A Pastoral Letter for this Present Time
To the People of New Creation Church (Anglican):
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”(John 20:19)
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55)
There are two great words written over the life of every Christian. The first word is this: “Peace be with you.” Like the disciples in John 20, we are shown the wounds of the Lord Jesus, comforted by his risen presence, and received into fellowship with God through the forgiveness of our sins.
The second word, the last word of the Christian life, if you like, is this: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” As believers in Jesus, death, though a painful and present reality, can do nothing more than deliver us into the hands of our Lord, there to rest and await a new heavens and new earth “in which righteousness dwells.” (1 Peter 3:13)
In the meantime, however, Creation continues to groan inwardly because of its bondage to corruption and decay (Romans 8:20-23). The saints experience this groaning along with the rest of the world. As St. Augustine said, the church is “with, for, and against” the world. We suffer with, weep with, and mourn with the rest of our culture as we see and experience this virus as an expression of life in a fallen world.
Nonetheless, having then the assurance of these two great words spoken over the lives of each Christian, how ought we to live in times such as these? While it is clear that we must now, out of a love of neighbor, make responsible changes to our personal and corporate life, we must also demonstrate to the world around us (our neighbors) the power of these two great words. Fear, organizationally and individually, must not dominate us. Panic must not dominate us. For, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
So, what does this look like on a practical level? Well, the situation continues to evolve rapidly, with new recommendations given on an almost daily basis. In light of this, the Vestry and I have had to re-evaluate our response to the virus. So, as of today, New Creation will be following the recommendation of the CDC (as well as of our Bishop) and will be moving to fully online services for at least the next eight weeks (that is, through Sunday, May 10). All presently scheduled services will continue as planned, albeit online. In addition, corporate Mid-Day Prayer will be offered three times a week via Facebook Live. I am confident that we will also be able to start our next Sunday School block online too. Regular pastoral support will be provided throughout this period. Additional details and directions will be given for all of the above as soon as possible.
Additionally, let each of us, as individuals and families, remember that we are well-equipped through the Prayer Book tradition for such a time as this. The Daily Office (daily scripture intake and prayer) is available to all of us via this link, or your own Prayer Book. Church may be cancelled – be assured that worship never is.
During this time, we will become the New Creation diaspora – a scattered family. But, Christ remains our center, and that center is more than strong enough to hold us together. In fact, I believe that there is a great opportunity here. Though we are quarantined, I believe that we will see territory conquered for Christ. With St. Paul, let us believe that the Gospel is never chained. (2 Tim. 2:9) More locally, I believe we will see our community grow and become stronger than ever during this time. By God’s grace, I believe we will emerge from this time a more loving, kind, generous, caring, thoughtful, and Christ-exalting people than we were before.
Lastly, I want to encourage and exhort you to reach out to one another regularly. Call one another. Lift one another up. Pray for one another. Exchange letters with one another. Take the initiative! Social media and our church directory make it oh so easy! If you are not in our directory, please contact Sally Breisch and she will get you set up. See you online.
Equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-13),
The Rev. Justin Clemente
New Creation Church (Anglican)
revjustin [at] ncchagerstown.org