What a Difference a Year Makes!!
Do you remember what was on the minds of Vermont Episcopalians back in May of 2019? A hint is found in our denominational name: "Episcopal". Yes, you are correct! The word "Episcopal" means "Bishop".
May of last year was a month of Episcopal goodbyes and welcomings. A year ago, much of the focus of this newsletter was on electing our new bishop! on may 18, the Episcopal Church in Vermont would meet a the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington, to vote in a majority for one of three candidates to become the 11th Bishop of Vermont. Excitement and anticipation were in the air!
However, also last year, as we looked toward electing a new bishop, announced in the same May Messenger, was Bishop Tom Ely's last annual visitation to All Saints to take place on May 8. As a parish we celebrated bishop Tom's rich ministry of eighteen years to us and our love for him with a potluck supper on May 8 (ten days before the election of his successor).
The diocesan convention to elect a bishop, held last May 18, was historic in that the Rev. Dr. Shannon MacVean-Brown was elected our bishop on the first ballot!
tHat was last May. Fast forward to this May. (Of course, in the meantime, there was the September 28 Service of Consecration and Ordination of (the now) Right Reverend Doctor Shannon MacVean-Brown.
But what a first year as our bishop this has been for Bishop Shannon! No sooner were we looking forward to the inaugural first year of Bishop Shannon's ministry as our bishop, then something called the Coronavirus Pandemic was suddenly front and center in the lives of our parish, diocese and nation! Many have opined what a bizarre and challenging beginning of ministry for our new bishop! Talk about "baptism by fire"!
Given the shutting of our church buildings, "Stay Home and Stay Safe" state-wide orders and the need to suddenly become agile with social media and conferencing software, such as Zoom, the way in which Bishop Shannon has responded to this crisis has been inspiring! She has initiated a twice daily online worship experience, with Morning Prayer at 8:00 AM and Compline at 8:00 PM. Each Wednesday afternoon Bishop Shannon has a Zoom meeting with Clergy. All of these online gatherings are well attended.
There is an intimacy and comfort to these electronically connected gatherings which has been surprising. As a new bishop in a new diocese, one could imagine the challenge of the first couple of years being trying to get to know clergy and parishioners and for them to know you. In the absence of bishop visitations to parishes ( ours at All Saints was to have been on Sunday, May 10). Bishop Shannon has gained face and name recognition of many clergy and parishioners around the diocese through these gatherings. For those participating there also is a palpable sense of belonging to the diocese, seeing so many faces and hearing so many voices.
There are many questions about the path forward for our Churches in this crisis. Opening closed churches and when that might happen, of course comes to mind, but the gymnastics of social distancing when this would happen seem awkward at best. There are many details to be ironed out, It seems that increased competency with online technology will be required no matter what the "new normal" will be as we move forward.
It has been hearening on Sunday mornings for us All Saints folk to connect with one another for Morning Prayer via Zoom and the "virtual coffee hour" after worship. There have been questions about having the Eucharist in some way, but our Bishop, in agreement with the other bishops of the Province, has felt that unless all could receive, then those who consecrate should not be privileged to receive when others at home cannot.
one unmistakable reality has emerged in the midst of this pandemic. We are still the Church, even when we must physically distance ourselves. Perhaps iunder such circumstances we are even more that ever the Church! Even in the midst of so much in these days which is frightening, burdensome, and sometimes just plain boring, say your prayers. And even more, pray for one another. Do you have a Parish Directory? Work your way through it page by page praying foir one another. We afre in this together, as we are often being remionded on the airwaves, but there is no organization, no institution, which understands this more than the Church. Make it so.