As I write this blog I am in Abilene, Texas with my wife, Margaret, visiting our son David and his family – part of a month-long road trip during my six-week sabbatical. (David is Rector of the Church of the Heavenly Rest in the Diocese of Northwest Texas.) Our first stop from Connecticut was western Maryland, where Margaret’s brother hosted the annual family reunion followed by a visit with old friends from Hartford in Oklahoma. While there will be stops along the way, the next few weeks will include additional visits with family and friends in South Carolina and Virginia. All these summer gatherings continue to be wonderful opportunities for relaxation, refreshment, and reconnection.
The Episcopal Church has also been gathering during July. Earlier in the month, General Convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland. Due to some very strict COVID protocols, this General Convention was smaller, shorter, and more focused without the usual family-reunion component of exhibitors and multiple social events. Nevertheless, bishops and deputies gathered, in person, to do the business of the Church. More recently, more than 650 bishops throughout the Anglican Communion convened in Canterbury, England for the decennial Lambeth Conference – a gathering hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and deemed one of the primary instruments of Anglican identity. Despite some significant differences and divisions among the participating bishops, especially around matters of human sexuality, the meeting ended on a hopeful note with an overwhelming commitment to be in relationship, continue the conversation, and most importantly, actively engage in the world as Anglicans.
Yes, gatherings are an important part of who we are and what we do as family members, friends, colleagues, and Christians. This reality has become especially apparent during the pandemic when we were discouraged or even prevented from coming together in person for worship, fellowship, and work. While Zoom and similar technology has made it possible to function and operate during these challenging times, it is no substitute for coming together in person. Many people continue to watch church services online with worship and formation opportunities that go far beyond their local congregations. This is clearly a positive development and hybrid services are clearly here to stay. Yet, many of our local faith communities have not yet recovered from diminished attendance and participation and probably never will, especially given shifting demographics, priorities, and societal choices.
Margaret and I Facetime with our family in Abilene every Sunday – a way to connect that was not available until recently – what a blessing. But there is no substitute for having your granddaughters hold your hand with their sticky fingers or curl into your lap as you read to them at bedtime.
In-person gatherings can be complex, especially larger events. Going forward, we need to be much more discerning about when and how we get together, especially as a church. We should remember, however, that from earliest times, followers of Jesus came together – gathering for fellowship, prayers, and the breaking of the bread, during periods of persecution, war, famine, pestilence, and natural disasters. Mindful of new realities and new risks, we are still called to gather as Christians and members of the human family.
Wishing you safe, restful and joy-filled gatherings for the remainder of the summer and beyond.