A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: Behind the scenes

Earlier this week, I was on a videoconference call with the rest of the Advisory Board of Macedonian Ministry, a national and ecumenical clergy development organization that was started by the Rev. Dr. Tom Tewell, whom some of you know from his time here as an associate pastor in the 1970s. As I joined the call, the new executive director of Macedonian Ministry greeted me and asked, “how was Holy Week for you?” I responded, “well… unusual,” to some knowing laughs from other board members, “but beautiful,” I continued, and others nodded thoughtfully in agreement, too.

And I meant that: it was certainly the most unusual Holy Week experience of my nearly 20 years of ordained ministry, most obviously on Easter Sunday morning, when our Sanctuary that would normally be filled with 700 people for the Traditional service only had myself, Sue Bennetch and our audio/visual team members, Aaron Kapes (left) and Kyle Steele, in the room as the service began.

Even David Macbeth, our Music Director, and our singers and instrumentalists were not present, having pre-recorded their work earlier in the week to minimize the number of people needed in the Sanctuary for the livestream itself.

But it was also a truly beautiful Holy Week: Maundy Thursday was particularly intimate and powerful as we gathered in virtual “rooms” using Zoom videoconferencing to discuss Scripture and share Communion as if we, like Jesus’ disciples, were gathered in an upper room the night of his arrest. The Good Friday Tenebrae service, which I was most nervous about how it would translate onto the livestream, was a moving experience in part because our dispersion in our homes mirrored the way Jesus’ disciples were scattered in the aftermath of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. And Easter came with the promise of “he is not here; he has gone ahead of you; there you will see him” resonating in ways that it never had before.

So with that unusual and beautiful experience still in our minds and hearts, I want to say two things. First, a word of profound and humble gratitude to all of those staff members who put so much time and energy into making Holy Week happen so faithfully and well. Some of those are highly visible, like David and all of our musicians and singers, or Sue with her powerful prayers in worship.

Some you saw in passing, like Cristy Mette who organized and facilitated the technology parts of Maundy Thursday (as she does with many of online gatherings). And some you did not see at all, like Aaron and Kyle making our livestreaming seem easy (pictured above after the 9 a.m. Contemporary Service on Easter), or Carol Burns keeping us constantly informed through communications, or Rebecca Angione, Jake Brown, and Kyle Willans, who are keeping our building running well and our worship spaces clean and set up for our livestream services.

And, of course, in the midst of all that, Andie Barbehenn and the indefatigable Preschool teachers have continued to be creative and energetic about engaging our Preschool children and families online, while Cindy Matthews, our temporary Bookkeeper, is keeping us moving forward on course in terms of the church’s financial operations. Truly, it is an extraordinary team that we are blessed to have as part of the church.

And second, we are now in the season of Easter, of resurrection and new life. Yet like the disciples after Easter, we remain withdrawn into our houses for safety, as well. Those two things are not mutually exclusive; the question is how to honor both faithfully.

That is the question we will be asking and attempting to answer in the coming weeks, not only through worship but through our other ministries, as well. There will be more experiments to come for our ministry and life together during this time of “sheltering in place,” even as we look forward to the time that we can faithfully and safely come back together in person. So l look forward to hearing your ideas and to seeing your faces online as we continue to worship and serve the Risen Lord!

Grace and peace,