Pandemic Weddings

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, October 4, 2020

By: Eleanor Wellford

The young woman sitting on the sofa next to her fiancé had tears in her eyes. She had been confronted with yet another “that’s not allowed” when it came to planning her wedding, and she was reluctantly letting go of Plan C in order to consider Plan D and maybe Plan E. Plans A and B were long gone.

Contingency plans have become the norm for any couple planning a wedding this year. So has the necessity to “scale down”. Guests who were on the first list had to be politely uninvited as subsequent guest lists included only family members. Some couples held out hopes for a large celebration of the marriage sometime next year, but that’s been a small consolation.

My youngest child, Beth, was married two years ago and I’ve heard myself say more than once how glad I was that we weren’t planning a wedding this year! While that may be true on some level, it’s also true that the weddings I’ve experienced recently have been more about the sanctity of the service itself and less about the hype that has made the wedding planning business so lucrative and the wedding couple so exhausted by the time they finally get to the altar. The 15 to 20 or so close family members have felt more like participants in the intimate setting than like guests. That’s been a silver lining.

There have been other silver linings, too, such as pets having front row seats at outdoor weddings, or starting times being simply whenever the family has gathered and seated instead of right on the hour or half-hour. And the flowers defining and gracing the outdoor spaces have been more spectacular than ever.

During this time of our lives, it’s been hard to plan anything – much less a wedding. But I’ve loved being with couples and watching them work together to adjust to constantly changing parameters. One of the questions that I like to ask them in their last pre-marital counseling session is what they’ve learned about themselves in preparing for their wedding. Until this year, the grooms have usually answered that they’ve enjoyed being part of the planning more than they thought they would and the brides have answered that they’ve learned to realize when their stress levels are too high. Now their answers are full of empathy for what each has had to endure, acceptance of whatever version of a wedding they will have, and of gratitude for learning not only what’s important in a wedding, but in life itself. Those answers may not be wrapped up in shiny paper and ribbons, but they are gifts, nonetheless – gifts of the Holy Spirit. And they keep on giving.

Still a Part of St. Mary’s Story, God’s Story

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, September 27, 2020

By: Ashley Cameron

There’s a bulletin board that you may have walked by a hundred times depending on which way you enter New St. Mary’s. It’s across from the bathrooms by the east trancept entrance. The top of it reads, “be a part of our story, be a part of God’s story.” Below those words are over a hundred printed photographs documenting the St. Mary’s story. Your story. They show worship services, Vacation Bible School, mission trips, parish suppers, Date with the Daffodils, small moments and big moments and everything in between.

I recently walked by this bulletin board. At first, I was saddened. As St. Mary’s resident photographer, it made me think of all the moments that were going to be captured over the past six months before it all shut down. I wondered about what the photographs that will replace these will look like. And I was disappointed that I simply haven’t been able to shoot photography – something that gives me so much joy. But then I remembered the words at the top, “be a part of our story, a part of God’s story.”

The St. Mary’s story hasn’t stopped writing itself simply because there aren’t photographs to memorialize it. Over these past few weeks, I’ve sat in a number of Zoom ministry calls and Zoom webinars. What’s become evident to me is that the members of St. Mary’s are still very much a part of God’s story.

One person in a Zoom call remarked, “by not being at church, we are losing so many interactions and learnings about the story of one another.” And I’m not denying that sentiment. There is something special about running into someone on a Sunday morning and genuinely learning about the joys and hardships of one another’s lives.
But I want to take a moment to share some of the stories, most of which won’t end up in a photograph on a bulletin board. These are the stories of one another; the stories that are St. Mary’s story.

There’s the story of a 99-years-old parishioner starting at the beginning of the church directory and calling each household at the beginning of the pandemic simply to check in. There’s the story of a 9-years-old girl realizing her desire to be a Sunday reader and finally feeling comfortable because it’s not in front of two hundred people. There’s the story of five parishioners in St. Mary’s kitchen wearing masks and gloves filling hundreds of quarts of homemade soup for GoochlandCARES. There’s the story of a vestry member delivering homemade cookies from fellowship committee members to homebound parishioners. And there’s the story of a sixth grader running up to David at the first in-person youth group in six months yelling, “this is great!”

There are so many more stories. I encourage you share them. And while we may not be showing up on Sunday mornings for worship or Wednesdays for a parish supper in the way that we used to. Still, there’s no denying that you all are writing St. Mary’s story and a part of God’s larger story.

The Kaleidoscope of God’s Reflections

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, September 20, 2020

By: Sam Bruce

I am not a very reflective person. I don’t fret about what could have been, nor do I attribute some mystical insight on looking back. Events in my past or in my current vision are points in time. Many I remember as inspirational, and a few have required repentance; but, I can’t go back and change what was said or what was done. I don’t like reflecting on the past because it can’t be changed. But, I can learn from it and address what or who I am in the future. Unfortunately, I can’t know what will happen in the future or generally change it; rarely is a redo possible. I think the best thing to do is to seize the moment!

I’d like to be a bit more literal on the idea of reflection. Do you remember the stories of Echo and Narcissus? Echo is cursed to only repeat whatever she last heard. She becomes frustrated and saddened in her fruitless love for Narcissus. Overwhelmed with self-pity and longing, she hides in a cave and withers away. Narcissus, after seeing his reflection, is compelled to stay there for the rest of his life until he starves and dies. In the end, Narcissus is transformed into a flower representing beauty without vanity. The moral is that excessive pride, self-love, and vanity lead to bad things. This is not to say that a reflection is vain or prideful. The danger lies in getting stuck in the reflection. This can lead to paralysis as it did for Narcissus.

In Western religions we tend to reflect on the need for forgiveness; we are forgiven when we reflect on and accept God’s grace. In Eastern philosophies we are taught to see nothing in the reflection; in this nothingness is everything. In both Eastern and Western philosophies we reflect on this “everything” as Love, Compassion, Empathy, and Self-Forgiveness. God is reflected in everything: the snake, squirrel, bird, stone, water, snow, wind, child; a cool night, a hot day, a joyful encounter, a sad goodbye, the stars in the heavens; you, and yes, me. Unlike Narcissus, I am able to move on. But what do I see when I look at my reflection? Is that me or is that God; is it nothing or is it everything?

When we see our reflection in the mirror, what do we see? Pride, vanity, envy, self-love, and even jealousy? Do we get stuck in our reflections, or do we see God in them? Honestly, the question is not complicated. In some ways it’s the simplest question of all. If we see God in everything, as I do, then our reflections should be filled with Love, Compassion, Empathy, and Self-Forgiveness—the Narcissus flower. When you look into a mirror, I hope that’s what you see. If so, then when I look at you and you look at me, we are looking at the same thing. It is this reflection that is nothingness and every-thingness. To see God in everything is not difficult at all. Look around you at the kaleidoscope of God’s reflections!

Lord, may the words that we hear be your words.

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, September 13, 2020

By: David May

Lord, may the words that we hear be your words.

Many of us will recognize these words as the prayer Bob Hetherington prayed from the pulpit before preaching on Sunday mornings. This simple prayer called us to listen for God through the words of the sermon we were about to hear.

Our Vestry and parish leadership are right in the middle of an amazing initiative in our parish where we are seeking God together and listening for God’s words through each other’s words. Beginning this past week, the Vestry began hosting 17 Zoom call meetings with all the ministry groups and committees of the parish. It is a huge and, I think, important undertaking. After such a long time away from each other – and likely a long time still to go – the Vestry has set out to engage with our congregation ministry by ministry.

For these meetings, members of each ministry group or committee are being asked to consider two questions and share their thoughts. The questions are: What is COVID-19 teaching you/us? and, What do you want to do about that? The hope with these questions is that in this extraordinary time we are living in, we are being pressed to clarify what matters most, what our core values really are, and how those insights will lead us to live our lives especially as followers of Jesus Christ. What kind of a Church is God calling us to be now?

As I write this, we have already held our first five meetings. It has been so good just to see one another and to talk with one another. One of the things that COVID-19 is teaching me is that I am just terrible at being a person on my own! God has made us to need one another. The conversations have been deep and funny and serious and moving. And in all of that, we are listening for God and how God is moving in our lives.

My conviction and hope is that when these 17 meetings are complete, we will see that God has been using these conversations to shape a vision of hope for us as we go forward into this strange, new world.

Later this month, we want to expand these conversations to our whole congregation. We are planning for three or four Zoom Webinars. You will be able to sign up for the one most convenient for you and we’ll be glad to give you plenty of instructions on how to do this! These webinars will include a sort of ‘state of the parish’ report from the Vestry, a report on the themes that have emerged from these 17 Zoom call meetings, and a time to receive questions or comments. The meeting will conclude with the vision that we have heard from God to go forward together with hope—always hope. And the prayer we began with, ‘Lord, may the words that we hear be your words,’ will give way to a new prayer: ‘Lord, may the work that we do be your work’.

Who do You Say that I am?

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, September 6, 2020

By: Cabell Jones

Note: This reflection was originally shared as part of the 10 a.m. Outdoor Worship Service on Sunday, August 23.

When David asked if I would offer a reflection for the outdoor service it was one of those yes/no moments. Yes, it would be an honor to offer a reflection; I’m flattered that he asked me. No, it means I have to stand up in front of fifty people and speak words that I have written. I said yes because I could feel a nudge from God saying “You need to do this.” God has a habit of pushing me out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t sure what I would say, but I trusted that God would show me the way so here I am.

As I read today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 16:13-20, two things jumped out at me. First, Peter is the rock – the foundation of the church. The second is Jesus’s question, “Who do you say that I am?”

Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” His next question is more personal—“But who do you say that I am?” Peter’s immediate response is, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. Jesus blesses Peter and goes on to say that Peter is the “rock” on which he will build his church. Peter must feel good at this moment. He understands who Jesus is and is not afraid to speak this truth. It is hard to imagine at this moment that Peter will deny Jesus three times. But, as we know, that is exactly what Peter does. Peter, the rock, the foundation of the church, denies even knowing Jesus. How can that be? How can this man be the foundation of the church?

Peter does become the foundation of the church in spite of or maybe because of his denials. This gives me hope, because Jesus is willing to forgive Peter. Jesus understands that we make mistakes. He does not judge us or hold our mistakes against us. Jesus offers us love and mercy. And that is good news.

I find it interesting that Jesus is asking the disciples these questions. He seems to be instructing the disciples, but he is asking questions instead of explaining or giving them the answer. If I’m honest, I wish God would just give me the answer. Clear, straightforward directions, please. But like I said, God has a habit of pushing me out of my comfort zone.

The question I kept hearing this week was “Who do you say that I am?” And this time it was not directed at the disciples but at me. Who do you say that I am? I know in my head that Jesus is the Messiah. I feel confident saying, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth; And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord.” But does my life reflect this truth? Have I accepted Jesus into my heart and soul? Am I willing to become what God calls me to be even if it’s something I never could have imagined?