Rector's Blog: Imagination and Regathering
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I mentioned in my sermon this past Sunday that God's presence and work in the world require us to broaden our understanding of our current context and think imaginatively. Imagination is not about playing make-believe. It’s about being willing to think creatively and to look at something from a different angle. To see God at work in this pandemic, may be difficult. But Jesus followed in the line of the great prophets of Israel who encouraged their people to see the world God was birthing in the midst of great turmoil and travail. Oscar Wilde wrote that, “to Christ, imagination was simply a form of love.” Wilde wrote these words from the depths of his own imprisonment, as he remarked upon the fact that we need imagination to experience love in its fullest, and in all situations.
And you and I know that experiencing Love in its fullest and in all situations is how we recognize God's presence.
We cannot currently do that the way we’ve grown accustomed, and we won’t be able to for a longer time than any of us cares to admit. The day after I moved to Cincinnati, I went to Kroger for the first time. Within a few minutes I ran into both Betsy Berry and Gary Lubin – and we all recognized each other because we’d already connected on social media! That day the Hyde Park Kroger became one of my favorite ways to connect with Redeemerites. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been there since and didn’t run into someone I love!
And then the pandemic hit. At first, we didn’t go out at all. Then I started a once a week Kroger trip (that’s hard for me, because I’m that guy who likes to shop for tonight’s dinner today. I could easily go to the store 4 times a week). And I almost never saw anyone I knew. It was one more little heartbreak in a time filled with broken hearts. Then last week, it happened! I saw three different people from our church! We all wore masks. We didn’t actually always recognize each other right away. Nip Becker and I tried to give each other a distanced air-hug. It wasn’t how I wish it would be. But did I feel and see and know Love in those moments? You know I did. And it helped me remember that this process of distancing and regathering will never be all or nothing. There will always be love. We will always find each other, friends, and we will always find God. And that’s where the love is.
I know we want to be together. I know we miss sharing Communion. I encourage us to use our imagination in order to see how God is working in our midst during this time. How are you being transformed? What have you begun to see differently? How will you allow this time to change the rest of your life?
I am so grateful for the overwhelming response we received to our survey on regathering for in-person worship, which you filled out with great intention and care. Your voice matters. We are who we are in part because of you and your presence. The relationships we build together in Jesus’ name are the strength of the Church of the Redeemer, so our staying connected during this unprecedented time is essential to our shared life.
In addition to guidelines from the diocese and the state, our leadership and staff have developed a framework for regathering for Church of the Redeemer. The phases for our regathering plan are provided on our website. So, from here on out, you will be able, at any given time, to see what phase we are in. As I write this, we are currently in Phase 1a. This means that we are not worshiping at the church building but are doing so exclusively online with pre-recorded video.
Your survey responses made it clear that, while the large majority of you are not ready to worship in person, you are very much wanting to see your church gather and worship in our sanctuary even if you can’t be there. We hear you, and we are working to make that happen as soon as possible. So, on Sunday, August 16th, we plan to move to Phase 1b, and begin streaming a Sunday worship service live from the sanctuary of the Church of the Redeemer.
We also noted that many of you would be open to some form of outdoor worship. In the coming weeks, we will be working on the feasibility of this, and will keep you posted. One priority we have is to make sure that however we worship on a Sunday, it be available online for those who cannot yet join us. We know now that online worship helps us remain connected near and far; and it will remain a given part of our worship from now on.
Many of you commented that you would only be comfortable returning so long as appropriate safety precautions are in place. Please know that when we move to Phase 2 and allow people into the space to worship in person, we will maintain 6ft distancing, require masks, and refrain from communion, among other precautions. We will take your safety and well-being seriously every step of the way.
Throughout this pandemic, our church has acted both conservatively and creatively, with great imagination as to how we can be church right now. We will continue to do so because we understand the gravity of this novel corona virus, the damage it is doing to so many around us, and because we know that, without appropriate precautions and distancing, houses of worship are some of the most dangerous breeding grounds for COVID-19 imaginable. We are responsible for each other. At the same time, we know we need our togetherness. We know we need to find ways to connect because it’s who we are. We are made for each other. And we will care for each other in this process, however long it takes us to get through this, we are in it together.
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