Let us pray: For the Parish (BCP, 817)
Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. Strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent. Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Greetings. October 1st marked my first official day as your new Rector.
It is an understatement to say we commence our time together at a most unusual time. My hope is to bring peace and clarity to this next phase in St. Stephen’s storied history and corporate life and that we together do the things that need to be done to sustain and grow the parish.
After a year of interim leadership and 9 months of COVID-19 absence from church “as usual,” I suspect many of you want to know what comes next. So do I! Here’s what I do know:
Katherine and I hope to occupy the rectory in mid-to-late October after repairs and painting are finished. Until then I will commute daily from Chapel Hill to Oxford.
I will be regularly available to the parish from Saturday afternoon through Thursday afternoon, reserving as sacrosanct the 24 hours that begin Thursday evening and end Friday evening as my “sabbath.”
Saturday availability will depend on liturgical needs as they arise—weddings, funerals, pastoral emergencies—so I do plan to be in Oxford Saturday evenings unless traveling.
After a suitable period of orientation during which I plan to learn more about the parish and get to know folks, I will initiate regular office hours. These will be published for all to know.
Soon we will begin experimentation with limited in-person worship. Small groups will organize for trial re-gathering, in line with diocesan guidelines. Mask use, physical distancing, correct hygiene, and contract tracing provisions will be used as deemed advisable.
As most of you know I am both a priest and a doctor. I take your health seriously at every level. I promise to do everything I can to limit unintentional exposures to harms and avoid intentional endangerment to parishioners’ wellbeing as we work together to restore suspended elements in our common life such as pastoral visits, communion, and some missional activities.
At the same time exploration of ways to build upon and improve adaptations already made will pick up. Besides treasure, stewardship calls all to offer talent and time, too, in the service of parish life.
Those with skills and talents applicable to the video and online world are asked to please step forward. By helping each other stay connected we can improve the quality of our “virtual” experiences. At the same time, we will begin to utilize our outdoor spaces to best advantage so we can safely return to the presence of each other as God’s people.
Finally, I am planning forums for 2020-2021 up through next Pentecost. The first will be a three-week discussion of N.T. Wright’s recent book, “God and the Pandemic.” This will commence in mid-October. Details to follow.
More ambitious is a three-part forum titled “Entering the Life of Jesus.” Part One, “From Bethlehem to Capernaum” will commence with Advent. Part Two, “From Capernaum to Jerusalem” will commence with Lent. And Part Three, “From Jerusalem to Now” will commence after Easter and end with Pentecost. Again, details will follow.
In addition to forums, I will offer Centering Prayer practices to those with a contemplative approach to spirituality, work with children via Godly Play and other curricula, and join youth in action and prayer in a world changing faster than any of us ever anticipated.
In closing, I’m humbled but excited to be your next rector. I wish to know you all. Please update your membership records and make your pastoral needs known. Without this information I cannot know how to be the presence you need.