From the 2020 Ministry Narrative
One of the areas of our communal life most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic has been our corporate expression of worship. However, it is also an area where we have shown great resilience, adaptability, and ingenuity.
While the All Saints Rector Search Committee was busily seeking out our new Rector, Sunday worship continued as usual. Within our greater All Saints family, we’re blessed to have 5 retired Episcopal priests who were available as supply clergy during the 8 months between Rectors. In addition to our Rector Emeritus, Bradley Wirth, we relied on Bill Baumgarten, Sue Price, Stephen Wendfeldt, and David Cameron, to cover Sunday worship services for us. For the 36 weeks without a Rector, from August 2019 through March 2020, we never once missed offering our Sunday services, or any special services, such as Thanksgiving Eve or Ash Wednesday. We even had the Rt. Rev. Marty Stebbins, celebrate at two of our Christmas Eve services, only 17 days after being ordained and consecrated as the X Bishop of Montana. Bishop Marty had a front row seat at the 4 pm Christmas Eve service to enjoy our annual Christmas Pageant presented by the children and youth of All Saints.
All Saints parishioners served as a flag bearer, a choir member, and acolytes at the consecration of Bishop Stebbins, the 100th female bishop to be ordained in the Anglican Communion and the first female bishop in the Diocese of Montana’s 152-year history.
While we waited for a new rector, Terry Abell led morning prayer on Wednesdays at the Springs Senior Living Center. In the fall, they returned to celebrating the Holy Eucharist until COVID-19 necessitated a lockdown of the facility in March.
Thursday’s noonday Eucharist at All Saints changed to noonday prayer upon retirement of our previous rector, but Kathy Thomas was there every week to lead noonday prayer for those who had become regulars at the Thursday worship service.
Just prior to Holy Week, Bishop Stebbins made the difficult decision to close every parish in the diocese for in-person worship. Though this was disheartening, it was the right decision, as subsequent events showed. We quickly formed a worship team to ensure that we could continue to offer our Triduum services virtually. Grace Benkelman, our choragos, (which is a Greek word meaning “one who leads a chorus or choir”) and Fr. Charlie led worship, while our Parish Administrator, Shawn Sloan, worked to stream services via Facebook Live, complete with music recorded by Jenanne Solberg prior to worship. Despite the circumstances, we had an impressive level of participation in these services and have continued to broadcast our 9am services each week (with edited recordings posted later on YouTube). This broadcast allows us to join in prayer with those who are vulnerable to infection and welcome those who live far away from the Flathead Valley.
For those who had become accustomed to gathering at the Springs for midweek communion, or at church on Thursdays for noonday prayer, a daily video chat was set up in May so that parishioners could meet to pray and reflect on scripture. After two months of this format, we decided to join in with Camp Marshall and the rest of the Diocese in daily Morning Prayer for the rest of the summer.
Once the bishop’s office gave All Saints permission to reopen its doors in mid-May, a parish survey was sent out to determine the needs and concerns of members regarding worship. Fr. Charlie also consulted with the Flathead County Health Department to create protocols for Sunday mornings that met the social distancing and sanitation guidelines laid out by the governor’s office. In order to encourage social distancing, we doubled our number of Sunday services (adding both a 7:30am and 7pm option), roped off pews, limited singing, removed hymnals and BCPs, offered all-inclusive bulletins for worshippers, and altered the liturgy to minimize the amount of time that the congregation and altar party spent in the central aisle. We also began to offer drive-thru communion so that those tuning into the 9am service at home could receive the sacrament without breaking their quarantine. All the while, our altar guild and other parishioners kept pace, not only with the additional resets of the worship space, but in sanitizing the pews and frequently-touched surfaces in between services. As our building project progressed, we moved worship services outside onto the front lawn. But whether we were worshipping together pre-COVID or worshipping online during this pandemic, everyone in the church has an important role to play. From altar and flower guilds, acolytes, readers, greeters, chalice bearers, musicians, care groups, nursery care providers, leaders of Children’s Chapel, the priests, and the congregation, we all come together in proclaiming a most visible and central act of ministry in the Church which is worship.
This past year, we also offered services for special occasions and feasts such as an Ash Wednesday service for children and youth held at the house of Cynthia Benkelman, our Christian Formation Minister for Children and Youth; a groundbreaking liturgy; a service for about 10 high school and college graduates; an outdoor Ascension Day service; and our annual blessing of the animals presided over by Bishop Marty (who happens to be a former Veterinary Epidemiologist). Fr. Charlie and Mtr. Mikayla led a virtual healing service for Camp Marshall with many diocesan youth in attendance. We also logged 4 (socially-distant) weddings and a funeral into our books, each service a poignant testament to Christian hope in a time of great disruption.
With its new worship space, All Saints will be able to not only better accommodate social distancing requirements, but celebrate more feasts and observances from our tradition that fall during the week. And while each of our 4 Sunday services are rather consistent for the sake of social distancing, the two newly-established service times will eventually allow us to explore different aspects of the Anglican liturgical tradition.
Liturgy is important, because God deserves our worship. However, thoughtful and well-executed liturgy is also a service. It can be a comfort to a scattered mind, a space to grieve a loss, or to celebrate joyful occasions. Our worship also allows us to set aside the stories that we tell ourselves every day and to try on a different story: That we are loved beyond measure by a God who creates, redeems, and sustains us.