Even a brief review of a topic as encompassing as our stewardship of worship and pastoral care would mean hours of my writing time and your reading time and would leave us all exhausted. So, we won’t do it. What follows is brief and, I hope, to the point. (You’re welcome!)
I want us to think about what we’ve learned about worship during the past sixteen months or so during the pandemic.
I believe that, most important of all, we’ve seen that when we worship — declaring of the worth-ship of God – it is not necessary that we do so in this building. Certainly, this sacred place is our home and, in every sense, our worship here is the crowning moment of our spiritual life each week. We celebrate God in Christ with solemnity and exuberance, in liturgy and with splendid music, and we receive the Great Sacrament. But when we were deprived of this House of God during the public health emergency, we saw, or should have seen, that God never leaves us and that our worship survives in other places and forms.
In a very real sense, that has always been true. Many of us read daily prayers at home; the sacraments are always available from our pastoral care workers and clergy for the sick and isolated in their homes or hospital. Our clergy bless our pets in the garden on St. Francis Day; and I’ll argue that we truly worshiped last year when we brought our cats and dogs to be blessed. This past year, we celebrated the Eucharist in a park and in our parking lot, and our pastoral care Eucharistic Visitors took Reserved Sacrament Communion to groups of parishioners in their homes and backyards.
We also began live-streaming worship services on YouTube. While there will be debates about the place of worship on television in the life of the church, it filled a valuable need in our maintaining a sense of community during a time of great stress.
Every live-streamed Eucharist from St. Paul’s included a prayer which, I believe, gives us something we can learn about worship. It is called a “Prayer of Spiritual Communion” and it is prayed in liturgical traditions when physical reception of Holy Communion is not possible, such as during war or disaster or an epidemic. It asks God to grant us to spiritually receive the Consecrated Bread and Wine and to obtain the blessing it imparts. What a comfort for us in the distress of social isolation to reaffirm that God is everywhere. God acts to help us in ways that are not limited by our forms or locations or rules.
All of that reflects worship outside these walls, but let’s come back inside the church for a moment. How many people have been baptized at our font? How many deceased members of this parish have received a solemn farewell within these walls? How many persons have been married here? How many servants of God have been ordained or commissioned here? How richly our lives have been blessed by worship in this holy place.
My sisters and brothers, we are stewards of this place and its mission to spread the Gospel, whether within these walls or outside. A good steward – like us – will pray for, help with, participate in, and give of our resources to support the worship of the church.
May the God of peace, whom we worship here and everywhere, in many forms and in no forms, work in us that which is well pleasing in God’s sight; through Jesus Christ our Savior, that great shepherd of the sheep, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.