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Instead of going to church we ARE the church

On March 15, faced with restrictions on public gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many members began worshiping online. NINA NICHOLSON PHOTO

On March 15, faced with restrictions on public gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many members began worshiping online. NINA NICHOLSON PHOTO

Dear Companions on the Journey,

Every Sunday as part of the Episcopal visitation, I ask congregations two questions: 1) What makes you want to come to church each week? 2) If your church closed today, who in the community will miss this parish when it is gone? The conversations are fantastic and have become my favorite part of Sunday visits. I hear stories of faith, generosity, compassion, and deep ties in the community. We develop a mental picture of the true size of the parish based on the engagement with those outside the parish each week. I encourage each congregation to take their phenomenal sense of community and strong faith out to the world where it is needed and where God is calling us to be.

Some have taken faith into the community for years. Others were perplexed about how to start. And I am sure that in some places, my request sounded like a foreign language and was easy to let fade into forgotten experience.

On Sunday, March 15, all of that changed. In order to lower the risk of COVID-19 infections, 91 of our 97 parishes left their buildings for virtual church. Whether it was their own or another parish’s online service, watching Presiding Bishop Curry from Washington National Cathedral or catching virtual coffee hour, Episcopalians worshipped online and talked about faith on social media. While we typically practice a private faith, in this time of great duress, we seemed to realize it was not just enough to get our worship needs met, but we had to share our worship with others.

Instead of going to church Sunday, we were the church. Singing along with our devices, praying out loud, excited to see the celebrant in our homes, reading the comments section of Facebook, Zoom, or YouTube, and thrilled to see the blue and red icons floating across the screen. We were church for ourselves and we were church for others.

We were church for those who stumbled across our social media pages. We were church to people who were curious about faith. We were church to the anxious, the worried, and the afraid. We were not in our buildings and we were church.

The coming weeks are full of unknowns, but some things are certain:

  • God is with us.
  • We are in this together.
  • We are the church.

Take heart, dear companions. We may not know what is coming next, but God will continue to order our steps. And we will continue to be church. You remain in my prayers.

Grace and peace,
Bishop Hughes

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