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A Letter from Fr. Eric Hungerford — Happy New Year!

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

I wish you a warm and happy Epiphany and I write with New Years’ greetings to you all. I want you to know that our parish family is on my heart and in my prayers as we enter into a New Year.

As I write, I am keenly aware that many of you are experiencing renewed anxiety, trauma, and frustration as our nation and world deal with the fallout from the omicron variant of COVID-19 that is overwhelming us right now. Some of you have had COVID, have had a family member sick with COVID, or know someone who currently has it. Many of you have had travel and holiday plans curtailed or interrupted, and many of you, like my family, are dealing with the return of virtual schooling. I want to take a moment to say that, in spite of it all, you are loved by God who will see us through whatever challenges beset us.

I was reflecting recently on that iconic poster of “Rosie the Riveter” from the World War II era which has become such a powerful and popular image in the generations hence. The poster famously has a picture of a woman rolling up her sleeve, flexing her muscle, and saying, “we can do it.” That image has become so ubiquitous that we have forgotten the context: the women who were riveters during the second world war likely had fiancés, husbands, or sons fighting in the war, wondering if they would ever return. Many of them probably had children at home waiting for them to return each day. Yet these riveters worked tirelessly from 1941 to 1945 to assemble airplanes and heavy machinery. These women were likely physically and emotionally exhausted, day in and day out, and yet, they pulled together to get us through one of the most difficult and uncertain times in our nation’s history. No doubt at times for them it felt like the war would never end, that they would never see their loved ones again who were overseas, and that their work would never be over. What a joy-filled time it must have been for them to experience that fateful V-Day when the war finally ended.

Today I take inspiration from our foremothers who through those four difficult years proclaimed “We can do it!” — and indeed they did. We too have demonstrated patience, kindness, generosity and adaptability in the face of this pandemic, and we too, “can do it!” We will get through this time knowing that God has seen God’s people through times of war, financial hardship, and plague in the generations before us.

I have shared with some of you one of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer, “Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” This has been a time of many “changes and chances” and yet we stand firm in the faith that God is changeless, God loves us, and in God, we find our rest. We can do it! With God’s help!

In response to this rapidly progressing omicron wave, at our last meeting of the vestry, your leadership on the vestry voted to require proof of booster shots for all those who serve on the chancel by January 31st. This includes Eucharistic Ministers, Lay Readers, Adult Choir Members, and Clergy. For ease of providing this proof of additional vaccination, I am requesting that all members of these ministries submit a photo via a virtual form that will be sent out early next week. I strongly urge all members of our St. Paul’s family who are eligible for a booster shot to receive one as soon as possible so that we can continue to do a good job of protecting the people of our parish.

Upon my suggestion, your vestry also voted to wait on bringing back administering the chalice as part of our Holy Eucharist services until such time as this wave has passed.

Additionally in response to omicron, our music director, Dr. Andy Kotylo has chosen to require universal masking for the choir during the course of this spike, a decision which I wholeheartedly support.

I have also decided to require that all individuals participating in on-campus meetings will wear masks indoors and I encourage meetings to take place virtually if possible.

Finally, last evening our Bishop sent out a letter with a couple of additional requirements. Bishop Gutierrez writes “All churches should suspend the social use of food and beverages through January and, depending on numbers, into February. This does not apply to feeding ministries. It is highly recommended, however, that any seated meal ministries be suspended through February.” Furthermore, Bishop Gutierrez makes a suggestion regarding masking, “in response to the Omicron variant, medical experts are now recommending the use of N95 and KN95 masks. Such masks are readily available in stores and online. Some experts also recommend double masking.” Click here to read the Bishop’s full letter.  I will keep you all readily informed if there are any additional updates.

As we enter into this New Year, please know that I give thanks to God for each one of you—each of you who is made in God’s image and who bring so many of your personal gifts to St. Paul’s church. If you are in need of a listening ear or a pastoral visit, it would be my honor to schedule one with you. Please feel free to reach out at (215) 242-2055 ext. 28 or at erichungerford@stpaulschestnuthill.org.

We can do it! With God’s help!

Gratefully yours in Christ,

Fr. Eric+

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