St Clements Church Toronto
Thank you, Church at Home
On Saturday, March 14, 2020, at 8 am, I held an emergency staff meeting in my office at the church.
Something called "covid" (whatever that is) was quickly morphing into a bigger threat and we felt it wise to shut down in-person church services for a short while. Drawing upon my extensive seminary and leadership experience, I sagely instructed staff: "Bring home your stuff from the office - three weeks' worth - you know, just to be on the safe side." (cue: laugh track). Some of the work materials I brought home that fateful Saturday have never returned to the church building.
Beginning that following Monday morning and daily for many weeks after, I set my alarm at 5 am, made a pot of coffee, and went down to my basement to write a daily Signs of Hope devotional email to our 1000 person plus mailing list. Our Lenten reflection on the Gospel of John would continue, albeit in different form. That was the most intense and rewarding writing experience of my life.
Within two weeks, we held our first gathering of something we were calling, Church at Home. It became a passion project for the staff team, with everyone’s fingerprints on it. And, truth be told, it would not have come to be without the remarkable gifts of Pamela Rayment and Daniel Webb, for whom we all owe a debt of gratitude.
A founding principle that forged those early days was that we would not try to "recreate" anything. Because we were in lockdown, friends, and the only way forward - as we saw it - was to choose authenticity and embrace the unexpected because perfection is a lie and wasn’t going to help us get to the place God was leading us. And so we chose not to send clergy to the church sanctuary when everyone else was forbidden from entering; we chose not to consume the body and blood of Christ when no one else could; we chose not to wear vestments nor to try to make things feel normal because nothing was normal. Above all, we would not pretend.
And so you saw the plain white of my basement wall behind my zoom screen, ignored my fan in the background because I don't have a/c at home, heard my kids (then, aged 8 and 4, now 11 and 7), met my cats, and endured (alongside my wife), the vagaries of my pandemic “look” (then shaved head, now moustache).
We were incredibly intentional in building Church at Home to be accessible via phone, from a hospital room, at the cottage. What we could not have anticipated was the huge uptake and participation from our St. Clement's community...and from weekly worshippers as far flung as San Francisco, South Carolina, Washington D.C., London, Tel Aviv and beyond.
What you have been part of planting is a church - one not trying to be something else or transport you to someplace else, but to show up at the only place you and I were allowed to be: at home. Church at Home is arguably the most successful church-planting experience at St. Clement's since we ourselves were planted from St John's York Mills in 1891. The decision to design and build Church at Home how, why, when and for whom we did might be the most important ministry endeavour I've been privileged to be a part of in fifteen years of ordained ministry. I think what we've built together is that important.
Church at Home gave us the confidence to launch OMG Tuesdays, our hugely successful midweek Christian education series, all via zoom. Church at Home gave us the wherewithal to invest in our audio-visual and live-streaming capabilities, now one of the finest in the country. Church at Home underscored the need to invest in telling the story through a newly created staff position: Digital Communications Missioner. For we could no longer pretend - if truly we ever could - that God was only present in the building. For, like the whack-a-mole game, when Jesus goes underground God just shows up elsewhere...like your living room, or that corner of your life where you least expect it.
A week from Sunday, June 5, we celebrate Pentecost, the day God drove the disciples from the comfort and protection of their upper room and out into public again. I'm sure they weren't ready for it. I'm not sure I am either. To leave behind, at least for a time, the rhythm and repose of all that Church at Home has meant. The lament and the grief are real, and I feel them as I write to you.
And so is the gratitude. To God. To you. To what we have planted, watered, nurtured, and grown together.
I thought covid might be with us for three weeks. We are now in year three of Church at Home.
On Pentecost, we will move to two in-person services (9:30 and 11 am), both in-person and both live-streamed from our sanctuary. We built Church at Home on a principle of not pretending, so let's not pretend now: Church at Home as we've come to know and love it is drawing to a close. It may be "farewell" or it may be "see you later" - only God knows that. Yes, we welcome the return to an in-person 9:30 worship experience, with all its three-dimensional beauty and joy. Yes, we celebrate our newfound capability to live-stream the experience into people’s living rooms. And yet all change involves loss and we’ve certainly all faced our share of loss these past few years. To face one more loss can be a lot to ask.
And so I invite you to join me this Sunday, May 29, as we pause to say goodbye to Church at Home… and hello to a future that is, by God’s power, more than we can ask or imagine.
Finally, I would also invite you to consider making a one-time financial gift to honour what we've created together these past three years. What has Church at Home meant to you? Would you consider giving a gift of $50, $500, or $5000?
Each and every gift contributes to balancing our budget for 2022. Thank you so much for your sacrificial support; your generosity transforms lives.
Thank you, St. Clement’s. Thank you, Church at Home.
Yours truly in Christ,