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On the Way   The Rt. Rev. Audrey Scanlan
Operating Systems

Someday, I hope that Covid and all its attendant worries and anxieties will ease into the background of my personal operating system so that I am no longer shaken, hyper-vigilant, or wary each time I leave my house to go out into the world.

I did an upgrade on my computer this week.  My computer is about a year old, and I have been avoiding this system upgrade, knowing what havoc they can wreak.  Havoc has ensued.  With the upgrade, my computer fan now runs without ceasing and the battery drains so quickly that it needs constant vigilance (and a plug nearby).  This “improved” operating system has not stayed in the background of my computing life, but is, more than ever, up front, out loud, and in my face.  It feels like the constant assault of Covid in the news, on the radio, on social media.

 But Covid is beginning to fade (here, at least in the Western world where our access to healthcare is exponentially greater than our brothers and sisters in other places, like India- [May God have mercy.])  Ever so slowly, as people get vaccinated in this country, one by one by one, the threat of Covid is lessened.  This past week I had my second shot and after a full 24 hours of misery (exhaustion, joint pain, headache, and dizziness) I seem to have come out the other side.  In two weeks’, time I should be “good to go.”  I will continue to wear a mask, though, because we just don’t know yet about the full effects of the vaccine.  We don’t know if I (or the millions of others now vaccinated) could still get or give the virus to others.  It’s not a guarantee, this vaccine, but it is- in my opinion- a lot better than nothing.

When Covid fades into the background, I want to have the space for deeper reflection than I have had of late.  I want to carry with me some of the comments, experiences, and incidents that have left an impression on my soul in this past year.  I want to pray and ponder about the priest who lost his life to Covid in January.  Ministering to him in his final days was so strange- by iPad connection to the ICU; it felt weak.  I was not equipped to do the work of my trade in that distanced technological way.  I trust that the prayers and the psalms and the scripture that we read carried the day and that my ministrations for that faithful servant were adequate, but it still haunts me.  Was it good enough? Did it bring comfort?  Did God get through the iPad app? I deeply regret not being able to be there in person.

I’ve wondered about the efficacy of Holy Communion.  In the early days of the pandemic we heard that what people missed the most was the sacrament of Holy Communion.  I would like to have a deeper understanding of this and a fuller articulation of the longing that I hear about from folks.  What is it about coming to the rail- what is it in the small circular wafer, the sip from the common cup, the act of getting on our knees in these sacred spaces for a meager meal- that is so life giving?  I don’t want to write it off to “a mystery.”  I want words to help me understand.  I know what I feel at the rail when I am served in that way- it is a union between heaven and earth, a joining shoulder to shoulder with my Christian kin, a movement of light and flickering of candles and the sounding of organ tones that fill my senses and provide a moment unlike anything else that I do all week.  Is that what you were missing?  What were you missing?  I want to read and listen and learn.  I think that our church can learn from this.

I’ve wondered about the power of God and the internet.  And what is it – other than our obedience to the authority of our rule-making General Convention- that keeps us from boldly acting in ways that stretch our current understanding of time and space and how  God acts in sacramental ways?  Why not sit at home with bread and wine and lift them up to be consecrated in cyber space?  That is not my preference. I believe that real community in shared space is important.  But I want to check my privilege and my fear and my clerical authority as I ponder and listen and discuss the activity of God and God’s capacity to move through computer screens.  

I’ve seen communities grow and develop online.  I’ve seen Facebook turn from a place for idle Boomer time-killing to an efficient, welcoming, and inclusive platform for in-depth discussion, prayer and learning.  I’ve even conducted programs including Contemplative Prayer on Face Book Live.  I could feel the Spirit in that silence.    I’ve watched diocesan congregations gather daily for prayer.  These are folks that in the days before Covid gathered weekly.  And now, they come together once or more per day to pray the psalms. This has been a time of increased devotion.  I wonder what people would say about how that has marked them?

I’ve worshipped across time and space- I’ve checked out online services in Washington, California, the family-sized church in CT that raised me up for ordination, and I’ve become a devotee of Dean Robert at Canterbury Cathedral (UK) as he reads Morning Prayer from a different spot each day in the cathedral close, often with the barnyard pigs, pheasant, guinea fowl, lovely gardens and trees providing the backdrop for his devotions and smart lectures. Some of our churches report an increase in membership from far flung places.  What does it mean, now, to “belong” to a church?  That boundary, too, is being tested.

Last week I went on a retreat.  I spent 5 days and 4 nights in the woods on a solo hike of the portion of the Appalachian Trail between Bear Town and Boiling Springs.  There were no masks in sight, there was no Covid talk, no hand sanitizer.  There were people to meet (responsibly socially distant, outside), streams and brooks to cross, hills to go up and then come down again, and the glory of God’s creation to behold.  It was an Operating System that was different and refreshing.  With it now in the background, I’m processing the lessons of that solo adventure and reflecting on what God delivered to me on the trail.

What, I wonder, has God delivered to you in Covid, and in Covid Church?  Are you able to see it yet? To yet give voice to it?    I’m interested.

For those who have been given words, please note that we are collecting papers for a fall event called “Lessons Learned.”  Follow this link for the details.  We’d welcome your participation.  https://diocesecpa.org/uncategorized/lessons-learned-a-call-for-papers-reflecting-theologically-on-the-churchs-faithful-response-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/

1 thought on “Operating Systems”

  1. Chris Sheely says:

    As a “cradle Episcopalian”, I guess I got used to just going to church, singing in the choir…things that had become a part of my weekly routine. It was just what I did. Covid has made me realize that it was more than that. Yes, we “attend” on Sundays via Youtube, but it’s not the same. I miss the people. I miss the chatter of who’s doing what while we vest for rehearsal before church. I miss choir rehearsals. I miss communion. I miss it all. Covid has made me realize that it wasn’t just a routine every week…it was a big part of who I am. I look forward to those “mundane” things like chatting or prepping…things that didn’t seem nearly as important as they really are. Yes, we go to church every week, but it’s not the same. Nothing is, really. I am looking forward to getting back to normal.

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