We are moving into the middle of summer, where families who have not yet been on vacation are planning to take off for perhaps cooler parts, or at least the beach. Normally, some families would be planning that last, long weekend trip before school starts. It goes without elaboration that this is not like any other year.
Some of you have gone to the mountains, or to the beach, or out west. Some have opted for “stay-cations”. Either way, you have taken time to come together as family, traveling perhaps under new rules, or staying home, but still spending quality time together. It is interesting to me that we Americans are a resourceful bunch: we understand the challenges the world is throwing at us, but we do not let it defeat us. It is not just the patriotism of our recent July 4 holiday that makes me proud to be American – it is all of you – willing to find ways to still look outward, in the midst of a pandemic, to see what help you can provide to others. Our May food drive, the Co-op BBQ dinner in June and the on-line VBS program this month are all examples of this. A BIG shout of thanks to all who participated in these events – you know who you are, and you know how it feels when deep down, you realize you’ve done something good.
At St. Matthew’s, we continued to plan for an eventual reopening of the campus, and for being able to have services on-site. However, as all of us know, this stubborn virus continues to thwart establishing a date we can depend on for when this will be. The bishop announced on June 17 that churches could return to on campus worship after July 1, and of the 117 worshiping communities in the Diocese of Atlanta, five opted to do this. However, with the numbers ever increasing, the bishop asked them to delay, and they did. If you follow the news, you will know that other denominations are also struggling with this and many have delayed plans to reopen. We will announce a return to sanctuary worship when your advisory committee and vestry feel it is most safe to do so, and the bishop allows it. Stay tuned to your weekly Messenger for updates on this.
Last week, we sent out a survey to all of you, asking for your input on what directives would need to be in place for you to return to sanctuary worship. I encourage all of you – any member in the household 16 and over, to fill out this survey. For those of you who are not comfortable doing online surveys, we have paper copies available. Call Charmaine or Susan in the church office and they will send you one. There will be instructions on how to get your paper responses input into the computer so that YOUR opinion can be counted. The deadline for return of this information is July 23.
On another note, I ask you to pray for safe travel and new beginnings for two of our families who are leaving us. Lois and Jim Sivert are on their way to the airport as I write this. They are moving to California to be closer to their children. The company for the senior complex here in Snellville has found them a nice apartment in one of their facilities in Vista, California. You can contact Gini Reid for their new address. At the end of the month, Beth and Gail Still will head for Colorado. Please pray for safe travel, for success in the move and for both families to find a wonderful Episcopal Church of which to become a part!
I will be taking vacation from July 21-31. Chances are good I won’t be traveling to Florida this year, but I have promised myself that I will turn off my phone and relax. Senior Warden Becky Olbon and Father Tommy will both be around and will know how to reach me in an emergency, as will Susan Carson and Charmaine Warmington. But I take this break, knowing that the parish is in excellent hands.
Beloved, you remain in my prayers. Please pray for your clergy, staff and parish leadership, Lord knows we can all benefit by prayer! God’s Peace, Mother Liz+
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As we move from June to July and head to an Independence Day weekend, my prayers continue to be for your good health and your safety. Last week I provided information from the Diocese of Atlanta about the decision to allow churches to reopen after July 1, provided the churches follow a list of safe practices. First and foremost, we would LOVE to have worship available on campus, but we want to be sure we can offer a space where everyone feels confident they are safe. We have a number of teams working on ideas for worship, gathering materials needed to disinfect the buildings after use, signage to remind us of what each of us can do to best keep the areas safe for ourselves and for others, and logistics around how to gather no more than 35-50 people on a given Sunday. Even as we do this work, we are mindful that the increasing number of cases in Gwinnett County may delay our opening beyond July. So, I was excited to see a wonderful offer from the Diocese!
Working through a consulting group called “Holy Cow Consulting” (you gotta love the name!), the diocese has underwritten the cost for any parish to survey its members on how they are engaging in worship and other online options; it also asks questions about your needs or what concerns you or your family has, and what measures we need to take to help you feel safe to regather when the time comes. The survey is only 17 questions and it takes no more than ten minutes to complete. The consulting group will collect the data, analyze the data for our parish, compare our responses to other churches in the diocese and then meet with us to discuss the results. You will be able to take the survey any time between July 8 and July 15. If everyone participates in the survey, we will obtain some very good information and guidance on how to use the data, all at no charge to the parish.
For me, it is wonderful to be talking and planning about the possibility of on-campus worship. However, when that happens, please know that Father Tommy and I are committed to continuing on-line services so that we reach as many members of St. Matthew’s as possible. Stay tuned for more information on all of this.
Have a safe and happy Fourth!!!! Mother Liz+
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As found in my article last week, Bishop Wright is allowing worship on campus beginning with the first Sunday in July, but with policies and procedures in place to create a safe worship service for those who attend. Putting a system in place to meet these requirements means that we will not have in-sanctuary worship until sometime in August or September. However, we WILL be continuing services online and that will be true even after we open.
When we do open the sanctuary for worship, the service will look very different from what it was in January and February. Let me share some of the significant details:
1. We can only have a maximum of 50 people in the sanctuary at one time, including those leading worship, the ushers, greeters, lectors, etc.
2. To comply with the limited attendance, you will need to sign up to attend a service, either on-line or by calling the office (for those who are uncomfortable trying to make reservations on-line), and will either be assigned seating or allowed a selection of seats. We are required to keep every other row empty and to seat singles, couples or family groups at least six feet apart. And we are required to wear masks during the service.
3. It will be very important that you sit in your assigned seat for contact-tracing purposes, should that become necessary.
4. So once we get here, what will the service look like?
a. Entering the church will look a lot like entering many retail stores during this time, with one-way markings to come in and go out. Ushers will help us maintain social distance in the courtyard and narthex until we are able to enter and be seated.
b. To avoid cross-contamination we will not be able to use prayer books, hymnals or service bulletins, so we are exploring the temporary use of video screens, or perhaps providing instructions on downloading the service bulletin to your phone or tablet.
c. At this time, the bishop is not allowing Holy Communion, so worship will either be Morning Prayer or Ante-Communion, such as we are doing on-line right now.
d. Due to the risks of spreading the virus by singing, we will not be able to sing the hymns for a while. We will still have Kyle at the organ, and beautiful music WILL occur on Sunday.
e. Passing of the Peace will be from where you are seated.
I would imagine by this time you might be wondering, “what’s left?”
1. We will be able to see and greet each other.
2. We will be able to see the sunlight coming through the St. Matthew’s window and the colors reflected on the altar.
3. We will have time to sit quietly and breathe in the Spirit that we feel when we are in the sanctuary.
4. We will have beautiful music to lift our spirits and our hearts.
5. We will be able to see our beautiful gardens, blooming in all of God’s glory.
Thank you for your continued prayers for St. Matthew’s as we strive to move forward during this pandemic. Please continue to pray for those working to “open” the church building and plan services that are both meaningful and safe for the those attending.
Beloved, I know that the times we are in are challenging. There will be a time when this has passed and we will be able to come together in full community again. Until then, we will use the technology available to keep us connected, remembering that the church has not closed because the church is US. And we WILL continue to be church!
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On Wednesday, Bishop Wright announced to the clergy that churches in the Diocese of Atlanta may begin holding services in the church after July 1, with the first services being held on or after July 5. While this is good news, it also comes with a series of very specific requirements designed to ensure that when we meet together in the sanctuary for worship, we offer the safest space possible for all concerned.
The Advisory Committee met last night to discuss how we might move forward, now that we have the diocesan requirements and guidelines. There is a lot of planning and preparation required before we come together again as community, balancing our desire to worship together with creating the safest space possible for all our members.
While we have been given the permission to begin worship in the sanctuary, it will be awhile until we will be ready, and there is much to be done.
While we have been given the permission to begin worship in the sanctuary, it will be awhile until we will be ready, and there is much to be done. Consideration must be given to such stipulations as limited attendance and safety spacing, contact tracing, disinfection of the space, the challenge of worshiping without bulletins, hymnals or prayer books, and for a time, no Communion. As we review the diocesan requirements with various groups that help plan worship, we will get a better idea of the timeline. When we know more, we will share that information with you, with regular updates both in the Messenger, on our website and on our Facebook page. We can also use the Zoom coffee hour to give you the latest information.
While we long to worship together again in the sanctuary, it’s good to remember that the Church is not “closed”. WE are the Church, and we continue to do God’s work in God’s Kingdom. I ask your prayers for those who are engaged in the project to get us ready for on-campus worship. I know how anxious I am to see everyone again, and I’m sure that you feel the same way. However, the times in which we live means we must always err on the side of safety.
Blessings, Mother Liz+
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Last Sunday, I made the statement that, based upon the baptismal vows we reaffirm several times each year, along with the example Jesus sets in reaching out to all people, racism is incompatible with Christianity. I also suggested that racism is a topic that we, as a church community, need to be talking about at St. Matthew’s.
Racism is not unique to the United States, but it has been a pervasive force in America since this country was founded. More than 150 years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, most U.S. adults say the legacy of slavery continues to have an impact on the position of black people in American society today. More than four-in-ten say the country hasn’t made enough progress toward racial equality, and there is some skepticism, particularly among blacks, that black people will ever have equal rights with whites, according to a new Pew Research Center survey .
And in a short essay published earlier this week, Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch wrote that the recent killing in Minnesota of George Floyd has forced the country to “confront the reality that, despite gains made in the past 50 years, we are still a nation riven by inequality and racial division .”
Racism is not an event or series of events in the past; it is a practice that continues. And there is no room for it in the church.
I would imagine that, if you are like me, you would probably say that there is no racism at St. Matthew’s. However, if you are like me, then you are likely Caucasian, middle-class, female (or male), who has never experienced racism directed at yourself. At least that’s true for me. Unfortunately, if we were to ask our brothers and sisters who are people of color if they have experienced racism at St. Matthew’s, there’s a good chance you would get a different answer.
So, this fall, we will discuss the topic of racism and what we can do to eliminate it from St. Matthew’s. I am working with Father Tommy and the Christian Formation Board to develop a program which will include guest speakers, books, conversation, exercises (the mental kind) and even the possibility of movies!
Unless it has been derailed by corona virus, St. Matthew’s will host a class on Anti-Racism offered by the Diocese of Atlanta in October. Anti-racism training is a diocesan requirement for vestry members, clergy and chairs of church committees. In the meantime, there’s a couple of books that have been recommended to me that you might want to check out:
1. Just Mercy (I’m thinking the book, but the movie is also very powerful)
2. White Fragility
3. The Color of Compromise
There are also websites – check out the Smithsonian, which provides a lot of information (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/158-resources-understanding-systemic-racism-america-180975029/) and even has a link to another website called, “Talking About Race”. (https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race).
I encourage you to join the conversation. All of us, and the community of St. Matthew’s, will be better for it!
J. M. Horowitz, A. Brown and K. Cox, “Racism in America 2019, Pew Research Center, as found at https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/04/09/race-in-america-2019/, accessed 6-11-20
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/158-resources-understanding-systemic-racism-america-180975029/, accessed 6-11-20
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On March 14, 2020, the vestry of St. Matthew’s voted to close the campus to all worship and campus activities, effective that day. March 15 was our first recorded worship service, led by Father Tommy in the Coil Chapel.
Although it seems long ago, and Governor Kemp has opened the state, with recommended infection control guidelines, the corona virus remains present, is still highly infectious, and the number of cases in the top three counties continues to increase.
As of June 10, the top three counties in Georgia with corona virus cases are (1) Fulton at 4989, Gwinnett with 4688 and Dekalb with 4186. These three counties represent 26% of all cases in Georgia.
Of more concern is the growth in positive cases. In this past week, from June 3 to June 10, cases in Fulton increased 6%, Dekalb 8% and Gwinnett 18%. At this rate, Gwinnett is on track to become the #1 county in Georgia with the most number of cases. The three zip codes reporting the highest numbers of cases are 30044, which is part of the Lawrenceville area at 1,608, 30093 in Norcross with 983, and 30047 in Lilburn with 949 cases.
For this reason, the St. Matthew’s campus will remain closed. The only exceptions are those on campus to record services in the sanctuary on Tuesday, the preschool director, and the senior warden, who collects the mail and makes the bank deposits.
Our Advisory Committee is working on recommendations to the vestry for a limited (essential staff only) opening possibly after July 1, however, at this time, no other access is allowed without the express and documented approval of the senior warden. Documented approval includes a check of temperature and answering a series of questions.
With prayers for your continued safety,
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For photos and more info on St. Matthew’s Preschool, please visit their Facebook Page.
To say that the preschool has experienced a once in a lifetime event this Spring would be an understatement. Like the rest of the world, COVID-19 has left its mark on us. I will never forget the struggle with how to express my feelings, and those of our teachers and staff, about the circumstances we all found ourselves in. But I have settled on the word “unique,” which is defined as follows: being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else. Certainly, the end of our school year has been unique, unlike anything we have ever experienced. Our prayer is that we will never have to face the educational challenges that COVID-19 has brought to bear, and the physical separation from our students that social distancing has required.
But let us focus for a moment on the unique blessings this forced separation brought to us. Our teachers had to work hard to find new ways to connect with their students. They had to become Zoom pioneers and YouTube contributors — unique experiences for them! Our precious students had to adapt to seeing their teachers and classmates through a virtual setting. A truly unique experience for them! If you know any of our teachers, please join me in taking a moment to thank them for their dedication to the children and their families, for their thoughtful planning and time invested in the lives of each and every one of them! Most of all, thank them for learning to ZOOM!!! I must also thank our parents for collaborating with our staff, working together to accomplish one shared goal: ensuring each student was ready for their next educational step. What a blessing, that in the time of separation, we had the ability, through technology, to remain connected to our St. Matthew’s Preschool families.
Unique is also the perfect word for our students. It is always our great joy to get to know each student who comes to St. Matthew’s. We come to know and appreciate each child for his or her special qualities, be it kindness, intelligence, compassion, cheerfulness, silliness, or determination! At St. Matthew’s Preschool and Kindergarten, every child is special, every one–unique!
The premature ending in March happened just as the children were blossoming and just as the confidence they’ve gained throughout the school year began to shine. We missed watching our children proudly sing their special songs for their Daddy’s (at the breakfast with Dad) and Mommy’s (at the ice cream sundaes with Mom). We missed the fun of celebrating the end of the school year with our traditional Luau. And we would have given almost anything to be able to celebrate our Pre-K Fours and Kindergarten graduates in person with a fabulous performance, with lots of applause and pictures, and of course a good-bye hug. Instead, we had the unique experience of a virtual graduation, and with it an unexpected blessing. Over 300 family and friends across the country were able to join our first ever Facebook live broadcast of graduation. In the several weeks since the initial broadcast, the video has been viewed over 1,000 times!
Since our last in-person class was held on March 13th, we have missed our students immensely. So when it was determined that the only way we could safely experience closure for the 2019-2020 school year was via a contactless drive thru, we embraced the opportunity. All of our teachers, staff and Father Tommy lined up, clothed in masks and gloves, waved good bye and blew lots of covered kisses to the kids. Although it was not the way we expected to end our year, we were grateful for the chance to see our families through their car windows one last time.
Like many others, we have suffered losses as a result of COVID-19. We shall not soon forget why we didn’t get to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of St. Matthew’s Preschool that was scheduled for May. In addition, our largest fundraiser of the year, our annual Silent Auction, was to be held in conjunction with the 35th Anniversary celebration. We have also had to cancel our three Preschool Summer Camps this year, which we consider as vital for creating income, as well as a perfect way to recruit new students. However, in lieu of our camps, we will be continuing to Zoom! In order to stay connected to our current families and to create connections with new families, our teachers will be offering a reading hour and a music hour on two separate days each week during the summer. This will be another unique experience for all involved!
I would like to turn our minds to focusing on the positive and all that was accomplished in the first half of our year! Our enrollment was at an all-time high, with 97 unique students and all available classes filled. Our new tradition of a grandparent’s dance in the Fall boasted over 150 attendees; both our Halloween pumpkin auction and our Christmas basket auction were a success; and our Thanksgiving feasts and Christmas Program had the highest attendances in our 35 year history!
And then there are the blessings that God provided this year. Father Tommy joined us and began welcoming our children in the mornings and taking turns with Mother Liz to teach them in Chapel every Wednesday. We recently had additional WAP cabling along with additional outlets and tv wall mounts installed. Once additional funding is procured, the TV’s will be purchased and installed. This is an exciting new resource, not only for our staff to be able to utilize to enhance teaching, but for the church, christian education and the choir as well. On the playground the grass has definitely had a chance to grow, filling in some stubborn bare spots! And last, but not least, because we have had a strong provision from God with full enrollment for the last 2 years, we were able to continue to pay our teachers through the pandemic.
Finally, I am reminded at this unique time, that by God’s grace, St. Matthew’s Preschool not only survived the flood of 2017, we flourished! We have faith that when we reflect on the Spring of COVID-19, we will be reminded of God’s blessings. As we move away from this school year and the world begins to “re-open” and find a “new normal”, I ask that you pray for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year and the discernment needed in planning for re-opening in the Fall. Please pray for the well-being of the preschool and continued good health for our preschool families and staff. With God’s continued providence, blessing and strength, will we prevail through this unique experience and continue to be a blessing to the preschool families and a vibrant outreach for St. Matthew’s to our local community.
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The May Food Drive for the Southeast Gwinnett Co-Op wrapped up last Saturday and the numbers are in! With 5 Saturday drop off days and cash donations through the co-op and the Outreach Committee, the food drive provided more than 5,300 items for neighbors in need during this difficult time, smashing our goal of 5,000 items!
The Outreach Committee would like to say THANK YOU to everyone who was able to participate, including dropping off items, volunteering to collect on Saturday mornings, and donating so that we could purchase the most urgent items the co-op requested. It was so wonderful to come together, to see familiar faces, and to see all the love and support the St. Matthew’s parish has for our community.
Stay tuned for news on more ways to help this summer!
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. – Isaiah 58:10
For photos from the Saturday collections and deliveries to the co-op, please check them out on out our Facebook page.
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The numbers are staggering and almost beyond belief: as I write this, at 9:30 p.m. on a Thursday night, those numbers represent the number of cases of COVID-19 and the number of deaths. The top set of numbers is worldwide; the figures below are for the United States. By the time you read this, all those numbers will have changed.
In the midst of fighting this pandemic with all the science, medicine, creativity and resourcefulness available to us, it is well if we stop for a minute (or several) and acknowledge this profound loss. It is time to recognize those who have died as someone’s sister, brother, mother, grandmother, aunt, godmother, uncle, father. These are people who had family, and people who loved them; they had lives and interests; they went to the theater and played soccer; they lived.
This past Sunday, the New York Times published the names and a brief description of 1,000 of the 100,000 who have died in the US (since the Times went to press, that number has increased by close to 3,500). It was sobering to see the entire front page taken up with names, in very tiny print. In addition to the front page, the newspaper needed two more pages to print the names.
And combined with the huge numbers is the inability to mourn them properly. Many died separated from loved ones. There was no opportunity to say ‘good-bye’; no opportunity for a last kiss, a last hug. And proper funerals have been unable to take place. One of the biggest outbreaks in Georgia was sourced back to two funerals that took place in Albany. So, burials take place with mourners watching from a distance in their cars.
For this reason, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has called on Episcopal Churches to join the National Council of Churches in a National Day of Mourning, set for Monday, June 1st. We will be offering a morning and an evening service, at the usual times of 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. These services will allow us to honor those who have died, and perhaps reflect on the value of this time as being time in the wilderness. Please join me on Monday morning or evening, as we remember and pray for those who have died. As always, these services will be recorded for those who wish to watch them later.