Dear ones,

I have some good news about the eventual re-opening of our church to in-person worship! But first, I feel compelled to share a story… it’s what we preachers do…

A Christ Church staff member related a story to me that he witnessed just a few days ago in Jacksonville Beach.  Because local government officials were relaxing some of the strictures of the lock-down, people were free to go to restaurants, subject to social distance guidelines.  And so, this staff member and his wife were queuing up outside of a restaurant.  There were many people, patiently waiting in line, many of whom were wearing masks.

And then a different man came out of the restaurant and despite the fact that there were kids in the line he starting spewing / hateful profanity to those who were waiting outside, wearing masks.  He even went so far as to brandish a gun.  As luck had it, one of the other men in line happened to be an off-duty policeman.  And the man was arrested.  These instances are increasing.  Sometimes it’s just a snide comment, sometimes it gets vicious, even violent.

This episode, and others like it, are rooted in anger, obviously. And not the good kind of anger. The good kind of anger is righteous indignation. This episode was not righteous indignation, it was selfish anger.  And the difference is motivation.

Righteous indignation is rooted in anger on behalf of the powerless who have suffered some injustice.  It seeks to right a wrong, on behalf on of the powerless.

The angry man who lashed out at those who were wearing masks was acting in rampant selfish fury… on behalf of himself. Why? Maybe because he was angry and afraid and seeing people with masks reminded him that he was vulnerable in some subconscious way?  It is as if he said, “I want! I want something that I can’t have” (presumably a return to ‘normal’). “If I can’t have what I want, I will unleash my fury to all in my path.”

And that is not the way of Jesus. Jesus’s way is the way of self-giving, on behalf of others… especially of the most vulnerable.

Which brings me quickly back to masks.

We all get a lot of conflicting medical and public heath advice these days. For my part, I stand on the side of science, in part because God gave us a brain and wants us to use it.  And because a preponderance of medical and scientific experts suggests wearing a mask in public, I will too. Remember saints, wearing a mask in public is not just about protecting ourselves – if it were, we should all have the right to take it or leave it. Perhaps more importantly, wearing a mask is about protecting others, about loving others, in case the mask wearer is infected but not symptomatic.

If you disagree, that’s fine. I could be wrong about the science. But I am not wrong about the motivation.  I wear a mask in public simply because I believe that, if Jesus was here today, he would wear a mask too… not as a gesture of scientific knowledge, but as a gesture of self-giving love. And so, I will fall on the side of love, and grace and mercy. I hope you will to. Please wear a mask in public, for love’s sake.  Be kind to each other. I believe that that’s what Jesus would want us to do.

In related news, as you may know, Phase One of our gradual re-opening of on-site church programming is that the Christ Church staff and select volunteers were welcomed back to the office, subject to strict caveats and conditions (see my letter from last week for details).

Phase Two includes the re-opening of in-person worship.

You will receive detailed plans shorty, but the broad contours include that it will be open-air (outside) and touchless. Masks and strict social distancing will be mandatory. And so Phase Two will commence on the Feast of Pentecost, May 31.  The service will be innovative and creative, and will put a premium on safety, being together safely and sharing the Sacrament, safely. Obviously it will not look like church in the way that we used to do it, not for now. But it will be grace-filled, joyful, and fun. Pentecost should have all of those parts and more.

And, for those who are not ready to come back yet, or may not be able to come back  in-person because of preexisting or underlying medical conditions, our streaming worship services will continue online.

There are more Phases to share, later, all subject to the continued downward trajectories of the published benchmarks and metrics of the CDC, the State of Florida, and our local area. But I will hold those, for now.

Rest assured, we will not stop working on the problem until everyone who wants to come back, can come back safely.

Yes, I know that there are churches that are already re-opened… inside their church buildings… that don’t require masks, that let up to 200 people at one time come to church. The leaders of those churches are free to do so.  I will take a more cautious tack in leading you back to Christ Church.

I don’t know all the right answers… masks, phases, social distancing… What I do know is that I love you, and I don’t want you to get sick. And because I love you, I will err on the side of caution.

So, rejoice. Look to Pentecost, and the coming of the Holy Spirit! That same Spirit will bring us back together soon, with God’s help.

Amen.

Fr. Tom