Beloved members of St. Martin's,
It hardly seems possible, but we are getting ready to head into our fourth Holy Week together. What is even more remarkable is that this will be our third one since the global COVID-19 pandemic swept over us.
As I talked about during our adult forum series on the art and poetry of Lent these last few weeks, Lent comes from an old English word, but not about sacrifice. Lent comes from the word for spring, the season when the world shakes off its resting and slumber and begins to bloom and blossom all around us. Lent is about looking for signs of new life. How appropriate then, that this is the season when we turn with Jesus toward the cross, the tomb, and then, always, the resurrection. It is the time of year, too, when I think of our own Mary Drastal’s beautiful Easter painting, entitled “Rejoice” that hands in the choir area during our 50 Days of Easter.
As we turn toward Holy Week, we finally have a combination of circumstances that allow us to consider easing our protective requirements in worship. We finally have come down from the spike of the omicron variant that began in late December. We have not only vaccines but boosters—and booster number two is becoming available right now. While COVID is by no means over, it is moving to an endemic phase, and so we can hopefully begin to take another step forward. We also have to be mindful that our building’s ventilation was not designed for these times—another reason why spring literally can bring us a breath of fresh air.
Last week, we experimented with our first small group gatherings with masks being optional in our building, as the men’s group met on Saturday morning, as well as our final Lenten Bible Study offered the option of removing masks safely. And now, starting this coming Sunday, Palm Sunday, we will move to masks being optional at worship for those who are vaccinated and boosted. Let us also remember that we are still in ‘flu season, and be willing to wear our masks if we ourselves have any inkling that we might have been around those with the ‘flu, as well.
There is one exception: At this time, singing without a mask is still not recommended, so I ask that you bring your masks with you to worship, and for you to put them on when we sing. But during times when we are speaking or listening, the vaccinated can remove their masks if they are completely healthy and have not been exposed to anyone with COVID in the previous days. And of course, anyone who feels more comfortable masked can wear their masks throughout their time in the building, and I ask that we honor those who are less comfortable unmasked. We have immune-compromised members among us—and we must not ever make them feel unsafe or excluded—that is the opposite of our call as children of God.
We also will begin to pass the plate again at the offering—reminding us of how grateful we are to be together, reminding us that Eucharist is, as we say, “a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving,” reminding us of how important it is to keep this parish we love so much strong, resourceful, and united. And, while sharing the common cup is also still too risky, we will re-introduce small disposable cups of wine at communion, available at the altar rail for all. After Easter, if our rates of infection still continue to decline, we will reinstitute our lay Eucharistic ministry, once again remembering to keep our vulnerable homebound parishioners safe as we welcome them to share in our communion.
These new procedures will require a village to carry them out, and I give thanks in advance for the many people, the regathering committee that has counseled together these last many long months, ushers and lay readers and Eucharistic ministers, who will help us adjust to yet again another “new normal.” I also ask you all to avail yourself of the next booster when it becomes available for you—if not for your own sake, then for the sake of those who love you.
We still must be watchful—I personally have loved ones right now suffering from breakthrough cases of COVID, and many of you do, too. I remain so appreciative to all of you who were supportive when we took a step back from in-person worship in January due to a spike within our parish— I firmly believe your flexibility helped us get past that spike safely. Thank you for understanding how much the weight of my responsibility for you as your pastor is lightened by your kind words and cooperation as we deal with forces beyond our control. Beyond our control, but not beyond our strong foundation of love and concern for one another, all resting upon the assurance of God’s love and faithfulness to us. The 8 AM service will also return on Easter Sunday.