The past year and a half will go down in memory as one of the most challenging times of our lives. All of us felt its burdens and its effects. We will never be the same.
The same thing goes for St. Mark’s: it will never be the same. As hard and as scary as these times have been, when many (if not all) of us have craved a return to something that feels normal and familiar, St. Mark’s has done something amazing. It is very much the same, and very much different.
In the strangeness of these times, the un-strangeness of our community has been a shelter. Familiar faces, familiar voices, and familiar rituals have helped pull us through.
We also learned how to improvise and adapt with YouTube services available live or afterwards by recording; with committee and small group gatherings over Zoom; and with the welcome integration of persons who, in a previously normal year, would not have been able to participate (such as shut-ins or those who live far way). We have figured out many things on the go, trying some strategies, then others.
Despite the difficult times, St. Mark’s future is exciting. Our community has different personalities, opinions, and perspectives. But we share a commitment to live our faith in ways that draw on, and support, those around us who are on similar faith journeys. The past year has allowed me to see familiar faces in the parish differently, to hear familiar voices differently, to meet new friends, and to engage in sober reflection through shared study and candid dialogue. A highlight was the Sacred Ground program. It is the best church program I have ever participated in. It taught me lessons about justice, faith, and repentance that would never have happened if I had tried to do the study and thinking on my own. We didn’t conduct the program as we should have – with dinners together – because of the pandemic. But it worked because all those in both the facilitators’ group and my own small group gave so much of themselves. We were there for each other online as many of us were exploring new material and ideas and confronting scary topics. It is an important step in “becoming beloved community” in the words of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
These times have taught two things. First, we can provide comfort, support, and inspiration to each other no matter what surprises we face. Second, we can build on the familiar and the comfortable to try new things we hadn’t dreamed. There are many new ideas, new ways of supporting each other, new ways of reaching out to others on their faith journeys, and new ways of living the Gospel that we may not have thought about simply because we may not have been forced to do so. This is a time to imagine bold new initiatives that we have not yet conceived – ideally without being forced to do so!
As I contemplate returning thanks to God with financial pledge for next year, two motives stand out: celebrating this extraordinary community and investing in the as-yet unidentified possibilities of transforming our future. Together “we always begin again,” renewing our bonds and refreshing our vision. I ask you to join me in supporting both who we are and what we may become as a parish community with a financial pledge for 2022.
Submitted by Andrew Bridges