Dear Folks,

Several weeks ago, in order to keep our neighbors and ourselves safe, we stopped gathering at Redeemer, but the church never closed.  Buildings can be padlocked, but God’s spirit and the good will of people cannot be constrained.  Thank you for understanding the difference, both before COVID-19 and now.

Thank you for believing that God is present, even when you are alone at the kitchen table. Thank you for discovering new ways to connect with each other, and remembering some long forgotten ones.  Thank you for ringing bells and banging pots and driving by to wave.  Thank you for continuing to reach out whenever you sense a need, both down your own hallway and down some new street.  Thank you for the masks made and donated, the food purchased and served, the Covenant Fund support shared with community partners, the organizing for education and health equity. Thank you for being a part of online worship services, for your patience and sense of humor as we invent ways to make ancient practices fit these extraordinary times. Our doors may be closed, but your hearts are broken open to God’s healing grace.  Thank you for sharing it.

Not too long ago I began to ask people what they missed about Redeemer and what they thought was most essential about it, as we reimagine our church.  I have heard about community, a place of trust and safety.  I’ve heard about a shared sense of purpose and time carved out to talk about what really matters.  I’ve heard about making music together, in all its rich variety, and of sacred rituals that help make sense of scattered lives.  I’ve heard about finding God, and being found, and about the palpable longing for a handshake and a hug.  I’ve heard about a Way that serves the common good and delivers us from our selfishness.

This morning I got a note from a friend who is sad and wondering when we’ll be together again at church.  I wrote back, “We will go very slowly.  It is distressing that even opening churches has become politicized.  But we have remained “open” throughout this time… I miss the gathering, too, the being together, the hugs and affection, communion.  And I have been overjoyed at the ways that individuals and families, streets and neighbors have reached out to help and connect with each other.  We’ve remembered that the call to worship God is in fact a call to serve humanity, that God is praised when folks who are cast down are being raised up.  We’ve remembered that when we stop to listen to others and to the still, small voice inside us, that healing begins.  When we see each other again, I hope our eyes won’t be as likely to settle for superficialities or snap judgments—that we will carry with us our rediscovered longing to know God, to know each other, and to be fully known ourselves.  We have lost a lot through this time of sickness and separation—but I hope we also have lost our easy willingness to accept the status quo when it benefits the few over the many.  There has been dying, and the individual deaths are always difficult to face and accept—but I hope we won’t soon forget what our eyes now see: the ways of being that we had come to embody before the pandemic, like inequality and injustice with regard to healthcare and housing and education.  Those unfair ways were as death-dealing as any virus, and only through facing that truth and making change will the rising come.  That is God’s dream for us, I believe, that we all can rise.  For me, the essential quality about Redeemer is that we are committed to lifting up each other and our city.”

We will not gather physically until health providers tell us it is safe to do so, as weeks turn into months.  And yet I have never felt so close to you.

Love,
David

Dear Folks,

Governor Hogan spoke from Annapolis yesterday and announced a first move toward relaxing his stay-at-home order.  Replacing it with a safer-at-home advisory, the State will allow retail, manufacturing, and worship services to resume with limitations.  Some things do not change: face masks must be worn in indoor public areas, individuals with underlying health issues should continue to stay inside, and employees who can are encouraged to work from home.  Physical distancing continues to be required.  Laid alongside the governor’s advisory is guidance from Bishop Sutton, who is working closely with the Bishops of Washington and Virginia.  Importantly, the Diocese said yesterday that in-person worship services are not allowed this weekend, giving us time to respond, and that more specific directives will be issued next week.  The through line for me is this: appropriate next steps for gathering the faith community will be the guided by public health experts, the wisdom of medical providers, and sound spiritual leadership.

To this end, I am forming a small group of parishioners and staff members to envision what a way forward looks like for Redeemer.  The group includes a medical doctor, a public health leader and educator, a senior who is a long-time parishioner, a nurse with school-aged children, and a young adult.  Our work is spiritual and emotional, as well as being practical and informed by science.  Some questions that will anchor us: What is the most thoughtful way to gather a community when some members are safer at home?  How do we foster togetherness while staying physically distant?  What is the best use of our indoor and outdoor worship spaces?  And perhaps most importantly, as we reclaim rituals that we remember and love, how do we remain mindful about what the pandemic has revealed?

I am struck by how many ways the soil at Redeemer is being prepared for our new life ahead.  Each week our choirs meet by zoom to check-in, to share losses and victories, and even to try singing a little.  The community they are fostering on computer screens is certainly different from what they might experience in a rehearsal room around a piano, but it is strikingly vibrant and healing still.  With courage they are asking how to sing the Lord’s song in a new way, before a vaccine is developed.  Each Monday the Center for Wellbeing invites an on-line conversation about spiritual and emotional health, and the laughter and thoughtful reflection are a balm.  On Wednesdays the Rector’s Bible study is reading the story of Ezra to remember how the Hebrew people returned to Israel after their exile.  “The Temple they are rebuilding is not just made of stones,” one member reflected this week.  “They are restoring themselves as they return.  Maybe they have discovered that the Temple was inside them all along, never limited to a building.”  A zoom group is gathering to ask “How can we be the change that COVID-19 has revealed to us?”  Young people and seniors are meeting through texts or emails; some have realized that their iPhones can make phone calls!  And look at all we are discovering about worship on-line…

How are your eyes and ears different, through the gifts and the grief of the last two months?  What do you know today that you don’t want to forget?  What changes are calling, what new life is rising, what is the Spirit asking you to finally put down?   Dying and rising, it feels like we are discovering ways of being that have been there all along.  Step by step, spade by spade, day by day—See you when the time is right.

Love,
David

I’m getting towards the very end of the story that’s helped me navigate the wee hours of the morning recently, when my “monkey mind” kicks into full gear. The book is All the Light You Cannot See, and (without spoiling anything for anyone who has yet to read it and would still like to) I’m at the part where the voice of one human being, transmitted over the radio, becomes like light in the darkness to another.

I imagine you, like me, have come to appreciate many things over the last few weeks that you once took for granted, or that you didn’t quite really notice or appreciate in the way you do now. Take, for example, the gift of a human voice …

In this prolonged season of physical distancing, perhaps you too have been spending more intentional time connecting with people over the phone than you have in a long time. And so perhaps you too have become keenly aware of the uniqueness and power of each and every human voice you hear: the power of hearing the voice of someone you haven’t seen in awhile, the voice of someone you miss  — or that you didn’t even know you missed, until you hear that particular voice. The unique timbre, tone, warmth of your friend’s voice. The way he or she laughs or pronounces certain words, the speed at which s/he talks. The emotions, memories, feelings this voice calls up, for you. The image of his/her face. The quality and depth of soul.

Studies over the past decade have drawn attention to the way our human brains develop the mechanism to process human voices in utero, long before we learn how to speak https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125123354. To this day, I remember the way my daughter Grace, just seconds after she was born, craned her neck towards the sound of my voice, the same voice she had heard singing and talking to her all those months before she emerged into the light.

Our Gospel passage from John this past Sunday speaks of the power of the voice of our Lord, calling to those who would follow him: “… the sheep hear [their shepherd’s] voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out … and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

To hear the voice of a beloved is to know and to be known. It reminds us and revives in us a sense of connectedness, relationship and belonging. And it has the power to convey his/her presence with us and for us, despite the separation of physical distance. Like our fingerprints, our voices are unique; they have the power to convey the essence of who we are, each of us made in the image of the Divine Mystery who called us into being.

So my friends, I invite and encourage you today, if you haven’t already, to pick up the phone and connect with someone whose voice you’d like to hear.

Chances are, they’d like to hear yours, too.

~Cristina