This is part 4 of an occasional six part series filled with some of Liz and friends’ incomplete and gentle reminiscing about the early years of Incarnation
January 2020 dawned with such a delightful sense of anticipation. We were settling into our space at AUMC, loving our Chapel services, enjoying the freedom of having the Atrium space as well as offices…. We had found our home… We began a sermon series on Colossians - such a great book for enlarging one's understanding of God and our neighbors. An excellent book for a young church to study. We also gathered to pray - to play games - to sing - to delight in community!
Our men continued to lead us in finding new ways to pray, ‘power hour’ was launched as a monthly men’s prayer gathering (they also met one evening for whisky tasting … they said it was a rich time of sharing…). The women met for tacos, and we all met for regularly in small groups, which were focused on exploring the ways and beauties of celtic Christianity. In addition, we were planning our next West Asia trip, and the WA team met regularly for prayer and planning.
In February we said our VERY fond farewells to Ashley and Morgan Reed as they headed off first for paternity leave, then the birth of Cole and then their own church planting adventure in Springfield, VA. We felt so proud of our little church, as we sent off a church planter so early in our life. It’s so wrenchingly hard to part with people you love and who have been so important to your journey, but this was such a healthy move for the Reeds and we loved them, prayed for them and released them with our heartfelt blessings. And now you can check out Corpus Christi: they planted and flourished!
Morgan adds: I have been so grateful for Liz+ and the vestry at IAC giving me and my family the opportunity, with their love and support, to go and plant a new church. Corpus Christi continues to pray for Incarnation regularly in our Prayers of the People and we are so grateful for IAC’s encouragement and continued support as we figure out how to plant a church in a pandemic.
Reading books is a fav. activity at Incarnation - but not just reading them, grappling with them, and then seeking to turn what we have wrestled with into changed lives and behaviours. And so, even as the world around us was struggling with questions surrounding race and culture, in March, Katherine led us in a wonderful discussion of “Jesus and the disinherited” by Howard Thurman. This led to many fruitful conversations about race, but also deliberate attempts by us to learn and grow in our understanding; to this end we began to promote (and attend) Race Literacy 101 run by Little Lights such a VERY EXCELLENT class.(As an aside: we are still in 2022 encouraging people to take this class, so if you haven’t completed it yet - sign up today!]
March 15 we all went out for dinner on the Pike after church for what turned out to be the last time… as the world changed as the craziness of COVID-19 began to impact our lives. As we joined the spinning chaos that ensued as lockdowns and quarantines and masks and pandemic-life hit us, we immediately began the pivot to on-line church. Amy was AMAZING (as always) as she steadily and calmly learned a whole raft of new skills, helping us to start midweek midday prayer on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and online church on Sundays. It feels like a book in itself to begin to enumerate the changes we navigated in the rest of this year: from zooming from our sofas, to setting up little mini ‘chapel/studios’ on our dining room tables. We learned (like everyone else) about managing sound issues, lighting issues, muting/unmuting, coaxing everyone to learn new skills and to stick with us. Our vestry and key leaders took on ‘pastoral hubs’ - lists of names of people they would check-in with regularly with as the days turned into weeks turned into months. Our objective was that everyone would have a call or email or communication of some sort every couple of weeks… that we would hold each other's hands as tightly as we could whilst not allowed to touch.
And so on March 20 - we held our first Friday zoom compline, and March 22 our first zoom Sunday service. Over the next few months we exploited zoom as much as we could: happy hours, quiz nights, learn to cook with Logan nights, prayer nights, worship nights, community craft nights, global prayer nights, even a global outreach week with different activities every day. We knew that people were at huge risk of becoming isolated and we wanted to keep as much connectivity as we could with every single Incarnation person….
Beth adds: The first week of pandemic lockdown, I recall the morning Zoom prayer meeting that Amy led. Megan and I sat on the floor together in our living room, in front of the laptop. As the sun rose, it turned the sky a pink color that seemed too calm and beautiful for a world waking to such uncertainty. But in the short fifteen minutes or so that we began the day in prayer with our little Incarnation community over the strange new technology (that we would all come to know quite well), I knew God would be with us—our rock and steady place—as we faced what lay ahead. That prayer meeting set a tone heading into the pandemic for which I am still grateful—one of hope in remembering who holds us all in His hand.
Our small groups took us on to studying Galatians in line with our sermon series, but also one on the ‘Healing of the Nations’ as we wanted to keep an outward focus … We also had a rather fun 'movie small group' - who watched and discussed key themes in a variety of movies. Delightful.
And, of course, we worshiped and prayed and asked God to shape us and form us, even as it became apparent that the pandemic was not finishing any time soon. We learned how to be as interactive as possible even while worshiping from our disparate spaces: people read, prayed, preached from their homes. After the service, we gathered and chatted for online ‘coffee hour’. At Easter we delivered an ‘Easter’ package to every home, with a palm branch, pre-consecrated communion elements, things for the kids to do: a do-it-from-home-Easter-week experience. We were determined that celebrating could still be communal - even if we were geographically apart.
Above: changing seasons in the Chapel from Epiphany to Lent.
The pandemic has been particularly hard on children, who have less understanding of the wheres and whyfors, and Josie has worked tirelessly to ensure that our kids had space to flourish and grow in their knowledge and love of Jesus. Wild Wonder became a weekly feature of our life, where kids could gather in the park and explore the beauty of creation, with thoughtful input from Josie and her team. “No wrong weather, just wrong clothes” became an oft repeated slogan: and so our kids led the way in our gathering together in-person as they explored and wondered together.
As we considered options for gathering in small numbers, we came up with the concept of ‘garden church’; small groups of our community were encouraged to gather together to worship, on people’s decks or in their yards. We helped them learn how to set up a screen, and project their i-phone’s zoom. We taught them to manage sound, and even had people doing the readings and praying from these various garden locations.
By the time August came around, we were able to explore other ways of gathering for worship. So for a while we started pre-recording the service in the morning before zooming together at 5pm. This took some of the pressure off the staff, and allowed us to explore some more creative ways of worshiping together. As always, Amy was the driving force between making every innovation happen. More skills they don’t teach you in Seminary!
And then HOORAH - we found a way to be together in person. On Sept 13 we celebrated our first birthday as a congregation with a service in the park followed by a stream clean up. It was so, so good to be in person again. Everyone brought their camping chairs, we had balloons and we took communion TOGETHER. And it was GLORIOUS. And short lived as we headed back onto zoom….
The women were now praying on alternate Friday mornings at the ‘Peace and Power’ hour (the Men were still doing ‘power hour’ fortnightly too!). Worship was mostly back on-line. But small numbers of people joined the chapel service in the morning as we continued to record for zoom at 5pm.
The Hamlins returned from Bangkok mid-year, and it was so delightful weaving them into our community life. Katie was ordained as a deacon on Oct 3 - a sweet service where some precious family gathered in person, and most watched on zoom.
Our second vestry class was elected in October (Nancy had been a 1-year short straw, so she was re-elected for 3 years, and Patrick Sahm joined the team).
And then we went camping! Our second Annual Sky Meadows trip - this time using two of the group camping sites as our numbers have grown! We had a simply wonderful time.
And when our community faced the awful tragedy of Eric’s death six weeks later (the day after Thanksgiving) we looked back on this trip with such poignant gratitude.
November was a turbulent month for the country as the presidential election took place. We prayed. And prayed. Jenni was asked to step onto the vestry to fill the vacancy. Clayton and Nancy were our wardens. In the midst of these changes, a joyfilled highlight was the visit of our Bishop on St Nicholas' Day...
As the Fall grew colder we decided to move our service time to 11am from Nov 8, so that the garden churches could continue to meet without freezing. We now welcomed people to attend in the Chapel, or at a garden church or from their own settees. And most fiercely, we grieved Eric’s death, entering Advent with a deep sadness and sense of loss crying out for the birth of Jesus to bring meaning and hope.
Next week, the pandemic lingered on in 2021.
In other news:
This Thursday all men are encouraged to join the Third Thursday group on zoom at 8pm - our premier men's gathering!
Next Saturday, March 19 we have the opportunity to gather at the Ortegas' home for a Lent prayer retreat - come and take part in a quiet morning of creative contemplation together. Signing up is helpful for our planning.
Every week after the service we offer confidential prayer by a trained prayer duo - would you like to grow in your ability to listen and pray with others? Join us for a rather overdue prayer training! Signup here (Note: coming to the training does not mean you will automatically be added to the prayer team - but it DOES mean that you and Liz/Amy could discuss whether you would be a good fit for the team! And meanwhile you will have learned a little more about prayer ....).
And looking a little further ahead - save the date - March 30 we will have a lenten worship night at the Vicarage led by Anna and Katie F. Pop it on your cals now...
On a personal note: Simon and my last Sunday at Incarnation is May 8 - if you would like to go for a walk, or have tea/coffee/lunch/dinner together before then - let me know!
With such joy and delight in being one of your pastors,