It is mid-August. The late summer heat of these sunny days normally has me longing for the cool snap into fall by now. Fall is my favourite season of the four. The refreshing air and the return to routine invigorates me every year. Fall is coming, however this year it will be a fall unlike any we’ve ever experienced.

We are all well aware of the uncertainties ahead of us this fall. My intent isn’t to discuss these but to talk about how we will cultivate our life together as a church through this season.

The church is, and always has been since the day Jesus entered the world as a baby, an embodied people. It is “good and pleasing,” the Psalmist writes, for God’s people to dwell together in unity! One of the cruel side effects of the pandemic has been cutting off the normal channels through which we meet together, worship together, and break bread together. 

We have worshipped virtually “together,” to our spiritual benefit. Yet on Sundays, we have lost the coffee time in the lobby, prayer together on the steps, the children dodging around our conversations after the service, and the physical, embodied reminder of knowing we’re not alone—in our faith, in our journeys, in our struggles, in this city.

I agonized for a month over the summer about fall coming and still not gathering as we used to. We are here; that mid-August heat is telling. As we look to the fall, we need one another, yet we cannot easily be together. The pandemic is not over and there is no change on the horizon.

What will we do?

Sundays

Virtual services will continue to be the consistent medium we will use to offer preaching, musical and liturgical worship, community updates and announcements. 

We recognize the difference in worshipping online—some of you are alone, some are managing children through the service, and all of us are missing the routine of going to a space set apart to worship God together. It is challenging, and we want you to know that if you have struggled to engage this medium: we understand. It isn’t ideal and it can even be discouraging. We want to help you find ways of engaging in communal worship that are full of grace and helpful during this trying time. 

As we enter the fall, please know that we will continue to adapt to and adhere to government guidelines during this ever-changing situation. For now, here is our plan:

Prioritize Gathering

We encourage you to consider ways you can virtually or physically gather with others—family, CG members, roommates—in accordance with government guidelines, and to engage in our virtual service together. This will look different for everyone as we all have different situations, and will require creativity. 

While it is ideal for us to engage in the service together when it is broadcast on Sundays (currently at 10:00am and 5:00pm), we recognize you might engage it at a different time on a different day. And if this is what you need to do: we’re with you. This is the advantage of the full service being available online.

As you consider your own comfort level, sphere and possibilities, don’t forget to think intentionally and prayerfully about including those who are on the outside and experience loneliness most acutely. 

We are also listening to your voices through our annual survey and personal conversations, and making plans for an in-person communion service on Sunday evening. This in-person gathering will be limited in size and require pre-registration (with COVID-19 screening questions). It will involve all the best safety measures such as social distancing, masks, and hand sanitizing, and we’ll have a medical professional review our plan. We will refrain from singing and opt for instrumental hymns. We will not hug, highfive, or handshake. But for those who feel comfortable to engage in this space, we will focus on crafting a contemplative environment and space to worship God and orient our hearts and bodies upwards towards Him as we receive the sacrament of communion together. If all goes well, this service will begin in the month of September.

I realized the value of what we’ve been missing a few weeks ago. Our staff met in person for the first time since March. We walked through a simple liturgy—confession, assurance, reciting the ancient words of the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed. Five minutes. And in this small act of worship together, I felt the Holy Spirit lift my soul in a way I had not experienced in months!

Our Sunday evening gathering won’t be what we are used to, but it will be a space to be refreshed by the Holy Spirit.

Life Together

Community life at St. Pete’s has never been limited to Sundays, and during the pandemic, our groups meeting virtually have been a lifeline for many of us. I have been so grateful for my CG during this time. We will continue offering virtual groups this fall. However, they will follow a slightly different pattern than usual (see below). We also want to acknowledge that virtual community life has many challenges and isn’t working for some of you. For this reason, we’re suggesting a few different options for joining in community life this fall. Once again, whatever option(s) you choose to engage with below, we expect you to adhere to governmental guidelines and wash those hands.

Community Groups

Community groups will launch the week of September 13th. Groups will be more flexible and suited to the individual groups’ needs and comfort levels. Here is our suggestion for a group rhythm this fall:

  • Upward: Meet together weekly on Sunday to connect and engage the virtual service. We will begin to provide a short discussion guide for the sermon every other week.
  • Inward: Groups meet midweek every other week for an Inward night and prayer.
  • Outward: Groups will designate one week each month to support their Outward partner. This may or may not be a ‘together’ activity—for example, a group may do virtual calls to residents at Broadway Lodge that cannot happen during their normal evening time slot.

You’ll notice that in this scenario, groups are not meeting midweek each week on Zoom. It may be only every other week. Some may choose to opt for more gatherings, by adding COVID-appropriate social nights for example, or additional midweek Bible studies, but this is not expected.

We are putting more ownership in individual groups’ hands as to exactly when they will meet and on what schedule. For example, some groups may decide to meet in a park on a weekend afternoon for the fall, while the weather is nice. Others may prioritize creatively joining for Sunday worship together. Others may simply stick to Zoom calls. We are available to empower your group to navigate the options and discern the best solution.

We believe this is a time when our groups are more essential than ever, and we want to give groups the tools to live into community life in the specific ways that work for them this fall. 

Prayer Triads

We have created a guide for starting an in-person prayer triad. These are three people who meet consistently for in-person checking in and prayer. This is a good way to engage the Inward rhythm in this season if Zoom Inward isn’t for you. 

Rhythms For Life Groups

Several groups will commit to working through the newly released Rhythms For Life book. This will be a 10-week commitment for those who want to dive into their spiritual life and formation. These groups will begin the week of September 13th and start the book by the end of September. This is a commitment that will lead you deeper into knowing yourself, knowing God, and learning how God is calling you to walk faithfully with him. 

Signups for Community Groups and Rhythms For Life Groups will begin early September.

As you prayerfully consider how to root yourself in Christ this fall, remember that you cannot do it alone. If you’re like me, you feel the fatigue of virtual connecting. But let’s not allow this fatigue to lead us into isolation and withdrawal from our community. We are a body with many members and we need one another. We will not thrive this fall if we slide into isolation. So by whatever means, let us not give up meeting together, but encourage one another with our presence, our prayers, and by pointing one another to our Lord.

Our team realizes all this information is a lot to receive. If you have questions please reach out. And don’t forget to participate in our annual survey, your voice matters and we want to hear from you!

Read more articles by Preston Gordon or about COVID-19.

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