I just dropped my daughters off for their second full week of school. But this time felt different. Maggie started Kindergarten this fall, which involves gradual entry. The first two weeks are half days to help “the children” adjust. I suspect it may also be for the parents. I’ve been caring for Ansley and Maggie on Mondays and Tuesdays throughout COVID-19. And now, for the first time since March, I’m at home and able to work. My schedule is back to “normal.” But it feels different — it feels a little bit empty, a little too quiet. Maggie starting school is a good thing, and returning to full capacity for work is also a good thing for me. But it will take time to adjust.
I suspect this captures how we might feel about entering into the fall as a community. Starting Sunday, September 27, we are beginning an in-person gathering. It is a return to a “normal” practice, but it is not a return to normal. It will initially feel different. But even in this difference, it will be good.
Our new pattern of Sunday worship is now:
- An online morning service at 10:00am with a focus on the Word.
- An in-person evening service at 5:00pm with a focus on the Sacrament of Communion.
We are committed to collaborate with health authorities, our house of bishops, and other churches as we move forward. Although cases have been on the rise, further restrictions have not been implemented on gatherings for faith communities. So long as it is permissible and safe, we will host these Sunday evening gatherings. If the directives from our government change, then our plans will change accordingly. At the very least, we have developed a very good plan for future services.
If you choose to worship in-person, our team has developed a detailed safety plan, and will take every measure to ensure your protection. Our safety plan is a living document that will change overtime as we implement changing guidelines. Our current plan has been reviewed and refined by a registered nurse who works in communicable disease control programs. As we begin these in-person services, it’s essential that you honour all the protocols we have in place. Please help our team through your cooperation and be gracious with them if they gently correct your behaviour. Here are a few basics:
- We will wear masks.
- We will maintain social distance (keep 2m/6ft apart).
- We will not socialize before or after the service.
- There will be no physical contact: we will not shake hands or hug.
- When we receive the elements of communion, we will do so through individualized containers.
I want to acknowledge that there are mixed feelings and opinions about gathering in-person as a church. This year our survey had 134 participants, which is a good sample of our parish. In the survey, 75% of our participants indicated that they would attend an in-person gathering. The remaining 25% indicated that for health reasons, or concern of safety, they would not. Whether you participate in or refrain from this service, it’s important that you honour your own conscience while extending mutual respect to the decisions and comfort levels of others.
How will the service work?
I know you will have a lot of questions. I’ll try to answer a few here:
Participation Our hope is for you to participate weekly in the online service at 10:00am (or at another time with your CG or bubble), and for you to attend the in-person evening service 1-2x/month (if able).
Pre-registration You must register in advance at stpf.ca/events and answer health screening questions. You must be in good health when you arrive. Please cancel your registration if you have any symptoms of being ill. Although there is room for more, we will limit the service to 30 people each week.
Masks, Communion, and Singing You must wear a mask upon arrival and throughout the service. The only time to take off your mask will be to receive communion. We are using pre-filled juice and wafer cups. You peel back the top layer to eat the wafer, then peel back the second layer to drink the juice. We are still discerning best practice for communal singing. For now, we ask that you would refrain from singing.
Social Distancing & Traffic Flow When you arrive, our hospitality team will first ask you to sanitize your hands. They will give you instructions on how to find your seat. We’ve laid out the sanctuary to ensure all seating is at least 6m apart (unless you are sitting with someone in your family or bubble).
Location and time This service is at 5pm so as not to conflict with our online service. It will be hosted at Church of the Nazarene (998 E. 19th Ave), the location of our East Vancouver service. Our downtown meeting space at Robson Square remains closed until the new year. When it reopens, we will re-evaluate our plans.
Childcare There will be no childcare (although children are welcome). Families may want to consider rotating which members go to the service on a given week.
How will the service feel?
Our online service and in-person service will be different from one another in content and style. As a service of the Word and a service of the Sacrament, they are designed to compliment and fulfill one another. The necessary and good safety precautions, however, will make this service feel very different from how we worshipped together prior to COVID-19. We decided to press into these differences. Think of this service as a new service for the now—but not a new norm for always. Our hope is that this service will enable us to endure through this strange and strained season, by worshipping together as we are nourished by the Lord’s Table.
Our aim is to nurture an environment that helps you step out of how life feels at the moment and into the presence of God. The service will be intentionally contemplative and quiet, with dim lights and candles. There will be familiar liturgy, but it will be a little more than usual as we draw upon rich resources of our Anglican heritage. It will be shorter, roughly 45 minutes long. In lieu of a sermon (which you’ll receive in the morning service), there will be a 5 minute homily.
If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.
Why is Communion so important?
With all these restrictions, I’m sure you’re asking, Well, what’s the point then? A few weeks ago I spoke about how physical gatherings of worship are an essential mark of the church, so I won’t cover that ground again. Another essential mark of the church, however, is the sacrament of communion—and this is the primary reason we are resuming in-person gatherings.
I must admit that it took me some time to appreciate the centrality of Communion. I knew Jesus instituted it at the Last Supper. I knew that churches kept doing it. But it just seemed like a ritual involving stale bread or wafers and a minuscule amount of wine or grape juice. It was odd. Things changed for me at one Good Friday service in 2010.
When we were invited to draw near to Christ’s table, it was as if time stopped behaving in a normal way. I sensed that I was walking up to Calvary where Christ was crucified. As I took the bread and the wine—whatever was happening in that moment—I participated in the benefits of Christ’s death. I was forgiven because he was crucified. Overwhelmed by the sorrow and goodness of the cross, I started to cry.
The bestselling poet and essayist Kathleen Norris recalls one of her first spiritual awakenings. At a Catholic wedding she’d been invited to, she was astonished when the priest began to clean up the dishes after serving Communion. She writes:
But I found it remarkable—and still find it remarkable—that in that big, fancy church, after all of the dress-up and the formalities of the wedding mass, homage was being paid to the lowly truth that we human beings must wash the dishes after we eat and drink. The chalice, which had held the very blood of Christ, was no exception. And I found it enormously comforting to see the priest as a kind of daft housewife, overdressed for the kitchen, in bulky robes, puttering about the altar, washing up after having served so great a meal to so many people. . . . After the experience of a liturgy that had left me feeling disoriented, eating and drinking were something I could understand. That and the housework.
Whether through the bread and wine or the officiant as a “daft housewife” cleaning dishes, Jesus reveals himself at the table as our Host. He graciously welcomes us as his guests. When we draw near with faith and accept the bread and the wine, we draw near to Christ himself and participate in his presence, whether we’re aware of it or not (1 Cor 10:16-17). And we keep at it, because this is his perpetual invitation (Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:18-20; 1 Cor 11:23-25).
The Lord’s Table sets the stage and standards for our life together: it is not possible apart from the sacrifice of Jesus and his gracious invitation to participate in his life rather than clinging to our own. The table reminds us again and again that if we share in his bread and wine, we share in his body and blood, his death and resurrection. And it calls us to inhabit and embody his forgiveness and reconciliation together. The 39 Articles (from our Anglican heritage) describe Communion this way in Article 28:
The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the mutual love that Christians ought to have among themselves. Rather, it is a sacrament of our redemption through Christ’s death. To those who rightly, worthily, and with faith receive it, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, and similarly the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ.
I hope you can see why a physical gathering around the table of the Lord is essential. If you want to learn more about the Eucharist, I recommend Christ, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper by Leonard J. Vander Zee.