Hi. This feels about as much as we can all muster up right now, right? A, “hi” filled with nothing but love and care and grief, and a longing to be with each other. Hi, friends. I miss you. And I know none of us are “well” and that, at this point, “well” is a sliding scale of health and grief. Just know that I am praying for you. I am praying for those that are ill that you are healed and have some comfort. I am praying for those that grieve that they may know peace. I am praying that all of us take care of ourselves and offer grace to others, because care looks different for each of us. I am praying that as much as I long to see each of you, I hope I don’t see you for a while; so, that at one point I can see you again. I pray often but right now, every breath I release is filled with love and hope for each of you.
Can you believe that it is almost Palm Sunday? For me right now, self-care looks like sticking to a routine or tradition and my tradition for Palm Sunday every year has always been to wave palm fronds with my church. So, I hope you have seen the video I made for us to continue this tradition, that walks you and your family through the easy steps of making palm fronds at home. Once you are done, make a boomerang, take a picture, or make a video and tag us @ThePark1010 and use the hashtag #PalmSundayAtThePark and we will feature your videos on our Instagram and Facebook feeds.
So, instead of my usual newsletter I wanted to share with you a letter that Pastor Kaji sent out to some in our community yesterday. It gives a look into the work that is still happening, and it gives thanks to our community that continues to connect even during social distancing. I join her in abundant thanks to our whole team and each one of you. After Pastor Kaji’s letter you will find this week’s scripture. Its long. But I invite you to read it through a couple of times. Don’t look for meaning or “the lesson.” This practice is called “Lectio Divina” which means “divine reading,” and it is meant to help you meditate on the words of God, to open your heart and mind to what God is saying.
Friends, I know it’s a lot. Life is a lot. I feel it in my bones. I read it in Pastor Kaji’s letter. I know it in our scripture. But I also know that our incarnate God is with us no matter how we are apart. I hope that brings you the same comfort it does me.
A quick prayer for your week: God, I know you are with me in this time of distance. Amen
From The Rev. Kaji Douša
I have been praying for you every day.
I wanted to send an update on where things are today.
Even though we closed the doors to the church, we are busier than ever! You can imagine that the ministry needs have been tremendous.
We do have several members of the community with presumptive cases of COVID-19. We are monitoring as best we can. Several more are out of work and facing terrifying financial prospects.
So many of us have been reaching out to our people to check in. Please continue to do this - it’s more important than ever. Many thanks to the leadership of our Elders and Deacons (Richard Sturm & Janet Martin) in offering your voices to phone our community. As you learn things such as prayer requests or needs, please do send them in to the church office at firstname.lastname@example.org .
We do hope that the connective ministries you value continue! I’m heartened to see YASS gathering a couple of times a week, Soul Food Fellowship finding new ways to be together, Sunday morning Bible Study continuing. This is so important!
Online worship continues. In so many ways, God has blessed us, including the years of practice and hard work we’ve had to prepare for this moment. Some things are different. We’re doing everything remotely. We’re having to put the services together - including Holy Week - not knowing if there will be interruptions in personnel due to the rapid spread of this virus in our NYC community. We’re using zoom for people who may not have internet access. We’re mailing the sermons via USPS to people who cannot manage zoom. We want to make sure that people are staying connected to their worship of God. Meanwhile, more people are worshipping with us than ever before and finding the Park a place of comfort in the storm. Especially innovative is the work that Charles Anthony Bryant and our worship team put into a totally new way of doing music together. I’m not sure if we’re the first church to do it, but I know that we’re the first of a very few. It’s gorgeous and I commend this example to you:
I give thanks to Stephanie Wilson for her hard work in transitioning the words onto the screen for our singing moments in worship and for managing the zooms. These are no simple tasks - believe me!
Believe it or not, Palm Sunday is just moments away (next Sunday!!!) &, along with her incredible Inspire series (this month is “Inspire Something New" - hopefully you’ve seen the email sent out yesterday) Rev. Stephanie created a fantastic video for how any of us - including children - could craft our own palm fronds with 2 pieces of paper, some tape and a marker/crayon/pen/highlighter. It’s brilliant and has gone “church” viral. You can check it out here.
I should point out that this form of worship requires a level of production that is incredibly time-consuming on our staff and volunteers who put this together. Stephen Sekyiamah put in about 11+ hours to make last Sunday’s service. Kevin Childress has been making miracles happen with our communications and online ministry. Our staff is going round the clock to make the adjustments to get folks connected. I am so incredibly proud of them and if you get a chance, please send them a note of encouragement.
Rev. Francesca has continued to offer wonderful worship for our children - with groups gathering in larger numbers than we would have had in person. They get together for zoom worship at 10:30 am. If you know someone who you’d like to join - from anywhere in the world! - please reach out to Stephanie Wilson so that she can get you the registration information.
Rev. Luis Alfredo continues to give amazing support to our Community Lunch Program, which, as you can imagine, is growing in demand as more New Yorkers face hunger. Because of this, we have received a new grant from FPWA to expand our capacity at the program, and expect to receive another grant from the City to see if we can add additional days beyond the Saturday lunch. This is a perfect example of an adaptive challenge. A couple of weeks ago, when restaurants started closing, our food suppliers started closing. I called everywhere I could think of and could find no food for Saturday. Finally, at the last hour, Tatiana Arias came through and got the food herself. Bonnie English has also sewed masks that we can give our staff and volunteers at the program. Please reach out to thank them for their amazing work.
Bonnie English and David Sookai have been doing a beautiful job of shifting our finances to meet the challenge. The day the programs are opening up, they are applying for City, State and government support so that we can continue to keep our vital ministries going. We had a very helpful series of conversations with Miday Wilkey, the fund manager who is carefully watching our endowment in these volatile days. We so appreciate all of your financial support in these challenging times. Since closing our doors, our church has added a significant number of new donors, thanks to the careful planning we’ve made throughout the past few months to ask, ask and ask again. Some cannot give, but some can, and for all of the generosity, we are grateful. We have so much more work to do, together!
Our Calvin Institute worship program continues apace. Tonight, the planning team meets, and Sunday they will hold a virtual workshop. So many thanks to Revs. Richard & Jeanette, Paul Vasile and the beautiful team they work with for the creative approaches they bring to our worship life. Given the crisis before us, they will be focused on preparing something for Pentecost Sunday.
At LONG LAST, the church was able to close with Extell. With gratitude to our pro-bono lawyer who has been acting as the church’s de facto general counsel, Stanton Jones, the team he led with Mark Lafayette, Daniel Slatz and a number of others to closing was phenomenal in getting the best possible agreement between the church and our developer. We were under the wire for a number of reasons, but most concerning to me was the pastoral need of several of our lawyers who were facing COVID-19 diagnoses for themselves or family members. I am in awe of how they threw themselves into the closing work to ensure that this was completed. Though we have closed, I am in touch with them to monitor their condition. Now that we are closed, we have the right to begin construction on our new building. As this is not “essential”, however, we will not begin until it is safe. Many thanks to David Sookai and our facilities staff for preparing the building to shut its doors and for monitoring it as it is locked up. They moved mountains, y’all.
Our advocacy work continues! These days, I’m focused most on the people being left behind in COVID-19 planning and relief. I’m very concerned that testing, financial relief seems limited to citizens and the “haves” while the workers keep having to show up for work - without protection or support. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for the “stimulus” funds. Today is April 1 and the rent has just come due for millions of New Yorkers who cannot pay it. COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire at Rikers’ Island, and the humans incarcerated and the Corrections Officers there don’t even have soap or cleaning materials. ICE continues to arrest and incarcerate people they’re targeting for deportation - inexplicably putting themselves and our neighbors at risk. A number of us in the faith community are working with our elected officials to get immediate relief on all of these fronts. Advocacy while sheltering in place is a new challenge to us, but thanks to the relationships we’d already built, we know how to reach decision-makers and are doing our very best.
This email just highlights a few things that are happening. Of course, one risk of mentioning some things is that we miss a lot. And I HAVE missed a lot!
Finally, a personal note. The manse is under quarantine as my doctor tells us that we are presumed to be COVID-19 positive. (I say “presumed” because this is based on symptoms, but not a test. No one here is sick enough to be tested, which is a good thing.) Of course, it could be something else, too. Anyway, everyone has a VERY mild case, we believe, with symptoms that showed up about two weeks ago. We will continue to keep the manse shuttered and will await physicians’ instructions for when we are able to venture back out.
What does this mild case look like? For me, it shows up most as a bone-weary fatigue, at times, when my head feels heavy. Pretty much all day, my chest feels quite tight, like someone is sitting on it. At times my lungs hurt. One day, I lost my sense of taste and smell, though those have, since, returned. And I’ve had a very mild, non-productive cough. Sometimes I get a headache. I’ve spiked a few fevers, but those are rare for me. Sometimes, my throat hurts and it feels like my glands are swelling up so that it’s a challenge to swallow, but that goes away. As this illness goes, so far, I have been incredibly lucky. Everyone else in the house (except for our child, who was sick before us) has or has had similar symptoms. I give thanks to God for our health every day.
Since there are so many things that depend on me, the Ministry Council at its last meeting had the foresight to come up with a succession plan, just in case. I HIGHLY DOUBT this will happen, as my case has been so mild. But just in case, it’s in place.
I know that this was a long note, but there’s just so much to cover! Anyway, I cannot begin to state just how in awe I am of this community. It’s strange to say, but I do believe that, especially through the displacement of the construction process, God has prepared us for such a time as this. Thank you for the ways you are rising to the moment, as you can.
Take the time to live in your grief. We share in it and are praying for you, without ceasing.
Mark 14: 12-21
12 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the paschal lamb, the disciples said to Jesus, “Where do you want us to prepare the Passover supper for you?”
13 He directed two of the disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and you will come upon a man carrying a water jar. Follow him 14 into a house he enters and say to the owner, ‘The Teacher asks, “Where is my guestroom? I want to eat the Passover meal there with my disciples.”’ 15 Then you will be shown an upstairs room, spacious, furnished, with everything in order. That is the place you are to get ready for us.”
16 Then the disciples went off. When they reached the city, they found it just as Jesus had told them, and they prepared the Passover supper.
17 As it grew dark, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 They reclined at table, and in the course of the meal Jesus said, “The truth is, one of you is about to betray me—one who is eating with me.”
19 They were very upset at these words, and one by one they said to him,
“Surely it’s not me!”
20 Jesus replied, “It is one of you Twelve—one who dips into the dish with me.
21 The Chosen One is going the way the scriptures foretell. But woe to the one by whom the Chosen One is betrayed! It were better had that person never been born.”
Mark 14: 32-65
32 Then they came to a place named Gethsemane. Jesus said to them, “Sit down here while I pray.” 33 Jesus took along with him Peter, James and John. Then he began to be very distressed and troubled, 34 and said to them, “My heart is filled with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch.”
35 Jesus went a little further off and fell to the ground, praying that if it were possible this hour might pass him by. 36 He said, “Abba, you have the power to do all things. Take this cup away from me. But let it be not my will, but your will.”
37 When Jesus returned he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Asleep, Simon? Could you not stay awake for even an hour? 38 Be on guard and pray that you not be put to the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
39 Going back again, Jesus began to pray in the same words. 40 Upon returning Jesus found them asleep once again. They could not keep their eyes open, nor did they know what to say to him.
41 He returned a third time and said, “Still sleeping? Still taking your rest? It will have to do. The hour is upon us—the Chosen One is being handed into the clutches of evildoers. 42 Get up, let’s go. Look! Here comes my betrayer.”
43 While Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, came up accompanied by a crowd carrying swords and clubs; they had been sent by the chief priests, the religious scholars and the elders. 44 The betrayer had arranged this signal for them: “Whomever I embrace is the one; arrest him and take him away under guard.” 45 Judas went directly to Jesus, embraced him and said, “Rabbi!” 46 At this, they laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.
47 One of the bystanders drew a sword and struck the high priest’s attendant, cutting off an ear. 48 Jesus then said, “Why have you come to arrest me with swords and clubs, as though I were a robber? 49 I was within your reach daily, teaching in the Temple precincts, yet you never arrested me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.”
50 With that, all the disciples deserted Jesus and fled. 51 Following Jesus was a youth wearing nothing but a linen cloth, whom they also tried to arrest 52 but who fled naked, leaving the cloth behind.
53 Then they led Jesus off to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and religious scholars gathered together. 54 Peter followed at a distance right into the high priest’s courtyard, where he found a seat with the Temple guard and began to warm himself at the fire.
55 The chief priests with the whole Sanhedrin were busy soliciting testimony against Jesus that might lead to his death, but they could not find any. 56 Many gave false testimony against Jesus, but their stories did not agree. 57 Some, for instance, on taking the stand, testified falsely by saying, 58 “We heard him declare, ‘I will destroy this Temple made by human hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands!’ ” 59 But even in this, their testimony did not agree.
60 The high priest stood up before the court and began to interrogate Jesus: “Have you no answer to what these people are testifying against you?” 61 But Jesus remained silent and made no reply. Once again the high priest interrogated him: “Are you the Messiah, the Only Begotten of the Blessed One?”
62 Jesus replied, “I am! And you will see the Chosen One seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
63 At that, the high priest tore his robes and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? 64 You have heard the blasphemy. What is your verdict?” They all said Jesus was guilty and condemned him to death.
65 Some of them began to spit on Jesus. They blindfolded and hit him, saying, “Prophesy!” The guards beat him too.
1 As soon as it was daybreak the chief priests, the elders and religious scholars and the whole Sanhedrin reached a decision. They bound Jesus and led him away, and handed him over to Pilate, 2 who interrogated him. “Are you the King of the Jews?” he asked.
Jesus responded, “You are the one who is saying it.”
3 The chief priests then brought many accusations against him. 4 Pilate interrogated Jesus again: “Surely you have some answer? See how many accusations they are leveling against you!” 5 But to Pilate’s astonishment, Jesus made no further response.
6 Now whenever there was a festival, Pilate would release for them one prisoner—anyone they asked for. 7 There was a prisoner named Barabbas who was jailed along with the rioters who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 When the crowd came to ask that Pilate honor the custom, 9 Pilate rejoined, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 Pilate was aware, of course, that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over. 11 But the chief priests incited the crowd to have him release Barabbas instead. 12 Pilate again asked them, “What am I to do with the one you call the King of the Jews?”
13 The people shouted back, “Crucify him!”
14 “Why?” Pilate asked. “What crime has he committed?”
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them, and, after having Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified.
16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the hall known as the Praetorium; then they assembled the whole battalion. 17 They dressed Jesus in royal purple, then wove a crown of thorns and put it on him. 18 They began to salute him: “All hail! King of the Jews!” 19 They kept striking Jesus on the head with a reed, spitting at him and kneeling in front of him pretending to pay homage. 20 When they had finished mocking him, they stripped him of the purple and dressed him in his own clothes. Then they led him out to be crucified.
21 A passerby named Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was coming in from the fields. The soldiers pressed him into service to carry Jesus’ cross. 22 Then they brought Jesus to the site of Golgotha—which means “Skull Place.”
23 They tried to give him wine drugged with myrrh, but he would not take it. 24 Then they nailed him to the cross and divided up his garments by rolling dice for them to see what each should take. 25 It was about nine in the morning when they crucified him.
26 The inscription listing the charge read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 With Jesus they crucified two robbers, one at his right and one at his left. 28 “This fulfilled the scripture, ‘He let himself be counted among sinners.’ ”
29 People going by insulted Jesus, shaking their heads and saying, “So you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days! 30 Save yourself now by coming down from that cross!” 31 The chief priests and the religious scholars also joined in and jeered, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself! 32 Let ‘the Messiah, the King of Israel’ come down from that cross right now so that we can see it and believe in him!” Those who had been crucified with him hurled the same insult.
It is my practice, at the end of each month, to write a report summarizing the month-that-was, in our children’s ministry community. As I strive to summarize March 2020, I will be very intentionally seeking the “silver linings,” in what has been, for most children and adults - not only in this community, but our city, state, and country - a month of intense challenge and change.
As March began, we had just become fully aware of the extent of Covid-19 dangers, and the necessity of altering our behavior, for the health and safety of all. We were practicing social distancing, under the church roof, by staying 6 feet apart, refraining from touching each other, and doing extra washing/sanitizing.
As March went on, we realized that, in order to model best practices, we needed to take our ministries entirely online. What that has meant for the children’s ministry community, is that we are having children’s worship and Sunday school by Zoom Meeting. For me, that meant learning to use an online resource that I had no experience using. Stephanie Wilson was very patient and kind about teaching me, and, though we had some glitches early on, the technological issues seem to be solved, at this point.
For the children and their parents, it has also been necessary to learn some new things, in order to make Zoom work for us, as a community. The children are learning how to keep themselves (and anything they want the rest of us to see) in frame. They are learning how to take turns talking, so that everyone can be seen and heard (something that’s good for in-person groups, as well, but is absolutely necessary when meeting online). There are things we can’t do, when we’re all seated at computers (the dancing and active play that had been incorporated into Sunday school lessons are not possible in this format) but, for the most part, we are continuing the Park Sunday school traditions. We light electric candles and pray/sing our children’s liturgy. We read our Bible stories and discuss them, as the principles relate to our lives. And (perhaps most importantly) we share our experiences, feelings, and hopes, as we continue to build strong friendships, even from a distance.
As we have gotten used to using Zoom, attendance in Sunday school has actually grown (one of those “silver linings,”) because a few children who had moved too far away to make attendance at the church easy, have been able to return to Sunday school online. There are also some other really cool things about meeting virtually. Last Sunday, after I took out my children’s illustrated Bible, a couple of children decided to show me their own bibles! One child showed the rest of us his artwork, taped to his bedroom door. And the children all got to meet my youngest cat, George, who decided to climb up on the table next to the computer, during our time together!
This week, the children will be making paper palm fronds (thanks to Rev. Stephanie, for her wonderful instructional video) to wave during our Palm Sunday worship. Going forward, I will continue to think, pray, and strive for ways to keep the church experience engaging and inspiring for the children, as we celebrate Easter, and the whole resurrection season.
The picture illustrating this report is from one of the Easter activities that the children were given to do, at Easter 2019. It expresses, for me, a hope for the simple joys of church life, with our wonderful children. God and Love; inseparable and ineffable, yet utterly real, and all-pervasive.
Blessings and well wishes, hopes and prayers for all of us!
Rev. Francesca Maria (Miriam): Children’s Minister
From the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education:
We are facing unprecedented times, and many of us are wondering how we can respond. We are receiving requests from institutions seeking additional spiritual care support, particularly through telechaplaincy. At the same time, we know some CPE students have been unable to complete units due to new restrictions for visitation. We hope telechaplaincy might provide them additional hours towards the completion of units.
We are seeking volunteers to meet these requests. If you would like to be considered for telechaplaincy support, please complete the volunteer form below. Your information will only be shared with institutional leadership working to meet the needs of those whom they serve. If you have questions or need more information, please email COVID19@acpe.edu.
You may also want to explore resources for spiritual care during this crisis, available here from our colleagues at the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab. Thank you for your dedication to our shared work.