A Letter from Rev. Clarence, 3/19/2020

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Dark church color

19 March 2020

My dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Two years ago, almost to the date, you invited me to join then your, but now our, faith community as Bridge Priest. Coming from an academic environment, I thought, what a strange title since, in my theology, all priests serve as bridges for God’s people as they and we find our way through life. Even priests use other priests and non-clerics as bridges. But the title has specific meanings within our diocesan structure. Our Bishop, after a year, changed that title to Priest-in-Residence, especially chosen for my unique situation as I had some time ago advanced beyond the canonical age where the more apt title would have been Priest-in-Charge. Title notwithstanding, my job or role was and is to represent the Bishop who is the chief pastor of every parish in our diocese.

I had hoped to observe that anniversary with different words and in a different tone. Instead, I compose my reflections regarding our own place as members of St. James in the current health crisis caused by COVID -19. Having tossed my crystal ball onto the junk heap eons ago, I was no longer capable, if ever, of foreseeing a future in which a deadly virus would interrupt the perceived normal life of every human being on Planet Earth, and certainly not able to anticipate that I, who almost never am able to walk by a church that has its door open and not go in, would not be able to join with fellow believers in corporate worship, or worship of any sort, where the closest I could be to my fellow worshiper would be six feet. But so it is that we find ourselves.

As your pastor, by whatever title, I have come to look forward to seeing and greeting you at least weekly in the celebration of the Sacraments. For now, and for some time to come, due to the aggressive nature of this ever expanding and far reaching virus, this privilege to celebrate the Eucharist with you in this manner has been withdrawn. You should, however, know that I am available for pastoral conversations via telephone: 617.744.0318. And, of course, you may reach me via email: butler@hws.edu. These are assuredly not my preferred means of pastoral care. Still, unusual times and circumstance demand an appropriate response. Or, as I have said again and again, if we believe in God and that God has endowed us with a brain, it would be the height of arrogance to ignore that gift. Reach out at any hour or day and I, as your pastor, will respond.

As most of you know, since mid-January 2020 COVID–19 has been a menacing presence in my family’s life. This gives me an unwelcomed, unique perspective to our U.S. situation. My older daughter and family live now 14 years in Hong Kong, where this virus has been and continues to be a daily, but unwelcomed, presence. I mention this because, as your pastor and as a realist, not a nihilist, I wish you to know, even as we pray and as researchers throughout the world work towards developing a vaccine, that we should prepare ourselves for a long-term disruption of our corporate worship. The mandates [that] only now U.S. diocesan, state, and local authorities have put into place, continue in Hong Kong as health professional there battle this disease. Bluntly stated: our Easter joy will be celebrated but almost certainly within the family, and virtually.

Let us embrace each other in our thoughts and prayers, even as physically we must keep our distance, and we pray, let us pray not only for ourselves, but for all God’s creation. And paraphrasing our Presiding Bishop, forget not for a moment that we are not alone, but that we are all in this together.

Clarence +

Priest-in-Residence and fellow traveler along The Way