|I wanted to explain the reasons behind my liturgical decisions since March 15, for transparency’s sake, in case you were wondering, and to recap how far we’ve come.|
Initially, the diocese only allowed up to three people in a worship space, under the age of 60, masked, with no distribution of Holy Eucharist. The age limit really narrowed our choices, as you might imagine! Long story short, the family members of every person I asked to participate in various tasks all expressed concern for their loved one being exposed. Back then we had even less info on how this virus spread. Their worry made me realize how irresponsible it would be to put anyone at risk, so I made the blanket decision not to. Thus began eight Sundays of the “Wm & Rico Show,” from our apartment in San Mateo, recorded on my iPhone 6 attached to a small tripod. (Those were fun and crazy times, by the way, we kept comparing it to live TV from the 1950s.) I chose to partake of Holy Communion, with William holding his hands up near the camera to also partake “on behalf” of the laity. Best of all, we could still sing and not wear masks, because we were a “household unit” and Nicholas Mourlam had recorded hymn accompaniments and other musical offerings.
After a number of requests to see the sanctuary, we moved services back into the church starting May 24, still using the phone and tripod, along with stacks of hymnals and a movable music stand to make it all work. I’m sure you remember those awkward moments when I had to turn and adjust the phone’s camera so that it could capture an assisting clergy’s sermon played on my laptop. But we had gotten the hang of it. We did this for 16 Sundays. At some point, the diocese decided that Holy Eucharist could no longer be offered “on camera,” so we switched to a format of “Spiritual Communion,” with prayers of longing for the Sacrament that acknowledged our separation from it.
Around that time, the diocese allowed up to six persons to participate in worship, but still no Eucharist or singing, with the age limit now advisory and not mandated. I chose not to have more people join us on camera for a number of reasons. Once anyone other than William and I were there, all would have to wear masks and we could no longer lead the hymn singing. Also, the concern of infection increased for all once more were involved. I heard from one parishioner the possibility that some might resent being denied participation, that having just William as acolyte might seem controlling to some. But, I don’t respond to second-hand news; so, please, if you feel this way, contact me directly. It’s okay, and I want to know.
Then, lo and behold, Art Feather and Warren Hackbarth researched, purchased, and set up our new live-streaming system! All with donated funds from you, which paid for the entire endeavor – thank you! Art is the live-streaming director behind the curtain making it all look so terrific. By the time you read this, we will have nine such services under our belt, and they get better and better each week. We can now fold in pre-recorded lectors, so you see more faces than just ours. We’re also starting to feature pre-recorded singers leading hymns and offering a musical solo, another wonderful facet of our new tech capacities.
In the meantime, we were allowed to start having socially-distanced outdoor worship, minus singing or Holy Eucharist, with a max of 25 persons (later 40). Our Parish Re-entry Team worked long and hard to create a safe environment for this worship – probably 30 hours of prep for that one hour of worship Saturday afternoons. Please, please consider attending if you can, at least while the weather holds up. Most days it’s Evening Prayer, but the diocese has now approved three “trial runs” of Holy Communion services for All Saints’, Christ the King, and Christmas Eve. Our first one was wonderful, held on the Eve of All Saints’, and it was apparent from the eyes of those receiving the sacrament how much they had missed it.
Sunday, November 15 marks a new change: for the first time since February 16, I will not celebrate Holy Eucharist on a Sunday. Fr. Bill Stafford will do so, with William as acolyte and Barbara Stafford reading the lessons. Because a pre-recorded singer will lead the hymns (thank you, Susie Fleming!), that will not change. But you’ll see masks on camera for the first time at a St. Luke’s service. We hope that more participation will now be possible. But do note that it takes quite a bit of planning to make that happen. With time, we hope to “get the hang” of this, too.
If you’ve read this far in the article, thank you for sticking with me. I have just one more thing to say. Figuring out how to make Sunday worship happen online has been exhausting. Finding ways to use an iPhone, Facebook, and now live-streaming video has been challenging. Pre-recording music, sermons, lectors, and now singers adds a new dimension and more work. And creating a safe worship space in our courtyard demanded creativity and lots of thought. Layered atop all of this are the decisions and changes that have come from the diocese, which themselves are based on county health guidelines, all of which have forced us to adjust to new ways of offering worship each week … sometimes just when we had adapted ourselves to the previous methods. So: Thank you for all your appreciation of our efforts over these past eight months! Thank you for showing up with full hearts and generous spirits, for participating in the service as much as you can. Thank you for understanding, now if not before, just how much it takes to fashion worship that might look seamless on Sundays. If future changes come slowly, it’s because we are catching our breath and considering how to move forward. Like you, we pray that we can one day be reunited for in-person worship in our sanctuary. In the meantime, may we appreciate all that we have done in this time of exile, carrying the valuable lessons learned with us into our new life together.
God bless you,