Dear St. Michael’s Parishioners,
As many of you know, I grew up a cradle Episcopalian. The “new” 1979 Book of Common Prayer could legally drink by the time its Rite II words reached my infant ears and worship was centered around Holy Eucharist. As a full member of the church, I cannot recall a time when I stood on either side of my parents at the communion rail and was denied the body of Christ. At the end of my 1st Grade Sunday School class when we dressed extra nice and sat in the front pews to receive communion first, worshiping God as a community shifted for me. From that point forward, I distinctly remember standing on the pew and being fixated on the priests of St. John’s, Tallahassee as they prayed the Eucharistic prayers. There was an interest in how they got to that point in their life and how they could pray those words of faith that allowed us to connect with God.
A few years later when I was old enough to attend summer camp, the leaders who inspired the love of Christ to surround us were not middle-aged men with master’s degrees in formal vestments but college students – average, run of the mill long-haired young adults who reminded me more of my older cousins and neighbors and, ultimately, me. Even though the words and actions they led us in did not center around the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, I had no doubt that Christ was present in our midst. The prayers these lay leaders led are familiar to anyone who came to the Episcopal church before 1979. Each morning before breakfast, we said Morning Prayer; after dinner, Evening Prayer; and just before our young eyes could no longer stay open, Compline. These prayers shaped my Christian beliefs and stayed with me long after I went home. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you,” still comes to mind each sunrise I witness.
Unfortunately, my experience is not the norm in our church. At last week’s Wednesday night class, we discussed marking time in the Anglican tradition. I was dismayed to learn that two-thirds of those in attendance have never prayed Morning or Evening prayer. For them, their only experience of God’s presence in the Episcopal Church was totally dependent upon an ordained priest leading Holy Eucharist – not in the priesthood of all baptized believers praying as a community.
The simple idea of “community” changed more in the last week than it has in a century. Forced to distance ourselves, worship at St. Michael’s has fundamentally changed. For many of you reading this, worshipping without communion is completely foreign – let alone worshipping online. In our local context where for thousands of our neighbors, there has been a requirement on salvation to receive communion, it is nearly impossible to justify worship without communion. I have seen online discussions about “drive-thru communion” and wonder if in the desert we now find ourselves, we have turned bread and wine into a golden calf. We know whenever we gather as two or three in Christ’s name, He is there among us. In these uncertain times, we must not limit the certainty that God is with us even if we are not able to gather in person.
Years after I first attended summer camp as a child, I worked at that same camp for five summers in a row before going to seminary. That last summer in 2013, when after nine weeks of ending each day with Compline, my fellow counselors and I feared what would happen when our communal prayer life would end cold turkey. We decided that each Thursday night, at 10pm EST, anyone who wanted could get on Skype to say Compline together. For months, my Thursday nights would abruptly pause as I sought to join between three and twenty-three friends who lived on every corner of this country in traditional, Anglican prayer. Many of those dear friends could only spare ten minutes to say the ancient words of Compline and then depart back to their papers and studies. But always a few of us would linger to hold that space – to listen to the highs and lows of our brothers and sisters in Christ. There was no doubt that even though we were hundreds, thousands of miles away from each other – we were still connected.
At St. Michael’s, we are still connected. Each week on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings, we will gather as a church, as the Body of Christ, to worship together. If you are able to join in voice and video over Zoom, that’s fantastic; if you are more comfortable watching along, join in on Facebook Live; and if those platforms are foreign, please call in to add your voice to worship. This worship information is listed below and on our website.
I will say, last Sunday when we first tested these waters, it was slightly jarring to pray together with everyone disjointed and out of sync. But as we continued on, familiar voices were woven throughout. As someone later commented, it was like on Pentecost when all the Apostles were praying in various tongues and the Holy Spirit was known to the people! I invite you to join with us wherever you are able – in prayer, over Zoom, watching on Facebook Live, or on the phone. Our distance will not limit our ability to commune together.
With love and faith,
The Rev. Robert Beazley
P.s. Don’t forget to vote daily for St. Michael’s Episcopal Church & Preschool on www.gulfbank.com/vote