Dear Beloved of God,
In consultation with various leaders at Resurrection Clinton Hill, pastors throughout the city, the Mayor’s Office, and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the elders and and I have made the very difficult decision to temporarily suspend all public worship services and meetings of Resurrection Clinton Hill. This includes our worship service on this coming Sunday, March 15th, as well as all of our other parish meetings, Bible studies, prayer groups, and Welcome events. We will reevaluate this decision on a week-to-week basis. It is our deep hope that the cancellation of our public ministries for this indefinite period of time will be as short a season as possible.
We did not come to this decision lightly and it is not a decision rooted in any kind of fear. This decision is difficult for many reasons, but the primary one is that we believe gathered public worship as the formal body of Christ is the most important gift and mission of the church to the world. We believe worship is the fundamental task to the vocation of being human, and that worship is how God primarily causes humanity to flourish. We also just really enjoy being with you on Sundays and welcoming newcomers together! We have only cancelled Sunday service one prior time in our existence, due to a very dangerous blizzard. However, let me encourage you to understand this decision as a (previously unexpected) way to practice our theme this season of “Lent as Love.”
First, Love. Your leaders prayed, discussed and looked internally to make sure we are not being motivated in this decision by fear. Our world is very afraid right now. Many of you are likely fearful and confused. In this turmoil, there is a great opportunity for the church. Remember our sermon texts the past two weeks which taught us that God is Love, and “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4). Furthermore, Jesus reigns right now from God’s right hand, where he holds the keys of life and death (Rev. 1:18); he is a very present help in times of trouble (Ps. 46); he is our shepherd even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, so that we might fear no evil, for he is with us. If during this global pandemic we will allow our hearts, thoughts, words, and actions to be filled with this God-who-is-love, we too will become a very present help to our neighbors in a time of trouble. And it is in the spirit of this love that we have voluntarily suspended our cherished public ministries: not for our sake or health, but for the sake of the most vulnerable in our city –– for love of neighbor.
Which brings me secondarily to Lent. When I came to faith as a young man I began learning many of the countless acts of dauntless sacrifice Christians have made over the past two millennia, when they were possessed by God’s love. From the days of scourge in Rome to the AIDS crisis, members of the church have risked their own health and safety for others, precisely in times of pestilence. The best parts of me want us to live up to this example from our mothers and fathers in the faith. (I trust, in our own way, we will.) And so it was pleasingly ironic as it began to dawn on me over the past week that we seem called at this time to something less fanciful and obvious than former heroics, but no less compelled by and communicative of love. That is, we’ve been called to give up something cherished for Lent: We are sacrificing our right to assemble, and to be near one another physically for a time. As always, the point of losing something for Lent is to be filled up with God precisely in those temporary holes, to learn to survive on his love. Or to say it another way, this particular loss, I believe, is proof that the modern world requires a new kind of wisdom from us as modern Christians. We will have to learn our own lessons, not just those from former times. I believe God intends to use these upcoming voluntary pauses of ours, these questions, this silence and solitude, to give us more of himself, to grant us Wisdom. In the days and weeks to come we intend to intentionally process these lessons together: it is one of the main ways we plan to minister to one another.
To be specific, I plan to write to you more often in order to process what we are experiencing, and to provide other means for you to practice informal worship and care for one another. We are also exploring other types of virtual meetings and content. For now I’d highly encourage you to download this Lent guide and use it daily. Perhaps this Sunday morning you might pray through it and then listen to my sermon that kicked off our current sermon series. Please do be in regular prayer for our church and for our neighbors, and please reach out to your parish leaders for any need or prayer request whatsoever. We are still here for one another. Allow me to close by assuring you that we will very much miss gathering together, but we trust that the Lord will provide for us, and so we encourage you to see this temporary holy pause as a way for us to practice together Lent As Love. May God heal us, and heal his world.
In Love and Hope, Pastor Jamison
“Think of love as a state of grace: not the means to anything but the alpha and omega, an end in itself.” –– Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
“For I am sure 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.” –– The Apostle Paul