Outreach in the age of COVID

Outreach in the age of COVID – how can we be FAITHFUL together?

In this challenging year, social distancing, gloves, and masks seem counter-productive to any conversation on outreach for St. Paul’s. As with everything else, Covid has forced us to look differently about one of St. Paul’s greatest values -concern for others less fortunate than ourselves in our neighborhoods. The most obvious blow was not being able to have the annual Rummage Sale where we raise about $40k a year for local partner organizations like Face to Face, Whosoever Gospel Mission, Interfaith Hospitality Network, and others.

Twenty years ago, St. Paul’s had double the membership we have now, yet our noble expectation is to keep levels of community and volunteer engagement at the same levels with less people. We know this is not healthy, practical, or sustainable, yet human needs and suffering have also increased with the economic, class and racial divides deepening in our nation rather than contracting. Many of us feel overwhelmed and guilty that we are not doing enough, or we also might feel powerless that we can make a difference. Just as Covid has forced us to become more creative and imaginative around worship, educational opportunities like the confirmation class of Adult Education, so Covid invites us to become more imaginative about outreach and expand our interpretation. Here are some hopeful signs…

Our seniors and homebound

Last night the Lay Eucharistic Visitors had a ZOOM meeting with the clergy to talk about Outreach to our seniors who have been largely isolated in their homes since March. We cannot visit or take the eucharist, but we CAN make phone-calls and drop off flowers and cards to let them know they are still in our thoughts and prayers each week. In November and December, the Flower Guild, Lay visitors, and clergy will REACH OUT to our members in a new way. Every time we say “God loves you” we are agents of outreach for St. Paul’s and the wider movement to heal this world. We can say that with a check, a card, a phone-call, or flowers that were sanctified on our altar on Sunday. Similarly and with equal imagination, Fr. Dan and a team of volunteers are taking bags of educational materials to our families this weekend so the children can join in 9 am worship this coming Sunday knowing we are ZOOMING them all into the 9 am service. This is a new and creative form of outreach to families who feel just as fearful of coming back to church as most of our seniors do.

Outreach with the wider church and communities we serve

Reconnecting with the Diocese has been a great blessing to St. Paul’s. Your present clergy came to you through the Diocese. The search consultant and process is ably shepherded by the Office of Transition Ministry of the Diocese, and some of the early vetting of rector candidates will be done by the Diocesan staff on our behalf. This year we doubled our financial commitment to the Diocese from $52,000 in 2019 to $63,000 in 2020. Much of this money goes to support mission parishes who provide a lifeline to their communities, especially in urban communities also dealing with Covid 19. Food pantries, ministries of solidarity and social justice, pre-schools, local advocacy, and community support are all supported by our pledge dollars. As Episcopalians, our concept of church has always extended beyond our own congregation and church buildings. This is OUTREACH and the Episcopal Diocese is an extraordinary force for good in the time of Covid. As one of the top 6 parishes in the Diocese, St. Paul’s is stepping up to our call to be FAITHFUL to our Episcopalian understanding of shared responsibility beyond Chestnut Hill.

Coalitions are better than going it alone

In the past few weeks all the local churches in chestnut Hill are working together in a way we have not seen before, to plan an outdoor pageant that would benefit the Interfaith Hospitality Network. The Hispanic tradition of Las Posadas (Inn) expands the story of the holy family looking for shelter and food, to a street liturgy up Germantown Avenue where businesses and churches and non-church folk can raise funds and awareness as we celebrate Christmas differently. We will decorate our church for this event prior to December 12th so people can end their candle-lit march at the creche at St Paul’s, with Andy providing great Christmas music on the organ as the procession passes safely through our beautiful church. This is OUTREACH! We will not be able to have our Christmas Pageant this year INSIDE the church, but Covid has forced us to imagine an even more impactful way to celebrate Christmas and support local charities under enormous strain right now. All of us support the Interfaith Hospitality Network who also need to rethink their annual “Empty Bowl” dinner and the Posada may become their new way to raise local funds and support, thanks to Covid. It has brought us together in a deeper and new way to tell the story of how God loves us.

Shop and Drop

Many thanks to everyone who shops and drops these vital supplies off at Dixon House. We estimate $1000 a month in groceries has supported local food banks and sister churches like St. Luke’s Germantown. In November Lisa Budd and her family will take the lead on the Thanksgiving Dinners theme for Shop and Drop and details of how you can help a local family at Thanksgiving. Jake and Betsy Roak loved this OUTREACH project and as we think of what it means to share food with our families and friends this Thanksgiving, I know St. Paul’s will do well. Other events are planned for Christmas and the January Martin Luther King outreach events are still on target for us to fulfil.

Your Rummage dollars at work with memorial gifts

I asked our Accountant, Kristen Diessler to share how much the Outreach Committee has donated in 2019 and 2020 and I was pleased to find out there has been no pulling back on our commitment to local organizations. With the commitment to the Posada (The Memorial gifts from Nancy Strong’s family allow us to commit $5,000 already to the Posada event and hope other churches will match our lead gift), we will surpass our Outreach commitment in of $32,000 in 2019, even without the Rummage Sale! Room at the Inn received $6k both years. We have already committed $20k this year to our partners and will issue a similar amount in January 2021.

Tom O’Rourke and Charlotte Biddle as Co-chairs of our Outreach Committee are ready to talk with you about new ideas and strategies for 2021 as we continue to find ways of telling each other how much God loves us. Tom will be giving testimony at church on Sunday as we celebrate joyful generosity in our stewardship campaign. Part of your pledge dollars goes to support these outreach efforts mentioned above. By being more generous, we are channels of God’s abundant love and grace. Hoarding and self-interest are not core values of the Christian movement and if we are faithful in serving others, beginning with our seniors, families and members in need, St Paul’s will grow, allowing us to do more for our community.

A new chapter, a new way of seeing and serving

The ancestors have blest St. Paul’s with their selfless financial and architectural legacies and we will remember them on All Saint’s Day. How we utilize our volunteers, our pledge dollars, our investments and our buildings (as well as our social media and new website) to tell people how much God loves them, will ensure St. Paul’s is faithful to our mission and purpose. I saw a poster this week that read….”EACH OF US IN AN INNKEEPER WHO DECIDES THERE IS ROOM FOR JESUS”. I am optimistic that there is a silver lining in this cloudy darkened day and in simply being faithful to our core values and listening to the imaginative promptings of the Spirit, we will be an instrument for good at a critical time in our national life. For all this joyful and creative generosity from the good people of St Paul’s, I say thank you!


Albert Ogle
Interim Rector