Rector's Ramblings December 2, 2020
I’m becoming a master at adjusting my expectations. I don’t have a choice, really. So many things have been upended this year for one reason or another that my “choice” to change them hasn’t really been mine. I suppose I could steadfastly refuse to change my outlook, or pretend that my expectations will be fulfilled, but all that would do is make me more frustrated, and probably depressed. Living during a pandemic is humbling, to say the least.
I pray that the Thanksgiving holiday does not bring the feared COVID spike across the nation. We may have had a leg up again, given that our celebrations could depend on front or screen porches; I know folks were meeting that way because we took a walk on Thanksgiving and saw families gathered outdoors. For most of us, one way or another, changing our expectations for Thanksgiving was part of the deal this year.
Christmas is no different. Already, I know that Christmas will not be what it typically is. It’s uncertain if we will even be able to travel to Pennsylvania after Christmas like we normally do. We are holding out hope that it might be possible, and we have plans worked out if it is. We’ve also been honest with ourselves that it’s highly unlikely that we’ll make the trip at the end of the day (or year, really). Our families have high risk grandparents on both sides who are thankfully taking their health seriously, so there isn’t as much pressure to make something happen from up north, so much as we feel it in our own hearts. Whatever we decide (or is decided for us), we will make the most of it.
Christmas at Christ Church is going to look different this year, too. I think we all know this, but I’m telling you in case someone out there hasn’t begun to adjust their expectations. The survey we sent around last month confirmed that most of us have realized that our plans need to change. We’ll be sharing our schedule later this week, but I thought I’d share a bit of the data we got back from the survey today. I like data, if you didn’t know, and while I didn’t need all of it to know what our best course would be, it has been helpful. It has given me and the Vestry and the Staff more than our hunches to go on.
I can tell you that worshipping in the tent on Christmas Eve was far and away the most popular option, at least in terms of in-person options. Online worship was a very close second. The three indoor options were a distant third, fourth, and fifth. Even when I ignored the persons whose first choice was online (just for one calculation), the tent was clearly ahead of indoor worship. The median jumped from one for the tent (meaning at least half chose it as their first choice) to three for any of the indoor options in that scenario. That’s what we call a significant difference.
Don’t get me wrong; there will be both indoor and outdoor options for worship on Christmas Eve, but the majority of the “seats” on Christmas Eve will be in the tent, and I do have a hunch that online seats will outnumber the in-person ones when all is said and done. Some may sense that I seem going out of my way to explain why we’re going to lean more heavily on outdoor worship and wonder about that. In honesty, it’s because a part of me is still sad that it isn’t safe enough to come up with a practical, largely indoor solution to “the Christmas Eve problem.” I haven’t fully adjusted my expectations after all, I guess. Nonetheless, I feel better knowing that most folks will be just fine with our options. If you’re one of the third of folks whose first or second choice wasn’t the tent or online, know that I completely understand your disappointment; some of you won’t get your first choice.
The Vestry has been helpful in thinking this through and supporting our plan. Like me, they know that most folks understand what we’re facing and realize the risk associated with indoor worship. We know that we will have neighbors whose churches will look more normal on Christmas Eve. There are congregations that have different physical plants (more square and cubic footage), better HVAC systems, smaller congregations (we often worship 800 persons on Christmas Eve, with spaces that max out at less than 200 seats!), or simply don’t take the guidelines and recommendations as seriously as we do. We can only do what is right for us and for our space.
I have been frustrated to see a meme on social media that has superimposed the face of one of our national-level health experts onto the body of the Grinch. I know it can feel that way. Ironically, though, the joke doesn’t hold up. By the end of the story, the Grinch learned that there was nothing that would keep Christmas from coming. The Whos down in Whoville didn’t need trees, or stockings, or decorations, or presents; Christmas wasn’t about that, but about so much more. The same is true of what we do in the Church. Christmas comes whether or not we hold a single service, light a single candle, sing a single carol; Christ’s arrival was never about what we were doing or could do. It’s always been about what God is doing. That hasn’t changed. I hope we all remember the Grinch as we look to Christmas with our diminished expectations.
PS: I am hopeful about all these vaccines coming into use. It tells me that there is a bright light on the horizon, even if it’s still a sliver of dawn at this point. I don’t want to guess how long it will take for us to realize anything like what we used to consider normal, but I’m adjusting my expectations so that I won’t get too far ahead of myself or the pandemic. That day will come when it comes. It won’t be here in time for Christmas though. We’ll keep the faith and care for each other in the meantime.
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in allour doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see
light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Photo Credits: “Man in Black Hoodie,” Craig Adderley, via pexels.com;
Here’s some Christmas survey data for all you fellow data hounds: