Way back in January 1994, I woke myself up coughing at 2 a.m. from an overwhelming haze of smoke that had penetrated the bedroom of my flat in Sydney, Australia, where I was living for the year. It was so bad that I would have thought that my apartment itself was actively on fire if I hadn’t seen the warnings about bushfires around the city on the news before I went to bed.

As you may know, Sydney surrounds a glorious harbor on three Rev JC Austinsides, emptying into the open Pacific Ocean on its eastern side. The fires were close enough that I could see the glow on the horizon, and they were far from under control. I remember thinking to myself that, well, worst case scenario, I guess I can retreat to the water, but then I recalled the four-meter (13-foot) tiger shark that had recently been captured in the cove near my flat, and decided that wasn’t much of a solution. And so for several days, I waited out the fires, watching the bizarre orange and green haze during the day and trying to sleep with the overwhelming smoke at night.

That experience has been on my mind this week, as I’ve never experienced anything like it until the smoke from the Canadian wildfires arrived in the Lehigh Valley. How many of you had “Apocalyptic Air Quality” on your 2023 Bingo card? This has been a truly crazy week in so many ways; it never occurred to me that I would ever have to close the church because there was too much smoke in the air from wildfires hundreds of miles away to be safe, but that’s what happened.

As I write this on Thursday, I am relieved to say that I can finally see the Lehigh University Observation Tower on the southside mountains from my home office window, which has not been the case for several days now, so I am hopeful that there will not be any disruptions to our worship plans this Sunday.

Our ventilation, filtration, and air conditioning systems are in the midst of repairs right now and have been overwhelmed by the intensity of the smoke this week. At the moment, however, the system that seems to be working best is the Sanctuary, and so our plan is to hold worship there at 10 a.m. this Sunday. Just in case, however: one thing that we learned during the pandemic is how to do fully remote worship, which we made preparations to hold this Sunday if the smoke continues to be at levels that are unsafe for gathering inside the church.

We do not expect that to be the case, but if it is, we will post announcements to that effect on the church Facebook page and website, as well as send out a special email and leave a special greeting message on the church phone. So if you are curious on Sunday about whether we are actually having in-person worship, please check one of those resources; if there is no message saying otherwise, we will be gathering as planned in the Sanctuary at 10 a.m.

As you may have heard, the best defense outside of a well-functioning air filtration system is the trusty N95 masks that got so many of us through the pandemic. If you are concerned about air quality on Sunday, especially if you are dealing with respiratory issues of any kind, please remember that wearing an N95 mask to worship may be the prudent choice for you.

Hopefully, we will be back to something resembling normal on Sunday, but one way or another, we will gather in worship to God this Sunday, and I hope you will join us in whatever way seems best to you as we continue our “Gospel According to Ted Lasso” sermon series!

Grace and Peace,