Trinity, Morgantown, Pentecost Sermon

The Day of Pentecost 

During this continuing pandemic crisis, it is interesting that our nation is color-coding its phased re-opening (red-yellow-green) at the same time the Church celebrates Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, with its own color-coded changes (fire red-to-seasonal green). Pentecost (formerly Whitsunday) marks the beginning of a new church season in the liturgical calendar. Today’s Collect is noteworthy:

O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things…

What could be more fitting than that; a clear sense of righteousness? As our culturally-divided, racially-torn nation transitions to a new phase of re-opening, it is imperative that we act righteously and judiciously in all things. 

Fortunately, our religious leadership gets it right. Yesterday, Bishop Klusmeyer issued a statement regarding the Diocese’s complicated history of institutional racism as well as attempts to achieve social and racial justice. It’s a very mixed record. “Let’s just be honest, and say that racism, prejudice and bigotry continues in the lives of so many, and it is past time for us to step up again.” The Bishop specifically encouraged the use of “prayers to end racism” emphasizing the Collect for ‘Justice in the Criminal System’ which is highly relevant to what is happening in America today.

Lord, you suffered at human hands the pain of false arrest, torture, and unjust punishment, and you commanded us to comfort those in prison.  Build a fire in your people, Lord, that we may never learn patience with prejudice or make peace with oppression, but that we may burn with zeal for justice, proportion, and equal protections under law for all people.  In the Name of him who died condemned.”  Amen.

These are sobering times where the truth is frequently bewildering. The church is no exception. We are moving through a baffling epoch where time-lines fluctuate and purposes-for-being religious seem murky. Rationale for worship is not always explained simply or clearly. With justification, people keep asking: “When will parishes re-open?” as though some ecclesiastical authority arbitrarily closed the church three months ago by flipping a switch. Arguably, Church (with a Capital “C”) never closed; even though familiar worship services have ceased and sanctuaries remain temporarily off-limits. The mission and ministry of the church as embodied and expressed by the people of God, historically, has always endured; albeit in somewhat surprising ways and often against overwhelming odds. So, take heart and consider this.

It is said that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and we are just beginning to explore Phase One. Jolted out of our comfort zones, we’re now roaming around trying to figure out where we are headed, and how we’re going to “get there,” wherever “there” is. The church needs to feel both safe and confident that God will be present when we eventually “gather the people, tell the stories, and break-bread together,” following acceptable social and physical-distance norms. It is a balancing-act that challenges us at the core of our theological convictions. 

At Trinity Church for the near-term we remain in Phase-One, the first stage of re-opening. While worship and related liturgical services are on-hold and the parish office is closed, the building itself is being utilized to full capacity. 75 to 100 meals are prepared each weekday for anyone who reaches our front door, provided recipients comply with legal guidelines regarding health, distancing, sanitizing, and masks. Through MCK (Morgantown Community Kitchen) Trinity’s outreach continues.

At the same time, communications are noticeably different; having shifted to the digital world of the internet. As priest-in-charge, instead of homilies and sermons I have distributed this weekly Sunday reflection during the Easter season. A Zoom Coffee Hour meets @ 1 PM each Sunday afternoon. The online Church Directory is being updated from afar by Sylvia Harris, who also corresponds with parishioners via email. DOK (Daughters of the King) continues to use its prayer-chain under the caring oversight of Johanna Rengers, Administratively, the parish office is attended weekly by Sherry Fieldhouse who makes sure our finances are in line, and our bills are paid. The church website still needs to be updated, and there is hope an Administrative Assistant will surface, allowing us to put organizational and scheduling functions back in the parish office. That will free us from relying upon our own laptops, PCs, tablets and smart-phones.

Now on a positive note, some ‘breaking-church-news.’ A recent offer of books from Jim Harms, the son of the Rev. Richard Harms (former Archdeacon, Diocese of San Diego) who died last winter, was readily accepted by the wardens and vestry. Fr. Harms had a scholarly interest in theological ethics, particularly the published works of Reinhold Niebuhr, a noted Christian ethicist. From the book shelves in Fr. Harms’ apartment his entire ‘Niebuhr Collection’ was donated to the Trinity Church Library, and is awaiting cataloguing and shelving. We are delighted to receive these Niebuhr publications, and thank Jim for passing along his father’s favorite reading material.    

Continuing 'breaking-church-news,' let me mention that after several conversations with Senior Warden, Ed Devine, and other vestry members it was suggested that Trinity Church might benefit from the development of a ‘visionary’ initiative; not merely a revised Mission Statement or a long-range plan (quickly outdated), but a dynamic, strategic planning process(flexibly adaptable). What will Trinity Church be like, for example, in the year 2022 or 2025, only a few years away? Who will be here? Will Trinity survive? Recommendations and comments from parishioners (and others) across the board are encouraged. There are a number of signs, trends, and data that suggest the future may be far more illusory and thornier than originally thought. To avoid catastrophe, we need to ‘plan ahead.’

Related to that futuristic concern, the recent Bishop-Clergy gathering considered holding this year’s Diocesan Convention in a vastly different format - an alternative Zoom and Chat-Room conclave - rather than follow-through on the original convention design that was previously scheduled to meet at Morgantown’s Marriott Convention Center. There remain questions regarding contracts, legal obligations, and costs; yet the sentiment was quite strong that individuals, at least for now, are reluctant to travel to church meetings anywhere, especially if held in areas where people could be at risk (i.e. places like a college-town during Fall weekends). The national church, House of Bishops, and Executive Council have all taken a firm stand on the side of safety and health, and agreed in principle to postpone church meetings that require extensive or unnecessary travel. 

During these troubled times I am aware many people are tired, depressed, worn-out, and sad. Let me conclude, then, with a final word on a happier note (literally). Today, Pentecost, is traditionally viewed as the Birthday-of-the-Church, so while you’re washing your hands practicing good hygiene…sing TWO verses of Happy Birthday to the Church…now 2020 years old!