Updated Pastoral Letter from the Rector

March 19, 2020
Dear People of Ascension,

Earlier this week, the clergy received a letter from Bishop Dietsche suspending all public worship for 8 weeks, until the middle of May. This follows the best wisdom of the CDC and is reflected in many other policies now in place in New York as we seek to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19. As difficult as it may be to not be able to gather on Sunday, and especially for Holy Week and Easter, our calling as Christians is clear: to love our neighbor as and as well as ourselves, and to care for our communities.

We have heard from some of our parishioners that they have symptoms that indicate they may have the corona virus. No one is seriously ill, and because there is no readily available test, right now it is impossible to know with certainty how widespread exposure may be. I believe that we should all proceed as if we have been exposed, not in fear but with abundant caution, thus seeking to protect the larger community.

The Ascension office is closed, and our staff is working remotely as much as we can. We can respond to your calls and emails! The church building is also closed to the public during our usual mid-week open hours. We are learning to use online platforms for worship and essential meetings and postponing other activities until we can move and gather freely.

Meanwhile, we are still the church! Church is not canceled! Last Sunday, Fr. Ed, Dr. Keene and I posted a short service of prayers, scripture, reflection and music on our Facebook page, and it was wonderful to hear from many of you that you found it comforting and uplifting. On weekdays at 5:30, we invite you to say Evening Prayer together via Zoom, and then take some time to share about our days, concerns, and prayers. It has been a great way of connecting with our parish! If you are able, please join us; information about how to do so is at the bottom of this letter.

This Sunday, we again plan to post a short video on our Facebook page, but our primary worship will be conducted via Zoom at 11 AM. Plans are still developing, and I hope to see many of you there!

As we learn more about how to connect virtually, I hope we will be inspired with new, meaningful ways to celebrate Holy Week and Easter, the center of our liturgical year. Throughout history, Christians have celebrated the resurrection in times of war and persecution, plague and famine, as well as joy and plenty. Though we will be physically separated this Easter, the risen Christ is always with us. I pray that we will know our Lord’s presence in the space between us – and come back together with a new sense of the power of the resurrection.

Our food pantry will remain open, so that we can offer this essential service to our hungry neighbors. If you would like to help, live within walking distance of the church and are not at special risk from COVID-19 (over 65, weakened immune system or other chronic health condition, etc.), please contact Fr. Ed Chinery at mailto:fatherchinery@ascensionnyc.org to see what volunteers are needed.

Please, reach out to the clergy if you need food or other critical items, if you are ill or anxious, or simply want to talk. We’re happy to hear about your ponderings and questions. We love you and we want to know how you are!

I know that some of you are facing intense income insecurity because of event cancellations due to the Corona virus. If you have lost your job or regular income, please let us know. If you have a reliable income in this time, please continue to pay your pledge. The church still has expenses even though we are not holding public worship, including paying our staff through this time. Because of the stock market’s volatility, we cannot lean on our investment income right now.

This time of social separation- a fast from so much of what we enjoy and find meaningful, a wilderness of fear, chaos and uncertainty- has plunged us into a deeper Lent than we ever dreamed of. It is also a time of grace and opportunity. May we rest and reflect on what is most important to us. May we reach out to others with open hearts: by phone, online, giving alms, in prayer. May we enjoy books and music, making food, making things, clearing space. May we cherish our dearest ones; may we give thanks for the beauties and blessings of each day. May we ponder what this pandemic teaches about our absolute interdependence with every being on this planet, and how we can honor that profound reality in a more life-giving way. May we be gentle with ourselves. May we remember that God is in our midst- nearer than the breath we breathe.

You are in my daily prayers. Please pray for me and for one another. In these strange and frightening times, we are called to be Christ’s hands and heart, signs of hope and compassion in a hurting world. We are learning what that means; we will surely make mistakes- but by God’s grace, we will find our way, and it will be enough.

God bless and keep you, dear ones.

Yours in Christ’s peace,

The Reverend Elizabeth G. Maxwell
Rector, Church of the Ascension

This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen. (BCP, p. 461)

Join us for Evening Prayer – Weeknights Monday-Friday at 5:30 p.m.
Go to: zoom.us/j/770597201

If you are unable to connect via a computer or other smart device, you can dial in with your phone:   929-205-6099. You will then hear a prompt to enter the meeting code which is: 770 597 201, then press #. To mute or unmute (so you will or won’t be heard) press *6 on your phone.