Pastoral Letter

Dear People of God,

As I sat down to write this letter to you, one of the best-known opening lines of a novel came to mind: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I’m sure you recognize that line from the opening chapter of Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities. Most of us have not lived through what many are saying about our current circumstances, describing them as the “worst of times.” We are indeed living in unusual and troubling times. On the other hand, in the midst of a pandemic and political unrest, many good things are happening. We see the best of human nature being revealed in many ways—medical personnel, caregivers, teachers, and many others who give sacrificially of themselves and their resources. Many of them are quite literally putting their lives on the line. Others are speaking out against injustice and racism, calling our nation to account for how we treat the vulnerable and marginalized.

Taking a more microcosmic view, since our founding in 1990, Good Samaritan Episcopal Church has never endured an extended period of time when we could not meet in person for worship, formation, meetings, and fellowship. When the bishop ordered the shutdown of all church buildings in mid-March, I put a sign on the door of the building stating, “The building is closed.” The words were chosen intentionally, because we have been operating under the assumption that although the building is closed, the Church is not!

I am writing to give you a brief update on how we have stepped into being The Church since March 15. As a member of the parish, I ask you to set aside a few minutes to read this entire letter and the attachments. It’s an occasion to celebrate and give thanks for God’s work in and through us, and also to prayerfully consider ways you can continue to support and be engaged in the ministry of this parish.

While most of what you read below involves events, activities, and doing the business of the Church, these things are not what have been most significant in our parish life over the past few months. I’ve observed a renewed commitment to communal prayer, a real hunger for Christian fellowship and the Sacraments, and a desire to grow deeper in faith. Folks have reached out to ask how they can serve and assist those in our parish who might need help. Our leaders have approached the challenges caused by the pandemic with energy, creativity, and passion. Conversations in small groups and Bible studies have been rich, with a healthy, life-giving vulnerability.

Jesus told us that he would build his Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. The Spirit of God has been, and is, at work among us doing just that: building up the Church and bringing about more fully God’s kingdom of love, justice, and peace–not only in us, but in our community. Not even a pandemic can prevail against the in-breaking of God’s kingdom among us.

Since this pandemic began, I have thought often about Winston Churchill’s speeches to the United Kingdom during World War II. At a very dark time during the war, he gave a critical speech in which he urged his fellow citizens to resist despair and stay strong. He ended that speech by saying, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”

I do believe that this can be one of our finest hours as the people of God known as Good Samaritan Episcopal Church. God is with us and will give us what we need to do the work he has given us to do, and to be the people he has called us to be.

Faithfully yours,

Fr. Steve+

What has been happening in our parish since March 15?

Our last Sunday of in-person worship was March 8, the day the Guatemala Mission Team flew home. Because of the excellent work of the staff and a few lay volunteers, we were able to begin offering online worship the very next Sunday, March 15. We’ve learned a lot since we began, and I think the quality of the online services has improved every Sunday. We are investing in a more professional grade video/audio live-streaming system, which will greatly improve the audio and video online feed. We began offering outdoor in-person worship in July, which has required quite a bit of preparation and administrative detail.

During the week, we began offering Morning Prayer and Compline. To date, we’ve hosted over 200 mid-week services! I am grateful for Joe O’Neil, Carol and Doug Stamper, and Charissa Bradstreet who, along with me, have been leading the services twice a day, five days a week.

Other highlights include:

  • A Regathering Task Force was created to do research and make recommendations on how to offer worship and open the preschool in accordance with government and diocesan guidelines as safely as possible.
  • The Facilities Team has kept the building and grounds maintained, as well as doing research on video equipment, overseeing cleaning in the building, evaluating our HVAC system, and, working with the Regathering Task Force to conduct a deep clean of the building in March.
  • The men’s fellowship breakfast group moved online, as well as the two women’s groups. I began a weekly Bible study on the Gospel of John. Youth continued to meet via Zoom on Sundays and Wednesday evenings.
  • We said goodbye to Rev. Chris and Rick Jillard and welcomed Charissa Bradstreet, our pastoral associate for formation.
  • The Vestry has continued meeting monthly and deeply engaged in the work of the three priorities set forth at their retreat earlier in the year. They have done really good, faithful work over the past few months.
  • The Faith in Action Commission, along with the Vestry work group, has met regularly and is about to make a major announcement about the new education scholarship fund.
  • A team of vestry members and others formed contact groups to keep parishioners updated on parish events and to offer help and support.
  • Financially, pledge giving has been steady and on track. Due to the generosity of our congregation, over $20,000 was given to boost the Rector’s Discretionary fund for COVID-19 relief and we have raised 93% of the $20,000 needed for the creation of the new baptismal font.

What should we expect in the fall?

My initial response is “who knows?” We are literally taking this one week at a time, just like you. With that said, we have done lots of planning for the fall. All of it, of course, is subject to change or modification should circumstances change due to the pandemic.

  • God willing, we will return to a modified form of indoor worship in September. Seating will be limited, but we believe we can do it safely. Our plan for resuming indoor worship meets and exceeds the state’s guidelines and was approved by our diocesan chancellor. The current plan is to offer two worship services on Sunday, both limited to 35 persons at each service. Service times will be 9am and 10:30am. The later service will be offered online, as we have been doing.
  • Beginning September 5, we will begin a new sermon series entitled “Christianity: A Faith of Paradoxes.” In this series, we will explore both the core teachings of the Christian faith and current social issues from our Anglican/Episcopal perspective. In this series we will attempt to address two questions: 1) What differentiates our understanding of the Christian faith from other expressions you’ve observed in our culture? and 2) How can we talk to others about those distinctions in a way that is reasoned and grace-filled? Topics include the Bible, the nature of God, Jesus, sexuality, politics, and racism.
  • Formation for all ages will be offered online until Phase 3. Adult formation will begin on September 13 and will be held after the 10:30am service on Zoom. We will dig deeper into the sermon topic for the day and have plenty of time for questions and discussion. Articles and videos about the topics will be sent out in the Weekly E-News on Thursdays. Children and youth formation will be offered in some creative ways online. Contact Charissa Bradstreet for details (charissa@goodsamepiscopal.org)
  • Consecration of the Baptismal Font and Bishop’s Visitation is set for Saturday, November 7, at 2pm. A preparation class for those desiring confirmation, reception, baptism or renewal of baptismal vows will be offered beginning the last week of September.

What are the challenges we face as a parish?

As we began 2020, all of us were faced with challenges we never expected. That is certainly true for the parish, as well. As I see it, we face three primary challenges as a parish:

  1. The first is engagement: making sure that we’re doing all we can to help all our members stay engaged in the life and ministry of the Church. Many of us have Zoom and Facebook fatigue! Watching services online or attending a Zoom meeting is just not the same as being present physically.
  2. The second is safety: making sure that we are strictly observing all the safety and health guidelines in our preschool, office, and services. This requires a great deal of work on the part of the staff, the facilities team, and the Regathering Task Force. The good news is that we’re doing a great job at this, thanks to the hard work of these groups.
  3. The third challenge is finances. We were fortunate in that we were able to obtain a Payroll Protection Program grant, which helped offset some loss in income. Because the enrollment in our preschool had to be reduced in order to meet state guidelines, and because of the loss of facilities rental income, our 2020 income will be reduced by approximately $35,000-40,000. The finance committee is working hard to deal with this deficit, but we will all need to do our part to make sure the parish is financially healthy this year and next.

How can I support our parish over the next few months?

  • Participate in worship either in person or online. Your presence is an encouragement to others!
  • Invite friends and relatives to watch the services online. We’re going to pull out all the stops to advertise the fall series because we want to get out our message about God’s Way of Love. You can put up a yard sign in your yard advertising the sermon series; those will be available in just a few days.
  • Volunteer to serve the parish in some way. We need more hands and heads engaged than ever before! To start, consider serving as a greeter or usher at outdoor services.
  • Give generously of your financial resources. Keep your pledge up to date, if you pledged. If you didn’t pledge or you are not currently giving, give. Give generously. Start praying about your pledge for 2021.
  • Pray for your parish. Pray for me, your staff, and your lay leaders that would make wise decisions as we navigate these strange times. Pray for and encourage one another.