Now on that same day, two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem . . .
I spend time each day reading or listening to those whose expertise might help make sense of what’s happening. I’m learning just enough to be dangerous. It’s so tempting to universalize my latest revelation and rush to share with everyone I know the article or webinar that just spoke to me.
The sheer volume of information and opinion coming toward us can be overwhelming. A friend and I shared a laugh last week over our FOMO (fear of missing out) on social media. There’s so much to listen to and watch and read.
Then again, maybe it’s time to take a walk.
Have you noticed how many are out walking these days? For those who are able, walking is good for us. Evolutionarily speaking, we’re well-equipped for walking, with long, straight hind limbs that aren’t so great for climbing trees, but are excellent for holding our heads high to take in far horizons.
Walking helps clear our thinking. “Never lose your desire to walk,” the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once counseled a friend. “Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being. I walk myself into my best thoughts.“
Walking is one way for us to hold and release all that we’re going through now. In one of his most famous poems, William Butler Yeats writes, “I went out to the hazel wood because a fire was in my head.” I can relate to that. Yeats then points to the possibility of mystical conversation: “I went to blow the fire aflame, but something rustled on the floor, and someone called me by my name.” Walking as a prayer practice unites body and soul. Then we can hear God’s voice with astonishing clarity.
Should you join a virtual Episcopal Church worship service this weekend, you’ll hear a famous story about two of Jesus’ disciples taking a walk on the first Easter morning. Upon hearing the news from the women of their community that Jesus’ tomb was empty and they had seen him alive, these two responded by getting up and walking out of the city. This was no casual stroll. They were traumatized by the events culminating in Jesus’ crucifixion, and his resurrection as yet meant nothing to them.They were walking through the debris of their shattered world to no destination in particular.
The story is known as the Road to Emmaus because that’s where we’re told the disciples were going, but no one knows where the village of Emmaus lay. Nor are we given a reason for their journey, although it’s easy to surmise. There was a fire in their heads, grief in their hearts, and they needed to walk. I know that feeling.
On the Emmaus road, Jesus meets the disciples and walks with them. He comes in the form of a stranger and they don’t recognize him. As they walk, Jesus listens to their story of disappointment and grief: “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” He then speaks to them through the Scriptures, and they feel the power of his presence through the words. He waits to be invited to join them further. Then at the table, he takes bread, blesses, breaks, and gives it to them, and at that moment, they recognize him. It doesn’t seem to bother the disciples that he disappears. I suspect they sensed it was a mystical encounter all along.
We’re all walking the Emmaus Road now, moving from where we’ve been to where life is leading us. No matter how we experience or interpret what’s happening now and what lies ahead; no matter how we may feel on a given day, what we can be assured of is that Christ is with us. We hope for a better day, and pray for that day to come. For now, we’re walking on the road. Take heart that you do not walk alone.
I’m still reading and listening to others who can help make sense of things and point us toward the future, and I’ll pass along the best of what I learn. I hope you’ll do the same. I’ll try to remember to place some caveats around my offering, so that you might filter it through your experience, or if the last thing you need is more information, to ignore it.
But whenever you can, or feel you simply must, relish the gift of taking a walk (or a run or bike ride or sitting outside). Allow the many voices in your head to quiet, including mine, so that you might hear the One who calls you by your name.
(1) Quoted in The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred (San Francisco, CA; Canari Press,1998)
(2) Yeats, W. B. The Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats (New York; Collier Books, 1983)
“For I know the plans I have for you,’’ declares the LORD, “plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Dear Clergy and Wardens:
Blessings to you this Easter season and at this threshold moment in our lives and in the world. We of the diocesan staff pray daily for you and your loved ones, thanking God for your faithfulness and courage. We have information to share as you continue to serve your congregations and surrounding communities in the days and weeks to come.
In this letter I address:
- The application process for COVID-19 Emergency Relief Funds
- The process for reopening churches for in-person worship
- Congregation Check-in Conversations
- Guidelines and resources for ministry at the time of death
- Looking to the future
COVID-19 Emergency Relief Funds Application Process
Thanks to the generosity of many across the diocese, we are now able to provide direct assistance to those within our congregations and the communities they serve.
The COVID-19 Emergency Relief Funds amplifies congregational ministry to assist:
- congregation and community members experiencing financial hardships as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and
- established congregational food pantries and meals programs experiencing increased demand
All grants will go to congregations to be distributed by parish clergy, wardens, or designated leaders. We’ve made the eligibility criteria and application process as simple as possible to facilitate the disbursement of funds. You can find the criteria below my signature and the application form here. For more information, contact the Rev. Paula Clark, Canon to the Ordinary.
Reopening Our Churches
We all long to resume public worship and in-person meetings. As our civic leaders are now making plans for a gradual easing of restrictions, following broad guidelines issued by the White House, it’s time for us to begin planning as well.
To be clear: we will continue our suspension of public worship and other activities until the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia lift the mandatory closure of non-essential businesses and restrictions on public gatherings. The District of Columbia’s order has been extended to May 15; in neighboring Virginia, until June 8; and in Maryland, there is no set date. For now, please do not assume that we will open our churches again by May 16th.
In collaboration with our neighboring dioceses, we are working on guidelines for a phased reopening of our churches, along with a check-list of measures for each congregation to complete before being granted permission to resume public worship or face-to-face meetings. Such measures will include sanitation/cleaning policies, plans for physical distancing, strategies for public gatherings under the proposed number of people allowed.
Given our geography and diverse populations, the process of re-opening may not be uniform across the diocese, and officials have warned that we must also be prepared for re-closures in the future. I will have more specific information to share within the next two weeks, and I ask you to begin thinking of how your congregation can start preparing now for limited worship and face-to-face meetings.
Check-ins with Congregational Leaders
Bishop Chilton, members of diocesan staff, and I will be contacting you to schedule a check-in call. We’d like to speak with clergy, warden and treasurers of each congregation, to hear how you’re doing, how you sense God’s presence, what you’re struggling with and excited about, and how we can pray for and support you. These conversations will inform our reassessment of diocesan initiatives and resource allocation in light of all that has changed so quickly. Please watch for our call or email.
Caring for the Dead and Dying, and Ministering to Their Families
Sadly, some in our congregations have died from COVID-19 and related complications, as well as from other causes. Under no circumstances are clergy or lay leaders in high risk categories themselves to visit the sick or dying. I understand, however, the desire you have to be present with the sick and dying and for some, it may be the faithful thing to do. Given the risks to you and others, you must contact me or Bishop Chilton before entering any situation where you risk direct exposure to the coronavirus.
Regarding funerals and memorial services, we are bound by the guidelines given to us by civic authorities. In the current stay-at-home/closure state, you may, if you choose, preside at a graveside for a gathering of less than ten people, provided appropriate masking and physical distancing. While current civic guidelines allow for services in our sanctuaries for less than 10 people, I ask you to wait until the stay-at-home orders have been lifted. As restrictions ease, we will adjust accordingly. These same guidelines apply to presiding at marriage ceremonies.
Looking toward the future
We have the opportunity to emerge from this experience stronger and better equipped to serve God’s mission in an ever-changing world. In the words of Andy Doyle, Bishop of Texas, “God will not waste this moment, and neither will we.” Many of you have said that you’d like to continue new practices of ministry after this season has passed. I look forward to future collaborative endeavors so that we might strengthen and amplify your faithful efforts.
May God grant us all strength and courage for the living of these days, the peace that surpasses understanding, and an assurance of Christ’s presence with us always.
Faithfully in Christ,
COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund Eligibility Criteria
The Diocesan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund was established to:
- Assist parish and community members experiencing hardships as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and
- Support established congregational food pantries and feeding programs to assist persons suffering from food insecurities, especially in Diocesan communities that are underserved.
Funds can be granted to parish and community members who meet the following criteria:
- Members of EDOW congregations who are suffering from food insecurity and other hardships; and/or
- Persons associated with EDOW congregations, or in the communities that the congregations serve, who are not receiving enough financial support to feed themselves or their families; at the discretion of the parish clergy and/or wardens;
- Persons whose needs can be verified by parish clergy and/or wardens; and,
- Clergy/wardens provide information about each of the recipients/families for whom they are applying in the application form
Funds can be granted to existing EDOW congregational food pantries and feeding ministries that meet the following criteria:
- Funds are needed to restock food & supplies
- The ministry program is in compliance with current COVID-19 jurisdictional and diocesan guidelines
- Clergy/wardens provide a brief description of the program and needs of the ministry in the application form
Applications for assistance from the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund may be submitted by clergy and/or wardens of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
While the Committee will use discretion in determining amounts granted through the fund, grants will be assessed according to the following guidelines:
- Parish Member Assistance
- Individual: $150
- Individual +1: $250
- Families: $400+
- EDOW Congregational Food Pantries and Feeding Ministries
- Food Pantries: $450
- Feeding Ministries: $300
A committee of lay and clergy persons in the Diocese will review all applications, and disburse funds in an expedited manner. If you have
questions about the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund, please contact the Rev. Paula Clark
, Canon to the Ordinary.
Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?
I’m guessing that one of the questions you either asked or were asked this week was some version of, “So, how was your Easter?” It certainly was the case for me.
In past years, we might have answered with a description of our celebrations, either at church or with family. This year, what I heard myself and others reflect upon were the moments when Easter felt real.
What prompted these moments varied: hearing a piece of music, sitting on the couch with family members to watch an Easter service, rising early to see the sunrise. Whatever the external prompting, in that moment we felt something–a connection, a presence, a brief lifting of the burdens we had almost forgotten we were carrying. They didn’t change our circumstances or that of our world. But we felt a change inside, however slight or fleeting.
I can’t say that all Christians had such an experience this year; nor are they exclusive to Christians. But if you had such a moment, I hope you can trust it as the gift it was meant to be for you. It’s consistent with what Jesus’ disciples experienced, according to biblical stories sometimes called “the resurrection appearances.” There are nine stories of Jesus appearing to his disciples after rising from the dead, all brief, mysterious, and reassuring.
The resurrection appearances could just as easily be called “resurrection moments.” For in each, there is a moment when the disciples realize the person they are speaking with on the road, or who is cooking them breakfast, or has suddenly appeared among them behind locked doors, is Jesus. In one appearance he speaks a word of peace. In another, he speaks of hope. In others, he offers the reassurance of forgiveness and his unconditional love. Then he disappears. Like for us, nothing in the disciples’ circumstances changes after each moment, but something inside them changes. They receive his peace, his hope, his forgiveness and his love.
I suppose the disciples could have interpreted their experiences as wishful thinking or the delusions of grief. But they didn’t, and over time their confidence in His abiding presence grew. “Lo, I am with you until the end of the age,” Jesus says at the end of Matthew’s gospel. And they wanted people like us to have something of the same experience, and know the power of Jesus’ love and presence. The Gospel of John is clear about this: “Now Jesus did other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and through believing you might have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
For the first disciples and for us, resurrection moments come and go, and life resumes seemingly unchanged. Even the most seasoned of Christians can wonder if they were real or what difference they make. That’s where faith comes in, in the sense of where we place our trust. Dare we trust those fleeting moments enough to be the guiding principle of our lives?
The Christian writer Cynthia Bourgeault, quoted this week by Richard Rohr, distinguishes between two kinds of hope: hope that is tied to outcome, an optimistic feeling that things will get better in the future, and what she calls “mystical hope” that seems to have a life of its own. Mystical hope isn’t tied to outcomes, she writes, but rather to a sense of abiding presence. We aren’t the source of that hope, but it is experienced within us, and it’s meant to sustain us through challenging times.
Abiding, mystical hope is what Jesus gives us in a resurrection, so that we might live from its strength. “It’s not something that will change your life in the short range, in the externals,” writes Richard Rohr. “Rather, it is something that will change your innermost way of seeing. From there, inevitably, the externals will rearrange.”
If Scripture is to be trusted, we will have more resurrection appearances, or moments, in the days to come–glimpses of reassurance, gifts of encouragement, and peace surpassing human understanding–in the midst of this heartbreaking time. Jesus’ presence and power can move through locked doors and touch our anxious, doubting hearts. He invites us to trust him, to believe in him, and to draw strength from his abiding presence. As we do, more of that mystical hope directs our living. Then we might become–through a word, a gesture, or a sacrificial act of love–carriers of a resurrection moment for others, an expression of the same abiding presence that keeps us going when we need it most.
Diocesan staff during a morning check-in and following Jesus’ teaching to love one another.
Like you, those of us on diocesan staff have spent the past several weeks trying to figure out “the new normal” and, boy, it feels like that changes every day. Like you, we’ve pivoted from in-person meetings to All Things Zoom–with plenty of texting, phone calling and emailing to fill in the gaps. We’ve figured things out by trial and error; laughing, crying, worrying, and finding joy in precious moments of connection. We’ve done a lot of that together each weekday morning during our staff check-ins. During this Holy Week, like you, we’ve followed Jesus’ walk to Jerusalem in our daily Bible study. Each Scripture passage grounds us, reminding us why we’re here, why we serve the good people of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, and why we love God.
Personal diocesano durante una reunion de la mañana y siguiendo la enseñanza de Jesús de amarse unos a otros.
Al igual que ustedes, aquellos de nosotros en el personal diocesano hemos pasado las últimas semanas tratando de averiguar “la nueva normalidad” y, caramba, se siente como que cambia cada día. Al igual que ustedes, hemos girado desde las reuniones en persona hasta todas las cosas en Zoom–con un montón de mensajes de texto, llamadas teléfonicas y correos electrónicos para llenar los vacíos. Hemos descubierto las cosas por prueba y error; riendonos, llorando, preocupándonos y encontrando alegría en momentos preciosos de conexión. Hemos hecho mucho de eso juntos cada día de semana por la mañana durante las reuniones regulares de nuestro personal. Durante esta Semana Santa, como ustedes, hemos seguido el camino de Jesús a Jerusalén en nuestro estudio bíblico diario. Cada pasaje de la Escritura nos fundamenta, recordándonos por qué estamos aquí, por qué servimos a la gente buena de la Diócesis Episcopal de Washington, y por qué amamos a Dios.