An Open Letter from Rev. Clarence, 10/10/20

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Dear Members and Friends of St. James,

I write, as always, in the hope that you continue in good health, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  It has been seven months since we last gathered in communion with each other, as the COVID-19 pandemic in its relentless hold on our behavior has made even memories of a previous liturgical practice seem so distant, so removed, from our current reality.  Still, it is uplifting to me personally when I can join in, via telephone, with you in full-throated laughter.  Such conversations speak [of] resilience and renewal, and no better reading from today’s gospel could be found to remind us of new beginnings.  A Wedding Feast connotes new life. I turn to my update.

  • A communication from our Bishop diocesan:

Oct. 5, 2020

Dear Friends,

Last week I was forced to miss several events due to symptoms of illness.  A Covid-19 test on Friday proved negative.  However, on Sunday morning I experienced the sudden onset of extremely severe vertigo and nausea.  Following a full day of  tests and evaluations at MGH, my condition was diagnosed as Vestibular Neuritis.  This confirms a preliminary diagnosis given in January 2019 when I experienced a similar episode and brief hospitalization.

Vestibular Neuritis is a disorder of the inner ear which is quite debilitating in its presentation but does not typically cause permanent damage.  The condition can recur aperiodically; however, I have been referred for a course of vestibular physical therapy, which is expected to speed recovery and diminish the severity of any future episode.

I will be recuperating at home this week, and am so deeply grateful for your patience, your prayers, and your companionship.

Faithfully and fondly,
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates


I bid you pray for him, his family, and those who minister to him.

  • Diocese-wide operations
  1. Clergy Retreat: Adapting to our new normal, I attended several meetings via zoom this week [that] may be of interest to us all. One of those meetings was a day-long “virtual retreat” for diocesan clergy, as well as those clergy licensed to exercise ministry in the diocese.  The retreat leader was the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Ph.D., resident in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts and author of several book on community building and environmental concerns.  Opportunity was provided, during afternoon virtual “break-out” groups to engage in discussions of “Ministry during Pandemic,” “Young Adult Ministry,” “Anti-racism work in our communities,” “Planning a Nov. 3 Diocesan wide on-line election Prayer Vigil,” and “Environmental Justice.”  The day was splendidly executed, but lacking were two key components of any retreat: Time for Silent Reflection, and live person-to-person interaction.  So, you understand, even your clergy must look to novel means of establishing and retaining friendships and collegiality.
  2. Pre-convention Deanery Informational Session: This virtual meeting, open to deputies to Convention, discussed resolutions to come before Convention and introduced the budget for the year 2020 -2021. There were no surprises, no major controversial proposals to be brought before Convention, I may note.
  3. 235th Diocesan Convention: The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts will meet on Saturday, 7 November 2020 in virtual assembly. Our lay parish representative is Mr. David Olsen.
  • Covid-19 and Re-opening: During our bi-monthly Clericus, clergy having jurisdiction in the Alewife Deanery, two question that occupy the lion-share of our now virtual 2-hour meeting are: 1) How do we maintain pastoral relations when we are not permitted to go out and be among our people, and 2) what is the status of your reopening preparations? I am amazed at the novel, often humorous ways, in which colleagues exercise ministry.  However, I wish today to share with you my thinking for us at St. James.
  1. Let me state clearly, because of the many variables and unknowns still regarding this virus and the status of producing a vaccine, but above all because of the informal consensus that I have obtained when I have spoken with you individually and given our demographics, I am not moved to rush to reopen. Like many of you, I am myself a member of “the protected class,” that is to say, under a designation covering individuals who are 60 years and older and/or who may have a pre-condition that would make them vulnerable to COVID-19, or caring for someone who falls into either or both of those categories.  I rush to add also, finances are not a motivator to reopen, as to a parishioner you are all committed to maintaining our financial health.
  2. There is no push from our Bishops to reopen. Indeed, our bishops are for some too conservative.  My own bias is that one cannot be too conservative during this pandemic.  Cases of infection are rising in Massachusetts, albeit not as in the initial contractions.  Our Bishop diocesan has opened the way for parishes, which desire, to petition for reopening.  However, as I have reported to you prior, specific and detailed guidelines have been established for those parishes that wish to attempt to reopen.  The guidelines are many, but not onerous.
  3. After speaking with fellow clergy, our regional canon (the Rt. Rev. Carol Gallagher), and diocesan Canon to the Ordinary (the Rev. Bill Parnell), as well as to our wardens, I report to you my/our plan for future in-person liturgies. I neither seek, nor see, a reopening in the immediate future.  However, I do see a need to prepare, as much as possible, for the future.  To that end, according to a first step required by the diocese, we have named a Reopening Committee.  Members are Bill Brathwaite – Senior Warden, Bill Parsons – Junior Warden, Rosemary Parson – Head Altar Guild, James Sheils – Member-at-large, and myself.  Each of the individuals brings experience and expertise and, for their willingness to serve, I express herewith thousand thanks.  Each of us has before us the Guidelines issued by the bishops that will determine the whats and whens.  As you all have come to know me, my academic background forces me to “proceed with all deliberate slowness!”  Humor aside, know that I, personally, have three jurisdictions to which I must answer: the Bishop of the Diocese, State and Local authorities (Somerville, in our case) and the Bishop “trumps” state and local; and “trumping” those preceding two are my two daughters (Hong Kong and Watertown).  We need to reflect, pray, and plan:  I neither seek nor see a reopening in the immediate future.  I do, however, desire and pray that we not succumb to defeat, as my faith in our Creator God moves me to believe that, with God’s help, we shall get through this crisis.  I ask that you contact me, should you have concerns or questions.  I enjoy speaking with you all, responding to emails, and even meeting, with masks and social distancing.  I can be found during the week at the church, should you desire to meet me there.  My request is that we establish an agreed hour, for I am not there the same day each week.

I realize that this update is unusually long.  My professorial wont towards wordiness notwithstanding, I want you to know my thinking.  I want you also to share with me your own thoughts.  I cannot hear silence.

I bid you pray:

O merciful God, who has taught us in your holy word that you do not willingly afflict or grieve the children of your Creation, look with compassion upon us and all humankind, that we may come to know your will for us in the building of your kingdom on earth as in heaven, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.  Amen

O God, you have bound us together in a common life.  Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representative; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Chris our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be with and remain with you and those whom you love this day and for ever.  Amen

Your humble fellow in The Way