by the Rev. Canon Mark Harris This essay is an invitation to larger conversation and not intended to explain the views of the Episcopal Church in Delaware. The Rev. Canon Mark Harris is a priest of the Episcopal Church in Delaware. “The Church is open, even when the church is closed.” We in the Episcopal Church in Delaware have found that nothing, not even a pandemic, can keep the love of God in Jesus Christ from being present and real. That’s a powerful learning! Plans for how we re-emerge from stay-at-home rules are already in place. We will come back with new skills, new challenges, and a new appreciation of how we are one body. What will our return as church look like? What challenges will it bring? What even newer skills will be needed? Our experiences during this time of pandemic — with all its anxieties, pain, sadness, and death — are the source material for new witness and new stories of faithfulness. Perhaps out of this, we can find new ways to practice resurrection with some of these possibilities, hopes, and predictions for the future as the new Episcopal Church.
- The new Episcopal Church will see cyberspace as a place of mission engagement: Various internet conferencing, mail services, and meeting portals will be used much more widely, and that in turn will help us see cyberspace as a place where we can be as present as we are in ’normal’ space. There will be growing conversation about whether or not cyberspace can be incarnate space, space where God’s presence can be experienced and known.
- The new Episcopal Church will be nimbler. The laboratories for new ways of being church in the post-pandemic world will primarily be our parishes. Delaware parishes have been amazingly creative during the shut-down of public gatherings, both in providing alternative forms of worship and continued social and pastoral care. There are many online services, online meetings, and new food ministries. More will come.
- The new Episcopal Church will be a church of small groups. A parish may gather less often as a whole for worship, ministry, study, or even for annual meetings. Continued need for social distancing and aversion to crowds will make large gatherings less attractive or even impossible. The Episcopal Church must promote small groups as a more intimate and more focused way to connect.
- The new Episcopal Church will have less baggage, it will be leaner. Financially the post pandemic world will be very difficult for smaller and even some larger churches. Some buildings and programs will close and end. But just as we now know that closing a building does not mean the church is closed, maybe we can also know that selling a building does not necessarily mean the end of community life. How then do we keep community alive even as church structures close?
- The new Episcopal Church will foster the beloved community, now more than ever. The notion of the beloved community —the church as a gathering of people set on showing the love of God in Jesus Christ — is a vision whose time has come.
by Anne Harra "It had to teach her to think of love as a state of grace: not the means to anything but the alpha and omega, an end in itself." (Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez) Despite the plethora of graduate course offerings for students at St. Joseph’s University in the teacher education department, there is no course called, Managing Your Classroom in a Pandemic 101. I am officially halfway through my master’s degree. I also am wrapping up my first year at Immanuel Church Highlands as their children’s and youth minister — all in the midst of this bizarre, unsettling, frightening, novel pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught me several things: Google Chrome, not Safari, is the preferred web browser for Facebook Live; The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is one of Netflix’s better and more underrated shows; and yes, Jesus does find His way into our lives even during a pandemic. When I saw the writing on the wall that COVID-19 would seem to be as prevalent as the Holy Spirit for a while, I developed a system to maintain student and family engagement; Zoom Sunday school, weekly home packages (letters, craft kits, lesson summaries, and prize bucket items), storytimes on Facebook Live, Holy Week activities, and Morning Prayer became integral parts of my piece of virtual worship at Immanuel Highlands. Days turned into weeks. It became too overwhelming. Where was Jesus in all of this? Sure, His presence was in our lessons. It still felt like a bad joke, as if He was mocking me. In ’real’ Sunday school, we light candles, sing songs, eat snacks, water the succulents, and sometimes one of my younger friends dumps a whole jar of glitter on the floor. There is charm and love in the quirkiness, missteps, and ’whoopsies’ that happen in Sunday school. Virtual Sunday school seemed to lack all of this. The only ’whoopsie’ I’ve navigated with virtual Sunday school was learning how to share and un-share my screen on Zoom. It all felt too prepared, too organized, too rehearsed. Easter and the subsequent 50 days of Eastertide is my favorite time in the church year. This spring, I have taught the story of the Resurrection, Doubting Thomas, the Road to Emmaus, and ’Breakfast with Jesus’ (John 21:1–14). All of these stories have so many beautiful themes: breaking bread, the resurrected Christ as a physical body, how and where humans 2000 years ago fit into the story, how and where humans today fit into the story. Communicating these messages to a group of children (aged 3–13) over Zoom was not sufficient. Despite the hope and celebration of the Resurrection, I felt perpetually stuck in Holy Saturday: a state of purgatory, date of release unknown. One of the moms from Immanuel asked me if I would drive in her daughter’s birthday parade. Her daughter, Claire*, was turning five. I said of course I would. Later that week, when I arrived ten minutes early for the parade procession, there must have been six or seven cars already lined up. Another 15 or so followed behind me; I was not the only car from Immanuel either. There must have been about 50 people celebrating Claire’s birthday. The street was illuminated with 25 cars’ flashers and high beams. The sound of 25 car horns reverberated through the neighborhood. Some cars were decorated with balloons and posters, some people even threw cards, gifts, silly string, candy, and decorations out the window to where Claire and her family were sitting. It was an amazing sight. In his first letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul writes about love. The Greek word he uses is agape, meaning charity, or unconditional love from God. “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. … Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” Replace each ’love’ from 1 Corinthians 13 with ’charity’ or ’unconditional love from God’ and suddenly the message shifts drastically. When I was driving home from Claire’s birthday parade, Paul’s words dawned on me. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love never fails. Everyone in that parade had put aside the anger, anxiety, sadness, and uncertainty in the world to participate in an act of love — an act of charity, of grace, of unconditional love from God — all for this little girl. Suddenly the world was not as dismal. It dawned on me that God finds ways to love us unconditionally every day in the quietest ways: driving in birthday parades for little ones, your partner making your favorite breakfast when you least expect it, talking on the phone with an old friend, a bird’s nest in a tree outside, the presence of children. Perhaps the most important love that God shows for us is the love of God in Christ Jesus. It was almost as if I did not want to bring the love of Christ into my heart during the pandemic; sometimes anger is the easier way out. Seeing sweet Claire’s face when she realized that all these people came our for her birthday opened my heart back up. Love is not a tangible thing, but a state to which we should aspire, the alpha and the omega, as both Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jesus Christ have said. Once again Paul’s words seem to be the most appropriate: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39). Anne Harra is the children and youth minister at Immanuel Church Highlands in Wilmington and a member of St. David’s Church.
by the Rev. Ann Urinoski "Do the thing you think you cannot do." Eleanor Roosevelt As a millennial priest, I sometimes feel as if I am expected to know the secret formula to welcoming prospective millennial members and their families. I was baptized as an infant, so I cannot remember the first several dozen times I was brought to an Episcopal Church; I have no story of a first profound welcome. I cannot remember not knowing church. What defines my journey of faith and my life in the Episcopal Church is a series of stories that made following Jesus — and the Episcopal Church — irresistible. From as far back as I can remember, I spent every Sunday of my childhood in church, sitting in a pew comprised of three generations of my family and going to Sunday school and children’s chapel in North Plainfield, New Jersey. I learned all the usual Bible stories and about who Jesus is, and I sang the hymns and said the prayers with my family. What made me want to talk to Jesus myself was my experience of this community of people who followed him. At church, I felt cared for; I learned about God’s love through the love of the community that surrounded my family and me every Sunday. Beyond care for one another, the people who were my Sunday school teachers were also the most likely to be seen serving the community, from the soup kitchen to the annual town Haunted House. As a child, I learned about how God loves by being part of a loving community, where neighbors served neighbors in a myriad of ways — an example of church at its best. Like any healthy, loving relationship, my church community became a group I trusted. As I entered my teen years, I watched as friends left their churches after feeling judged; their journeys scared me. I wondered what would happen when I asked the questions on my own adolescent heart. In my Sunday school classrooms, with my Sunday school teachers, I can still remember some of the conversations we had about peer pressure, sex, and who God is. We did not always all agree, and that was okay. Sometimes, we did not know the right answer; at other times, there was more than one right answer. There was nothing we could not safely explore together. As a young disciple, through the love of my church, I learned that there was no question or struggle that could break God’s love for me or make me feel unwelcome. Still, this experience of church was all in one corner of creation. As a young adult, I learned that the church was much more than the one parish that formed me, and in its seemingly limitless breadth, I found the limitless possibilities that come with discipleship. I cannot imagine this chapter of my journey without campus ministry. I saw St. Thomas’s big red sign for Episcopal Campus Ministry (ECM) on my first visit to the University of Delaware (UD). It made such an impression on me then, that now I genuinely wonder if I would have chosen UD without having seen it. In ECM, I learned that the love, trust, and lack of judgement that defined the church I’d grown up in were also characteristic of other healthy corners of the Episcopal Church — and that they would help me find resurrection after the most difficult experiences of my college years. Campus ministry was a place where I could explore my faith as I explored the first years of adulthood, another example of the church meeting me wherever I was in any chapter of my life. There, with my new friends’ support, I found myself doing things I had never expected — serving in local and church-wide leadership. Secure in my relationships with God and with my church, I gained the courage to explore new ways of being church and new ways of being me, as a beloved child of God. I was in my third year of college when I first discerned my call to the priesthood. I did not fully understand what this call meant or if I was capable of answering it. Still, I was sure of the call, and in campus ministry, I had grown into someone more willing to try and see what happens. In the years since that moment, many other discernments have followed this pattern. The Holy Spirit laughs, and I am constantly, joyfully surprised. I can summarize my faith journey in something Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do the thing you think you cannot do.” While one might cite it as a secularized version of “In Christ, all things are possible,” Roosevelt’s version reminds us to open ourselves up to the very specific impossibilities we use to limit ourselves and the visions we conjure for our future: the lessons we’ll never learn, the gifts we’ll never have, the adventures we’ll never go on, the depth of connection we’ll never sustain, the kind of person we’ll never be. These are the mountains that God can move with our faith. Faith is nurtured by Christian love that fosters trust, lacks judgement, and calls us to open ourselves to new possibilities in every chapter of our lives; this is the love that makes a church irresistible! The Rev. Ann Urinoski completed her ministry at Christ Church Christiana Hundred on Sunday, April 26, 2020. She currently serves as the priest-in-charge of two congregations in the Diocese of New Jersey.
by Michael Collura “... these are confusing times. I was hoping to hit the ground running after this semester, but my game plan has been turned upside down.” It is currently 9 o’clock on Friday night, May 15th, 2020. I am a student at the University of Delaware, majoring in biology with a minor in French, and I can proudly say that I am soon to be a graduating senior. Unfortunately, that makes this Friday one of my very last here in Newark — a couple more weekends, a few exams, and then on to the next chapter. Four amazing years flew by in a blindingly quick fashion, and the reality that it is over has yet to hit me. Right around this time each year, seniors celebrate the culmination of this four-year roller coaster we call college. From what I have seen of previous graduating classes, these last few months are meant to be filled with laughter and memories. One last glorious hoorah with our friends before we enter the ever ominous real world. So, how does a senior spend one of his last weekends in college, you might ask? Surely doing something exhilarating, right? Well, thanks to a little thing called the coronavirus, not really. I spent my Friday alone on the couch, reduced to binge-watching reality TV shows on Hulu. No music was playing, no friends were dancing, and no plans were made. There were no final hoorahs and no spring break trips; going to class now means staring at my friends through a laptop for hours each day. The last, and supposedly best, semester of the college experience was stripped away from seniors across the nation in an instant. I apologize if I seem to be wallowing in self-pity — I’m really not. I just feel that I speak for seniors as a whole when I say the wind has been taken from our sails. Although I feel a bit cheated by fate, I know very well that this situation is much bigger than I. Many people are suffering greatly from this pandemic, and I’m lucky enough that my friends and family are healthy. Things could certainly be worse. That said, the reality of the coronavirus pandemic seems nothing short of absurd to me. Look at it objectively. Through some sort of comically improbable snowball effect, a sick bat 8,000 miles away has somehow stolen half of my senior year from me. More importantly, it has rocked the entire world to its core. When my biology professor predicted in early February that there would be a massive outbreak and quarantine here in the states, I brushed her off. Now with over four million cases and 300,000 deaths worldwide, there is no denying the gravity of the situation. The economy is in shambles, millions are sick, people are out of work, and this disease is far from finished. Considering the magnitude of this whole scenario, I dare say we are living in a chapter from the history books of the future. Personally, as a graduating senior in search of a job, these are confusing times. I was hoping to hit the ground running after this semester, but my game plan has been turned upside down. I had become a certified New York State emergency medical technician (EMT) over the winter, and I was looking forward to getting out there as a first responder. It would have let me make some money doing something I enjoyed while I searched for a more permanent job suited to my interests in biology. This sounded great, but the coronavirus had other plans. New York City — my home — currently has the most coronavirus infections worldwide. Being an EMT, I would be interacting with countless people in the most infected city in the world. This would be foolish and would only put myself and my family at risk, so I had to put a hold on the EMT plan. Although circumstances are far from ideal, there is nothing I can do except stay positive and keep pushing forward. On a brighter note, I have used my extra free time during quarantine to focus more on my biology classes, and I may have found an interest in laboratory research because of it. It is a small step, but a step in the right direction none the less. With chin held high, the job search continues, and I wait to see what the future holds. As far as how I’ve kept busy outside of school, I have taken on some new hobbies. I have been reading philosophy books, I have taken up cooking, and most of all, I am more devoted to my fitness than ever before. Almost every day I do some combination of running, biking, lifting, and playing soccer. If I could suggest two bits of advice in these stressful times, it would be to find a hobby and to exercise. It is a lot easier to keep touch with your sanity when you are not cooped up and sitting still all day. I seem to have turned into a proper Energizer Bunny recently, so perhaps there was an upside to this quarantine after all. This quarantine is only as bad as we tell ourselves it is, so staying active and positive is what will get us all through this. I have no idea what the future holds in store, nor do I know when quarantine will be ending. Regardless, I intend to keep myself busy and to stay optimistic, and I hope everyone out there does too. Stay safe, stay strong, and wash your hands! From Brooklyn, New York, Michael Collura is 21 years old and a 2020 graduate of the University of Delaware.
by Leah Burns “If there is one message I could relay to all seniors or all of those affected by this, it would be that we, as a Christian community, have been taught all our lives to be thankful and rejoice in God, so that is exactly what we need to do now: remain optimistic and stay strong for those who can’t.” It was was a Friday afternoon, and excitement for the weekend was building up. I was sitting in class with my friends in my senior year. We were laughing and planning what we would do that night, simply going about our regular school day. Our politics teacher had put on the news during class as he always does, and the slightest bit of concern arose in us. We felt bad for the people in Italy and China, but we thought something any teenager might think, “It’s okay, that won’t be us,” and we proceeded with our day. The last bell rang, and we all headed home before a bonfire. The sun went down, and our night had just begun; we carried on with a good time of laughter, music, and socializing. Although looking back now, I would have celebrated a little differently had I known this was my last day of high school and normal social interaction. Since that day, the whole world has become irresolute. As a senior, I was mostly concerned about prom, graduation, spring break, and all of the traditions I had been looking forward to for years. Especially graduation — that day had been the only true thing I waited for, the day where I could put all of the hard work and struggles of high school behind me. My dad even jeopardized his Air Force career by turning down a deployment just so he could see me walk that stage. My senior year was a bit unpleasant. I was a four-year athlete that was misled by a coach and the unfortunate misunderstanding affected me deeply (leaving a team that I loved and a sport where I had hoped to medal in the state championship). Apart from that problem, I had to face him every other day in the classroom where my grade was also at stake. So I guess you could say I had a reason to be relieved that because of COVID-19, I did not have to set foot in that particular classroom any longer. Surprisingly, not only did these monumental changes negatively affect the pattern of my year, but they also changed it for the better. I started off by using this isolation to improve my grades, health, and relationships. I realized that in this stressful year, I had pushed away a handful of friends and family. I then thought to myself, “If I’m going to live through a historical pandemic, I am not going to do it alone.” I acted upon this and used my time to take walks with family, go on bike rides with my friends, learn how to fix cars with a special someone, but most importantly rebuild those relationships that meant the most to me. Who would have thought that walking six feet apart from someone so often could bring you much closer? This opportunity was an example of how God works in mysterious ways. Admittedly, the first few weeks away from school started to weigh heavily on me. Thinking of all the would haves, should haves, and could haves made me lose some hope. I wanted so badly to see all my friends again and to spend more time with the exchange student I had befriended before she was sent back home early. There were a million reasons for me to wish this all to be over and with haste; but then it was like God painted over my grey thoughts with rose. My school sent out senior recognition posters and invited students one by one to get graduation media; that’s when I started to realize that this year would never be forgotten. Once again I found myself thankful for the support and resiliency others showed me. We can only wallow in loss for so long before ending up lost along with it. That is why it is so important to me to remain faithful during these times. I find myself always looking up to God for the positive sides of everything; that way I’m not hanging my head and tripping over the past. If there is one message I could relay to all seniors or all of those affected by this, it would be that we, as a Christian community, have been taught all our lives to be thankful and rejoice in God, so that is exactly what we need to do now: remain optimistic and stay strong for those who can’t. Leah will be attending, perhaps virtually, Wilkes University this fall, studying Spanish and will be a proud member of their swim team. She hopes to join ROTC at college and, like her dad and sister, the Air Force.