The 1939 Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musical “Babes in Arms” is pure fluff and should be forgettable entertainment from the dusty past, but it survives in the collective memories of some of us because of a trope, or cliché. If I say to you, “Let’s put on a show!” and you reply, “My dad has a barn!” then you understand me completely. That’s where it’s from. Someone make the costumes.
It became cultural shorthand for ambitious types who decide to do it themselves, and that would be us, as it turned out. Or at least it’s the phrase that ran through my mind a lot back in the second week of March, when a constant in our lives disappeared. Church was closed.
And some of us began looking for a barn, if you follow.
I had and have a unique perspective on what has happened with St. Andrew over the past six months. When Session decided to postpone worship temporarily on March 9, and as staff and other leadership scrambled to come up with alternatives, I couldn’t help but be aware. I live with one of our pastors; I’m not on the front lines, but I can see them from here.
Since I’ve enjoyed fooling around with editing video for years, it was an easy offer on my part to help out. Julie Kae, Ali Webb and Pete Jones had spent the final choir rehearsal, just the three of them, recording hymns for possible use, unclear at the time where we’d be heading. This formed the basis for our virtual worship services, and was a crucial part of the process (thanks Pete, Ali, and Julie Kae!).
I think it’s important from a historical standpoint to point out how uncertain we were from the start. We really expected – or at least hoped – that we’d all be back together in a couple of weeks, by Palm Sunday at the latest. It was fairly simple to add lyrics to the hymn videos, and we had several of those for our first Sunday worship in absentia. The next week, we added some videos made by Scott and Maggie, and soon we were constructing a virtual worship service in pretty much the same way it’s always been done.
And now we’ve had 26 of them, half a year, right through Palm Sunday and then Holy Week, past our annual congregational meeting, and now through the summer. Since I became the ad hoc IT guy, I’ve had a firsthand look at how this has all evolved.
I’ve got lots of stories. I can tell you how certain elements you’ve come to expect from our virtual worship were established almost entirely by accident. I can describe the increased hours our pastors and leaders have spent, how much work the Task Force has been doing, all the retrofitting and upgrading of our facilities that has taken place slowly and relentlessly since March, preparing for our eventual return.
And I could tell you lots and lots of stories about mistakes, particularly mine. There are some font choices that still haunt me.
But I’m a guy who watched this happen in real time as it landed on my desktop, and I’m also a guy who loves church. Who loves worship, and who particularly loves St. Andrew Presbyterian and our community of saints.
I miss it, and you. I miss the way it was, and I’m eager to return. I’m sometimes pessimistic, and at other times hopeful, but mostly I just don’t know. I’m just the video guy.
But I have some insight because of that, and this is what I wanted to share.
As it became clear that our closure was going to be indefinite, we began looking for lectors, people to read scripture on video to be included in our worship. We slowly built up a routine, learning how to exchange large video files online, learning what works best and how to help each other.
Pat Sharpe has tirelessly sought out lectors, and you’ve all come through. I’ve been charmed by the readers who seem graceful at this, behind the pulpit or in front of the camera. They seem to have a talent for not only being natural, but finding the appropriate settings in which to read, and they’re always a joy to work with.
The others, though, are the ones I’m thinking of. Most of us feel awkward talking to a lens, knowing that others will be watching, noticing, perhaps judging. As I edit these videos, I occasionally spot the signs, the uncertain look, the hesitation, the awkwardness that seeps through the screen. It’s really not a normal thing to do, and sometimes it shows. Even people with years of public speaking experience can appear stiff and uncomfortable talking to everyone and no one at the same time. It’s a remarkably vulnerable experience to watch.
It feels holy to me.
This is hard. You know it’s hard, and you do it anyway.
I watch these videos a lot. I see them many times, as I trim a few seconds, adjust the color settings, try to improve the audio. Over and over I watch, so I see things. I don’t expect you to notice the same, although it’s there if you look.
They shift in their chairs. Their eyes glance to the side, to the front, down and back up. They suddenly remember to smile. They say, “Let us pray,” and the voice quavers just a tiny bit, just nerves, and then they begin the prayer and I want to burst into tears.
What was once easy and relaxed has now become awkward and foreign, and still we persist. This is unfamiliar territory and we are still learning, but we never stop trying, and we will never stop loving each other. This is love, live and unrehearsed. This is how you know who we are.
Many of you have been kind and gracious to me, imagining that I’m toiling in front of my computer, trying to stitch together some semblance of worship, an echo of it, a facsimile. I’m grateful for this and still I try to explain – you have given me a gift. We’ve all had to adjust and change, to learn and relearn, and I’ve been able to watch. As I said, it feels like holy ground. If I ever wore shoes, which these days I mostly do not, I’d slip them off.
Candis O’Rear joked the other night on Zoom that she enjoyed grocery shopping, despite the anxiety, because it reminded her that people are three-dimensional creatures, not just flat images on our monitors.
Please listen to me: We have so many dimensions. I see them every week. I rejoice and I am in awe.
We’re going to see faces again. We’re going to sing together again. We’re going to be three-dimensional together, again, someday.
But these days, we accept the discomfort, and the difference. We learn new ways, we celebrate the old ones, we cherish it all, we stand before God and each other and our iPads and we say, This is the day that the Lord has made, and it turns out to be true, it always has been.
Beloved St Andrew siblings,
I have come to a difficult decision that is born out of deep and unending love for you and for the church. For a while now I have been offering professional skills to St Andrew on a volunteer basis as a Parish Associate. Throughout my presence at St Andrew, in every role I have had, I have engaged in processes of discernment with outstanding colleagues and companions, including Scott and Julie Kae, around what is reasonable and sustainable, and I have felt called to be present in the ways I have been. It is now the case however, as I try to keep my heart and mind open for what the Spirit wants of me, that I realize I am being called to step out of this Parish Associate role at the end of this fiscal year: June 30th.
We understand as a community that healthy boundaries are essential to our own well-being and to the work to which we are called. These boundaries insist that when one who is in pastoral leadership steps out of that role, they cannot remain at the church they have served. This means I will not be present at St Andrew after June 30th, expect maybe to preach if you need pulpit supply. This is a heartbreaking decision because I love you. It is a decision that emerges from a long and difficult process of discernment and, even as it breaks my heart, I am trusting it is the right thing to do at this time. Scott and Julie Kae are my dearest professional colleagues and you are my dearest teachers and so I am also trusting that the care and call which binds us to each other will continue even as our roles and the ways we connect will change. We still have work to do together as we serve God, God’s church, and God’s beloved world.
So now my question. This crisis we are in has been exposing structures of inequality and hardship. My work has been, and will continue to be, centered on working with the church as we figure out how to be a voice and an agent of compassion, justice and peace. You are a church with deep experience, questions and insight about how we might grow together as a community that attends to the outsider and those who suffer. I would, therefore, love to spend some time in these next few months listening for what you see and what you are thinking about around the current crisis and what it has revealed. With CJP, I would love to host a conversation around this. You can expect me to be in touch soon with some opportunities to talk this through. My time with you and in this work of community building has taught me that the Spirit dwells in our thoughts and questions and in the pull we feel towards the needs of the other. I would love to hear what this Spirit has to say to you at this time. I think it might be helpful for our future work – together and apart.
Beloved St Andrew, you have been God-given teachers and partners to me these past 18 years, and I am grateful beyond anything I can express. My prayers are centered on faith in our loving God’s promise to hold you and me and everything we are being called into. You have my heart.
Rev. Maggie Breen
Beloved St. Andrew Community,
The Session met on Monday evening and, after prayerfully identifying and weighing the many values we hold together in tension as a church, made two important decisions.
The group is representative of the session, deacons, and personnel committee. In addition, we are consulting with many others, so that we can quickly coordinate our actions and communication as we determine the way forward according to the values we named together as a session:
These are challenging, anxious times, yet I am convinced there may be a potentially brilliant silver lining to this cloud. I believe the church is made for times just like this, and I look forward to the imaginative ways we will continue to hold one another as the Spirit of Life shows up in our midst. As the Samaritan woman is waiting to teach us this Sunday, with Jesus there is sustenance waiting for us we have yet to realize!
You will hear more in the next few days, but for now, we wanted to make you aware so you can plan accordingly.
Grace & Peace,
Note: You can download a copy of this letter here.
Beloved St. Andrew community,
We want you to be aware that St. Andrew is committed to being proactive, reasonable, and instructive as we respond to a complex and rapidly evolving situation around the spread of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and the resulting infection, COVID-19 (from Corona Virus Disease 2019). The health and safety of our community and all of our partners who share the facility is paramount. Yet we also recognize that at the heart of our faith is life that is shared. We need to be together, even as we need to protect one another, and honor the choices of others—especially those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 and other corona viruses. We trust we all will refrain from making judgment or taking offense in this time of anxiety.
Therefore, we do not anticipate “neglecting to meet together” (Hebrews 10:25), even as other organizations may choose to do so. At this point we plan to worship together weekly. We have and may cancel, reschedule or hold remotely other meetings. Exercising an abundance of caution, we have implemented additional preventative measures to reduce contamination and transmission, including these:
Note: You can download a pdf of this letter here.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” ~Philippians 2: 1–5
January 9, 2020
Beloved St. Andrew Community:
Did you know we have multiple, interrelated behavioral policies that help us to ensure health and well-being in our communion—especially those we consider most vulnerable among us? Our priority of care for our children and vulnerable adults is a sacred trust. It grows from the sacraments; from the promises we make in baptism and the insights we gain at the communion table.
First of all, there’s baptism. In this sacrament we intentionally and with self-awareness gather around promises. Foremost are the promises we understand God to be making to all God’s creation, to the church, and to individuals known in the stories of God’s fidelity throughout the scriptures, and particularly in the self-giving of Jesus who is our pattern for life and ministry. Our own promises to and for one another emanate from the God who acts first. In response, as a congregation, we promise to care for the baptized as if they are our own:
You can download a pdf copy of all the related letters here.
Beloved St. Andrew community,
We are pleased to let you know that at our December Session meeting, we made a unanimous decision to practice the celebration of communion on a weekly basis. As you know, this is the culmination of recent conversation at St. Andrew, and reflective of a long shift in Christian sacramental practices generally, in our own denomination, and at St. Andrew. This puts us in line with our Reformed theological tradition and Presbyterian polity, and with our current understanding of best practices for our formation as the people of God.
A few weeks ago, we asked for your prayers in our discernment around moving to weekly communion. Since then we have spoken with many of you and on November 3rd,we sought understanding together in Aftertalk. Session met this past Monday where we reflected, and prayerfully thought about next steps. We take our promises to God, and your trust as your current session very seriously, and we discerned that while the call to weekly communion is strong we, as a community, need more time to be with this question and all that it would mean to us and to our life together as a church body. So, we will be back in touch soon with some more ways for us to think and pray together about this, and as a session we will keep paying attention for God’s wisdom and call. The subject will stay on our session docket until the way forward is clear and we look forward to being in ongoing conversation with you.
Thank you for your prayers and your sense of where the Spirit is leading.
Marie West Johnson
As a young girl growing up in Olympia, it wasn't unusual to experience Indian Summers, those warm days that would linger into September and October. The autumns of my childhood hold precious memories—hot cocoa with marshmallows, harvest moons, migrating birds in the yard, my dad building a fire in the fireplace, hayrides at the Mima Mounds with the church youth group. Life was fairly simple then, at least that is how it seemed for this tomboy who much preferred a baseball mitt to a Barbie doll. And now Craig has taught me that Fall means FOOTBALL!
During those extended times of seasonal warm temperatures, you could usually find me perched high in the top of the large cherry tree that was in our backyard. My mom always complained that the cherries were "wormy", but I thought they were delicious as I sat high in the tree and ate till my stomach ached.
From the Session
We are excited to announce that Andrea Shirey has started her work as Director of Children and Family Ministries. Please take time to welcome her to her new role. Andrea's work is to help all of us to fulfill our baptismal promises to our children, youth, and families—to “guide and nurture them by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and follow Jesus Christ.” Andrea is a connector with a lot of energy and people skills that will help her to be a partner to all our children and their families. Andrea’s role is just under half-time (18 hours per week), and she will work with Amber Oakes who has engaged many of our youth in Afterplay during the year and will continue to do so. As we move toward the fall, the shape of the role will become more developed. In the meantime, have a conversation with her. Share your hopes and gifts and listen for hers. You can reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's a bit more about Andrea:
Five Random Things About Andrea