Spiritual Reflections: "Ministry Through Correspondence" Featured

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.
Week of the Fifth Sunday of Easter 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

As a seminary professor and then as a Bishop’s Assistant, I spent a heck of a lot of time in front of computer screens for the past 18 years – as is the experience also of so many of you. This was a lot of time away from direct contact with people. One of the attractions of a return to a congregational pastorate has been the promise of more people time, face-to-face, in real life. Obviously, such people time is currently not an option.

I knew that my return to ministry as a pastor of a congregation would involve more screen time than was the case when I left the parish back in 2001. As it turns out, because of the pandemic, virtually all of my new ministry efforts are mediated by some form of technology. No doubt many of you also have experienced a huge increase in the amount of time you spend interacting with people via technology. Our technologies can be great servants of our varied activities, but perhaps things seem quite out of balance right now, when it may appear that we are servants of our technologies and not the other way around.

If you are feeling burdened by these realities, how best can we, as it were, make lemonade out of the lemons that have been thrust on our laps? For me, this involves making a conscious decision to re-frame my thoughts about the meaning of current routines. For example, when emails become a burden, I decide to view such correspondence as blood coursing through the circulatory system of the body of Christ, the church. To re-frame what can be the drudgery of emails as a means of enhancing communication for the sake of the health of the church helps take the edge off the burden for me. I hope that you can do similarly with your view of your chores.

Then there is the burden of ministry undertaken at a distance. By the time you read this, I will have arrived to take up residence in Arlington. And yet, we are not free to encounter each other face-to-face. The distance persists even when I am in town. To help re-frame and re-claim meaning in these distant circumstances, I draw on the ministry of the Apostle Paul, who undertook a great deal of his ministry from a distance, writing letters to the congregations which he helped to found and which he continued to support in various ancient cities. Many of his letters are with us to this day, and serve as a foundation, along with the Gospels and a few other writings, of our canonical, sacred Christian scriptures. I wonder if Paul had any inkling that his letters would survive and continue to serve the church some two thousand years after they were written!

Recognizing the centrality of written correspondence in the life of the church – indeed many and various letters of other church leaders through the centuries continue to form our Christian lives and understanding – helps me to apprehend meaningfulness in this season when we are otherwise separated from each other, even when I might live and work just a short distance from you. Thus, I can claim this very correspondence in writing weekly reflections for you, along with my sermons, as a central feature of my current ministry. And I love to write, and I have been well-received as a writer over these many years. Here’s to employing gifts in the service of meeting the needs and opportunities of these supremely difficult days.

Here’s another example. I am not big into technologies. Being technologically adept is more of an Achille’s Heel for me than a source of strength. But here again, I choose to re-frame and re-claim the central role of technology in our current routines and circumstances as an opportunity to learn and to grow beyond my comfort zones. So, this crash course in using various technologies in the service of my new ministry among you is a welcome opportunity. I am gradually learning how to walk more comfortably on my Achilles Heel!

I hope that my examples provoke your thinking about how you might be able to re-frame some of the drudgery of this unwanted season in life-giving ways. Perhaps you are re-discovering the art of letter writing, or of sending cards to people, or reclaiming the value of talking with others at length on the phone.

Of course, not everyone has the privilege and ease of this kind of reflection that helps us redeem boredom and drudgery. Those who must commute to places of work, those burdened by work at home alongside overseeing children who are schooling online, those who have lost their jobs, those waiting in unspeakably long lines at food banks, those ravaged directly by Covid-19 – persons in such circumstances have to endure realities that inhibit the capacity for self-reflection. But many of you who are reading this do indeed know the privilege of having the freedom to think differently about your routines.

Finally, even if most of our churchly interactions are currently virtual, they are in the service of divine realities. To make this point, I want to invoke the words of my former wife, Jennifer Reddall, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. These are words of encouragement she offered to her priests and deacons in her sermon during their Zoom meeting for the renewal of ordination vows at the beginning of Holy Week. Jennifer told them:

But make no mistake, Jesus has called you into ministry now. And your ministry is not virtual. You are not a virtual priest or a virtual deacon, and the love that binds us together is not a virtual love, and you are not preaching a virtual Gospel about a virtual Lord and Savior. The stories we tell this week are not about a virtual supper or a virtual cross or a virtual death and a virtual resurrection. Christ has really died; Christ has really risen; and Christ will really come again. And those events, those promises, are just as real as what we are living through now: the real suffering now; the real deaths now; the real need for eternal life now.

 

If St. Paul can pastor churches via letters while he was sitting in a prison cell, then with God’s help we can pastor our churches and love our people following that same Lord and Savior with so many more tools at our disposal to reach out to them.

 

And if Jesus appears, sometimes, to be hiding, remember that you were given the Light of Christ at your baptism, and he dwells with you and in you and through you. And he will shine through you, as a beacon for those who are lost, those who are searching, and those in need of love. God bless you all, and thank you for all you do.

Nathan’s mom, the Bishop, says it very well indeed. These are words of encouragement to clergy, but they serve to encourage and give hope to all of God’s people in this unprecedented season of our life together.

God in Christ keep you hopeful – really! – in the power of the Holy Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Reminder of Home Worship on Ascension Day

Resources for Home Worship will be available for the Festival of the Ascension of our Lord on Thursday, May 21. Join us at 7:30 pm that day to mark this important festival. The Home Worship order of service will be complemented as usual by a sermon and musical accompaniment.