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A Worship Update from Fr. Jarred Mercer, Rector

An update from the Rector regarding in-person worship at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 

In May the Bishops of the Diocese announced that there would be no in-person worship until at least July 1, 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This was not a statement that services would or could resume as of July 1st, but rather a mandate that they not take place at least until then, at which point a further review would be taken. This past week the Bishops released further guidance in preparing for “Stage 2” of the regathering process for churches, which can be accessed here. The guidance begins with the following statement:

 “At this time, based upon epidemiological recommendations, we strongly encourage congregations to refrain from in-person public worship, and to continue virtual opportunities for all aspects of church life until a move to less restrictive policies is indicated by public health considerations” (emphasis original).

 It proceeds to lay out a plan for churches who, given particular local circumstances, feel that it might be wise to begin a staged and limited process of regathering for in-person worship in the near future. This process involves working with a Diocesan “regathering shepherd” and receiving official permission from the Bishop Alan based upon and in-depth assessment by Diocesan representatives and completion of everything required on a 30-point checklist based around the following four areas of a church’s life: preparation, gathering, serving, and growing. The requirements include particularities around ventilation, cleaning, distancing, signage, and so on. Consultation with property insurance is also an essential part of the regathering process.

 We will be following the wise counsel of the Bishops to continue to refrain from in-person worship at this time. It is painful to remain separated, and I feel that pain in particular having just arrived in the parish, being anxious to get to know each of you and to live in the fullness of our life together as a community. But we are, first of all, not in a position to complete the necessary process of regathering at this time. Second, and more importantly, we have to consider both the physical and spiritual health of our parish and community and what reopening under current conditions would mean for both.

 The main and most important aspect of regathering would be the ability to receive communion together. We as the Church are a Eucharistic people. This is the heart of our life and our mission.  According to guidelines set in the Diocese’s “A Journey by Stages,” however, even if churches regather for in-person worship communion will not be distribute at this time. While continuing our practice of spiritual communion, we might think it would be worthwhile and meaningful to gather together again for worship in order to have fellowship and spend time with one another. However, all forms of socialization in church in the current stage would remain suspended. Further, congregational singing would be prohibited in gatherings at this stage, greatly diminishing our worship together. In-person worship at this time would involve entering the building and remaining at a distance from others, speaking to no one, without singing, and leaving the church again having not received the sacrament. These considerations alone, aside from the steps of the regathering checklist or any local conditions, make the only reasoned and prayerful choice, following the strong advisory of the bishops, to continue our worship only online at this point.

 As we listen to health experts and the Diocese and seek guidance in prayer, we are currently laying out potential plans of what St. Paul’s Church’s particular phased regathering plan will look like when we are at that point, and we will keep you updated as those plans proceed. Until then, we remain a community committed to our life of worship, prayer, and service. We might not be able to gather in person at this time, but the God who is “Emmanuel,” God-with-us, continues to meet us wherever we are. My prayer for each of us is that we continue to encounter Christ’s presence among us in new and surprising ways.

 Every blessing,

 Fr Jarred




Sunday August 2

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

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June 1 - A Message from our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry
June 1 - Message from our Bishops
June 1, 2020

Dear People of the Diocese of Massachusetts,

Yesterday afternoon we stood in Boston with other religious leaders as “Clergy United in Prayer, Protest, Peace, and Justice.” Sponsored by the Black Ministerial Alliance and the Massachusetts Council of Churches, the demonstration’s speakers called “for the swift prosecution of those perpetuating violence on black bodies and killing; for justice in our nation and in our neighborhoods, in…a pandemic that exposes the massive injustice of unequal access to basic physical and mental health care which communities of color have had to endure.”

The demonstration included prayer for the dead, and for the living, “for the broken-hearted and those losing hope.” In devastating wordlessness, we held silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds – the length of time it took to snuff out the life of George Floyd with a knee to his neck.

That afternoon protest was peaceful, as were several other large demonstrations throughout the day. When night fell, however, the protests turned violent, with significant destruction to property in the area surrounding our Cathedral Church of St. Paul.

We decry every manifestation of violence. This includes the destructive violence which followed peaceful protests in Boston this weekend. If we experience these events as extraordinary, however, we must recognize that acts of violence done to black and brown bodies are anything but. The recent, appalling deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery are but the latest in our nation’s 400-year history of violence against people of color, manifestations of our sin of racism and the culture of unexamined white supremacy. Until we understand and acknowledge all of these forms of violence as integrally connected, we can never hope to make our prayers for peace anything more than wishful thinking.

We commend to you Dean Amy McCreath’s letter earlier today [available here ] reporting effects of last night’s violence surrounding our cathedral, and reflecting upon ways to respond.

We commend to you also yesterday’s essay in The Washington Post [available here ] by our presiding bishop, the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, who issues this call:

“I see us channeling our holy rage into concrete, productive and powerful action …. Love looks like making the long-term commitment to racial healing, justice and truth-telling – knowing that, without intentional, ongoing intervention on the part of every person of good will, America will cling to its original, racist ways of being. … Now is the time for all of us to show – in our words, our actions, and our lives – what love really looks like.”

Faithfully yours,

The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris

June 1 - Message from New England's Episcopal Bishops

June 2, 2020

What President Trump did in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square on the evening of June 1 was disgraceful and morally repugnant.  Displaying a Bible from which he did not quote, using as a mere backdrop an Episcopal church where he did not pray, and – more callously – ordering law enforcement to clear, with force and tear gas, a path through demonstrators who had gathered in peace, President Trump distorted for his own purposes the cherished symbols of our faith to condone and stoke yet more violence.

His tactic was obvious.  Simply by holding aloft an unopened Bible he presumed to claim Christian endorsement and imply that of The Episcopal Church.  Far more disturbingly, he seemed to be affecting the authority of the God and Savior we worship and serve, in order to support his own authority and to wield enhanced use of military force in a perverted attempt to restore peace to our nation.

His actions did nothing to mend the torn social fabric of our nation. Instead, they were a blatant attempt to drive a wedge between the people of this nation, and even between people of faith.  No matter where we may stand on the partisan spectrum, we, as Christian leaders called to proclaim a God of love, find his actions repugnant.  Jesus taught us to love our enemies, to seek healing over division, and make peace in the midst of violence.

Our church may rightly feel outraged and insulted by having the symbols of our faith used as a set prop in a cynical political drama.  The real abomination before us, however, is the continued oppression of and violence against people of color in this nation.  Let us reserve and focus the energies of our indignation to serve our Lord Jesus Christ’s higher purpose: to extend love and mercy and justice for all, and especially for those whose life, liberty, and very humanity is threatened by the persistent sin of systemic racism and the contagion of white supremacy.

The Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens, Bishop Suffragan, Connecticut
The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Bishop Diocesan, Connecticut
The Rt. Rev. Thomas James Brown, Bishop Diocesan, Maine
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop Diocesan, Massachusetts
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris, Bishop Suffragan, Massachusetts
The Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld, Bishop Diocesan, New Hampshire
The Rt. Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely, Bishop Diocesan, Rhode Island
The Rt. Rev. Shannon MacVean-Brown, Bishop Diocesan, Vermont
The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher, Bishop Diocesan, Western Massachusetts

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About St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Newburyport
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