the Living God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ is the welfare of our neighbors, especially our neighbors who are especially vulnerable. I have heard a great many people in person and online sharing that they are not concerned about contracting the Coronavirus because they are healthy or young or brave. While this may be true among some individuals, our concerns as a parish community must always be about others and, again, the most vulnerable. Jesus tells us that all of the Law and the Prophets—that is, the whole of the Scriptures—hangs on the commandment to love God and to love our neighbors and also that when we care for others, we care for Jesus himself.
Medical science and social ethics confirms this need to care for others and most especially the vulnerable. Although information about this particular virus is coming in fresh all the time, we do know that those who are most likely to contract the cornavirus—as well as those most at risk for fatality from the virus—are those who are older than sixty-five or those who have serious chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or lung diseases like asthma or COPD.
By my count, this means that the majority of St. Andrew's is at a significant risk of contracting this virus. The Center for Disease Control and Development has issued a number of recommendations for those who are at significant risk:
With this guidance in mind, the ecclesiastical authority of this parish (at present, the Senior Warden and Diocesan Curate) in consultation, as I said, with medical and church leaders, are instituting the following measures at St. Andrew's, which will go into effect beginning as soon as possible:
Our Annual Meeting which is scheduled for this Sunday will proceed, but will be extremely contracted. We will vote to approve last year's minutes, vote to receive written reports (which will be emailed out tomorrow or will be available on Sunday in print), and will vote for open officers, vestry positions, and diocesan convention delegates. We will then table the remainder of the business until a later date. Doing this limited amount of business is required by the bylaws of our parish and the constitution and canons of our diocese. We will not have a potluck following the service (see below for more information on food service in the parish.)
Our theology of worship is such that whenever the Church gathers—whether as a whole congregation or a smattering of individuals—the whole Body of Christ is joined to that worship. Our worship is not primarily about us—about you and me and our concerns—but is rather about the worship of the Living God who makes Godself known in Word and Sacrament. When we gather for liturgy here in the church, it is in response to God's invitation and in order to afford God the worship due God's holy Name. Secondarily, however, the Church's worship is transformative for us as individuals and as a community. That is, worship does something to us. When we encounter the Living God in the Sacrament of the Altar, in the words of the Law and the Prophets, in the preaching of the Church's ministers, in the prayers of the faithful, and in the Christian love shared between individuals, something profound happens: we grow in holiness and are fashioned more into the likeness of God.
Therefore the doors of this church will remain open on the Lord's Day until such a time as the Bishop of this Diocese instructs us to suspend our corporate worship. That said, please exercise extreme caution in coming to church on Saturday or Sunday. This is not a time for heroics. It is my hope that those who are extremely at-risk for contracting the Coronavirus—presently people who are older than sixty-five and those who have other autoimmune or respiratory conditions—remain home for the foreseeable future (and practice what the health professionals are calling "social isolation.) In order to make it easier for you to stay home, we will begin streaming all services, including daily Evening Prayer, on our Facebook page. You need not even have a Facebook account to join in. You only have to click on this link (https://www.facebook.com/pg/SaintAndrewsRapidCity/videos) or type it into your search bar and find the daily service. As long as you have an internet or data connection, you'll be able to join us in worship. If you have questions on how to access this, please do call me and we will get you straightened out. I am also aware that some people in our congregation do not have access to email or regular internet. A full service bulletin will be mailed to any parishioner who asks. You'll be able to join us in our worship that way. Just let Leni in the office know by phone or email.
In order to ensure that we as a parish community are united in worship whether we are praying on our own, following along the live stream, or are in-person, we will move to celebrations of Evening and Morning Prayer rather than Distribution from the Reserved Sacrament. This is about preserving unity as much as possible. If we do offer the Holy Eucharist—for a feast day, perhaps, or a funeral—we will follow the guidance shared with us by our Bishop and the diocesan working group. If you have not seen that guidance, please avail yourself of it. We are grateful for the work of this group, especially those members of the working group who are medical professionals.
We will continue to offer Evening Prayer each week day at Saint Andrew's at 5:30pm. These will also be streamed as much as possible so that you can join from the relative safety of your own homes. Likewise we will continue to practice Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer on Tuesday mornings, under the leadership of Bjo. Even if you are not present on Tuesday mornings for this contemplative offering, consider joining in spirit from wherever it is you are.
In order to practice good social isolation, as is recommended by medical professionals, we will be suspending lay eucharistic visits for the foreseeable future. Deacon Marty and I will continue to make visits to parishioners in extreme circumstances (that is, last rites and prayers before major surgeries.) Marty and I will both take extreme precautions and will practice heightened hygiene while exercising this ministry. The limitation is to prevent everybody—especially our most vulnerable—from exposure to this illness.
Both Marty and I are available by phone for pastoral care. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us for support, companionship, and prayer during this difficult time.
Beginning next week, the church office will only be open on Tuesdays from 9a-2p. Leni and I will be in the office on other days (unless things progress and work from home seems most judicious), but will ask you to exercise good restraint. This decision is made because droplets from those affected by or even merely carrying the Coronavirus can remain on surfaces for up to three days. If we had a sexton or full-time office staff, we could manage sanitizing surfaces for regular office administration. As it stands, however, we do not have that capacity. I will sanitize doors and surfaces following Evening Prayer each day and after worship on Saturday and Sundays. We will also do a comprehensive sanitizing process at close of business on Tuesdays. If you have a key to the church, please do not use it to come to church unless absolutely necessary. And, if so, please let Leni or me know. This may sound punitive to you, but is done out of caution and compassion for those who are at greatest risk.
Social Events in the Life of the Parish
The following changes will take place immediately:
Please be attentive to announcements and emails from the parish office. The situation surrounding Coronavirus and its prevention and treatment are changing rapidly. This means that steps which we are enacting today might be obsolete tomorrow. Please exercise grace and charity toward your wardens, vestry, and clergy who are doing everything in their power to lead safely, courageously, and non-anxiously in the midst of what is shaping up to be a real crisis for many of our siblings throughout the world.
I would commend to your prayer the example of Sister Constance and her companions, Anglican nuns from the Community of Saint Mary, who provided bold and compassionate care for the sick and dying in the City of Memphis during the Yellow Fever of 1878. While the remainder of civil society fled the epidemic, Sister Constance and her companions, remained until death caring for the sick. Sister Constance and her companions have surely been on mind in recent days as I've thought and prayed about how we, as Church, are called to engage in this health crisis. I earnestly pray that God is not calling anybody from St. Andrew's to follow in Sister Constance's footsteps, but I am confident that God is calling us to a ministry of courageous compassion in our own times. Let us then, dear friends in Christ, practice that bold compassion by doing everything we can to ensure that our community is safe: stay home as much as possible, practice scrupulous hygiene, and pray for the needs of the world, our community, and this parish church often. Blessed Sister Constance, and all your companions, pray for us to the Lord our God. Amen.
As ever, please be in touch with concerns and questions. We are in this together, friends. As our Lord Jesus says to us, so I say to you: Be not afraid!
Yours in the One who offers health and salvation,
The Rev. Cody E. B. Maynus
Sister Constance, and your companions, pray for us!