22 March 2020
My dear friends
I know the events of the past few weeks have taken us all by surprise and have greatly unsettled our routines. To say the presence of COVID-19, Coronavirus is a distraction would be a gross understatement.
Like you, I mourn the loss of our corporate worship on Sundays where we proclaim Holy scripture, exchange the peace of Christ and share in the sacred meal where Christ is the Host.
A temporary placeholder will be an abbreviated weekly service uploaded to our website. If you have not visited our website recently, please do so as it will be an essential tool in our continued life together. I would like to thank our director of music, Marcia Kindler-Badgley and our IT communications manager, David Both for joining me in producing this worship resource. We will utilize this format throughout, Lent, Holy Week and Easter as our way of coming together as the community of St. Mark’s.
I also want to thank Joan-Ellen Deck for leading our pastoral care team that is already busy contacting the more vulnerable members of our community. Through both the work of the pastoral care team as well as what you can do within the context of your own parish area groups (PACs), we can ensure that every member never feels isolated or alone.
That said, if you are experiencing an emergency crisis related to COVID-19, please let someone know and also ensure that this information be relayed to the church office. ‘Going it alone’ or ‘toughing it out’ will not serve anyone well during this time.
I believe we all have the strength to get through this trial. But this virus must be taken very seriously especially if you’re elderly or already highly vulnerable to risk of infection.
I encourage you to heed the advice of your personal physician as well as information disseminated by state and local municipalities. Understanding the information that is specific to residents in North Carolina and the Triangle will be essential to your safety.
I would further encourage you to continue the effective practice of proper and frequent hand washing along with social distancing. Both of these methods have been proven to lower the risk of Coronavirus infection.
On the ground, all churches are suspending their face-to-face services. Most businesses are closed. Health and fitness clubs are closed. Schools are not in session and many employees are encouraged to work from home. Some of our major cities are under complete lockdown while a national shutdown seems inevitable. The near future will be like nothing we can imagine as infection rates increase exponentially and more people die. All of this will take a tremendous emotional, psychological and spiritual toll on us. There will be increased moments of anxiety, fear and uncertainty. And those who will least likely cope are those with few spiritual anchors and inner supports to help them navigate through this crisis.
Therefore, as your priest and pastor, I believe the days ahead will be days of prayer. We will need to be a people engaged in fervent prayer. And now we have been given the rare and unique opportunity to deepen our prayer life and to enter more fully into a relationship with God within whose Almighty power we live and move and have our being.
We may be part of an established household and may have the chance to connect more deeply with those under our roof. But the constant closeness and proximity to others may likely wear on us after a while. By the same token, if we live alone and eagerly embrace our solitude, this too might prove challenging over time.
And so, I want to encourage you to intentionally use this time. I commend to you the ancient call of returning to God and renewing your relationship with Christ Jesus. Lean into the moment of this Lenten season and deepen your sense of connection to the One who has promised to be with us in good times as well as bad. Pray to God for a sense of peace and calm. Exercise empathy and generosity. Practice patience with those around you. And open your heart to the wonder of God’s mysteries and the gift of grace which often comes in unexpected ways.
Now is the time to slow our pace and to center down. It’s time to pray and to let the Bible, the Daily Office and the Book of Common Prayer assist us. We might ask Howard Thurman, Thomas Merton or Mary Oliver to join us in conversation. And we might also seek out other prayer resources such as Holy Women, Holy Men—a collection of stories of people just like you and me whose hope was in the Word made Flesh despite everything going on in and around them.
Through internet, video conferencing, email as well as our website, there will be additional resources to maintain our sense of community and connection. But the deeper spiritual work will occur in your own moments of silence, meditation, and prayer which you will also have to engage in order to access some amount of solace during this distressing time.
So, I commend all of this to you today. Trust that my prayers are with you.
A final thought: Many residents of downtown Raleigh are often blessed with the echoing sounds of carillon bells—sometimes as late as 1:00am. For me, the beautiful gongs of familiar hymns are a welcome reminder that sacredness is often found amidst the ordinary and mundane. Such devotion also evokes the magnificence of God who holds us in love and grace. What a gift! What a joy to know that God is present even in the simplest of things.
God be with you in the days ahead.
The Rev. Tyrone Fowlkes, Rector
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Raleigh