Update August 4, 2020
“for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” 2 Timothy 1:7
Peace and greetings to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that this letter finds each of you well and strong in your daily practice as a follower of Jesus. Over the last months during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have missed seeing you all more than I can possibly tell you. I pray for each of you, and I sincerely offer myself at any time for conversation, help for providing food or shopping, or whatever other needs you may have. Please reach out to me at any time. Our family of faith serves each other, and for those of you serving in various ways, you have my thanks.
Since the end of June, IHS has been in the diocesan “Yellow Phase” of COVID-19 restrictions. We’ve been worshiping online and in person both, offering the Holy Eucharist in “one kind.” It’s been a true blessing for those who have chosen or been able to worship together in these ways.
However, Delaware County is experiencing a rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases. Twice in the past 10 days, our county had over 100 new confirmed cases in a single day. According to the Delaware County Council, our county would need an average of 20 new cases per day to be below the threshold originally set by Governor Wolf for moving into Yellow Phase, that is 50 new cases per 100,000 residents in a 14 day period.
Due to the rise in new case numbers, IHS will return to online-only worship effective immediately. The Vestry, Staff, and I do not make this decision lightly or out of fear. We make this decision with a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. The decision to return to online-only worship is in order to keep our beloved members safe and to lead our community in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus. The decision is an act of love, a sacrifice we must make for the well-being of each other and those in our wider community, our neighbors.
Once Delaware County is below an average of 20 new cases per day for 14 days, we will reevaluate our situation to move back to in-person worship.
We’ll also be putting time and energy into strengthening our community at a distance. We are working on enhancing our online service, including a broader music program. We’re working on community events, such as an upcoming “church vs church” online game night with another Delaware County congregation. Together, we will come out of the COVID-19 pandemic an even stronger family of faith than we entered.
Our Lord Jesus is with us now as ever, and by his strength we continue forward. I pray his blessing be with each one of you, and that you are strengthened to obey and follow his way each day.
Fr. Benjamin Gildas, Rector, Incarnation Holy Sacrament Episcopal Church
Resuming "in-person" worship at IHS with safety restrictions
The last few months have been a sometimes confusing and often fearful time for many at IHS. As Christians, we are not children of fear, but children of Light, children of the God of all Creation. We are not slaves to fear. We move forward in faith, called to continue our mission of reconciliation to a world full of hurt, division, and need.
The good news is that God will help us, and be with us in the weeks ahead as we start holding in-person Holy Eucharist again at our parish. Governor Tom Wolf moved Delaware County into Pennsylvania’s designated “yellow phase” on June 5th. The Diocese of Pennsylvania is working within the state’s guidelines, but not dependent on the same timeline for reentry. IHS created a Transition Committee that has been working hard with our parish staff and vestry to develop a reentry plan so that we can celebrate the mysteries of the Church in a way that maximizes safety for everyone who comes to worship.
The Diocese of Pennsylvania is calling this reentry time “Phase 2” of a three phase plan. For the last few months we have been in Phase 1, with online worship only and no in-person events. Our building has been closed, but our community has been active and present online, ministering to our members and our community. Phase 2 will begin for us at IHS on Sunday June 28th, when we will begin to offer limited, in-person Holy Eucharist worship services.
We cannot guarantee that coming to worship at IHS will be safe from contracting COVID-19. Until there is a vaccine, there will continue to be a level of risk associated with any group activity, even with limits and extreme caution. Please consider your own risk level, health, and any underlying conditions you might have, and make the best decision for you and your household as to whether you plan to return to in-person worship. During Phase 2 we will continue to offer online worship so that each and every member of our IHS family of faith can worship with us.
Our Phase 2 worship might look very different, but we will still be worshiping with beautiful music, scripture, the proclamation of the Gospel, and receiving the Holy Eucharist.
We will be asking those who plan to attend to take precautions with us. First, we will be requiring that households commit to social distancing, staying six feet away from those from other households at all times. Each household, whether you are alone or with a group, will sit in their own pew. In order to keep these distancing measures, we’ll be limited to how many pews we can use each week. To accommodate, we’ll be asking you to sign up for worship services so we can keep within our attendance limits. We’ll be using an easy online form to have you sign up for church. Simply select one of the Household Unit slots available and let us know how many people will be coming to church. We’ll be opening two weeks at a time, but we ask that you please at first only select one week to give others a chance to sign up as well. For our “low tech” households, we’ll be giving first priority to you by making phone calls and adding you to the form if you wish to come and worship.
Second, we’ll be asking you to take your temperature beforehand so you know you are fever free. Our ushers will ask you a few simple questions to ensure you are symptom free, and we’ll be keeping track of who attends in case we need to make you aware of a case of COVID-19 at IHS. Everyone attending will be required to wear a mask except when receiving the Eucharist. Extra masks will be available. There will be a sanitizing station at the door, sanitizer and tissues in the pews, and a sanitizing station for receiving communion. While there will be no church singing, we invite you to hum along with music played by our new music director. Holy Eucharist will be offered “in one kind” by receiving the bread, but the wine will not be shared in Phase 2. Please rest assured that the fullness of the Holy Eucharist is received in the bread.
In addition to worshipping in our sanctuary, some weeks we will worship outside in our parking lot, as there are many safety benefits to being outside for worship. Our plan is for July 5th worship to be held outside. While our total number of attendees for outdoor worship is still capped at 25, we will not be limited by how many pews are available.
While all of these may seem like very strict restrictions, they are designed by the Diocese of Pennsylvania and our Transition Committee at IHS to make worshipping together in person possible in the safest way. We ask for your cooperation with these restrictions, and we hope to make worshipping positive and prayerful. We know by faith that God will hold our hands through this time and lead us onward toward a time when once again many of these restrictions will be lifted.
Our IHS family of faith remains strong and dedicated to our mission in Drexel Hill and beyond to strengthen and restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. We look forward to seeing you either in-person or online in Phase 2. And while we pray for you during these challenging times, we ask that you join us in praying for the entire IHS family of faith, for health, safety, and faithfulness to our calling as followers of Jesus.
Update as of March 14, 2020
In order to assist our communities in preventing further COVID-19 spread and adhering to the stay-at-home order for Delaware County, PA, there will be no in-person church services and our building will be closed until further notice. This is an adjustment to the information below. Please refer to that information for other updates.
Our worship and community events have moved online. Visit all our IHS365 resources here as well as on Facebook. If you have any questions email or call our new phone number (484) 841-9026.
Theologian-in-Residence Statement on COVID-19
Students of Jesus and COVID-19
But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ – Mark 5:36
It’s not a great translation in my opinion. “Believe” here should be, “be faithful” as it should be in much of the New Testament translation. To “have faith” or “believe” in the New Testament is not largely an intellectual act. Instead, it is to both place trust in and be trustworthy. It has a lot to do with the cultural context of the ancient world, with Patrons and Clients, people who give out grace and people who are faithful to those who dole that grace out.
Here, Jesus is going to deal with sickness and the people are talking about how He’s already too late. Jesus has stopped to heal a woman who was deeply afflicted for years before going on to help a little girl. His mercy for one seems to have cut off another.
But Jesus’s response is “Do not fear, only be faithful.” For to be faithful is to genuinely believe in the one who gives goodness to us.
Do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid.
And yet, we are afraid. Right now, many of us are afraid. What will happen to us? What will happen to those we love? Will we get sick? Will we have enough food? What about our jobs and the economy?
Personally, I left teaching in December and have been out of work since then. I’ve only recently started interviewing for new jobs. But, my guess is that many second-round interviews will be postponed or not happen at all now. My grandmother, who I love dearly, is 92. My aunt, who just had a hip replacement and is having a hard time recovering, is in her 70s. My mother who has been sick all year is also in her 70s. My uncle, a chronic smoker, is in his late 60s. All are vulnerable.
You all, who I have come to know a little over nearly 4 years, are vulnerable in some of the same ways and some are vulnerable in different ways.
What we all have in common, from my 92-year-old grandmother to the children who are brave enough to take up leadership roles in a church full of adults, is that we are students of the Master who has been raised from the dead.
We are flawed, sinful, selfish little fools much of the time, and I’m mostly talking about myself here. And yet, we have a great duty ahead of us in these days that are now upon us. We are facing a great crisis, one which might bring out the worst in us, but we must not let it. The worst is, of course, almost always brought about by fear. Will there be enough? Will I get sick? Will my loved ones get sick? What if someone, or many people, die? What if I die?
And these fears can lead us into darkness. But, as students of Jesus, we can reject these fears, though sometimes it’s work we have to do every hour of every day, sometimes every minute of every day. With His guidance, we can see them for what they are, a temptation to despair.
The world says, “Be afraid.”
Jesus says, “Be faithful.”
What does faithfulness look like in these times? I don’t pretend to know the whole answer. But I can say that I think that for a student of Jesus, the answer at least involves the following things.
First, pray. Orient yourself toward the Master, His Father, and Their Spirit. Know that your identity, your origin, and your destiny are with them. No one can hurt the One God who is Three Persons. The Master has come to set you free from fear, and when death takes you, whether that be soon or in eight decades, He will hold you close and raise you up when the new creation begins. This has been promised in His resurrection from the dead which the first students of Jesus saw and witnessed to with their own lives and deaths. You are safe in Him.
Second, know that you have a duty. You are a student of Christ. He is the Light of the World. You too must shine. Do not contribute to fear. Do not show the worst to the world. Be the best you can be. You are not earning your way into the kingdom of heaven; you’re pointing the way to it. You’re saying to others, “See, there is a kingdom of hope here. Don’t be afraid.” Let the person in line ahead of you, share what you have with others, be kind in a time of fear.
Third, support each other. Call those who might not have someone to talk to. This is especially a reminder for those of us who grew up with the internet. We forget that not everyone feels as digitally connected as we do.
Fourth, be ready. Here I don’t just mean having good food supplies (though this is a thing I recommend to people all the time). No, be prepared. There may be great sorrows ahead. The road may be very hard. Hitch your pack a little tighter, sharpen your eyes, and look ahead and behind. The world needs you to be ready so that when help is needed, you are prepared. When the reactor at Fukushima Daiichi had its accident, elder Japanese men and women volunteered to go in and work, knowing that they were less susceptible to the radiation than younger people. When John Paul II addressed the youth in 2000, he told them they were entrusted with the book of life for the new culture of the millennium. No one is excluded in the service of God. We all must be ready, whatever our age.
Ready for what? Who can say? But whoever we are, whatever we have done, no matter how bad our actions have been in the past, or how much shame we feel for who we have been, Christ calls us to stand and be true. To shine like the sun of righteousness in love of neighbor and enemy. We may now live in “cancel culture” that attempts to eradicate you if you have done or said something that it doesn’t like. Christ will never cancel you.
Finally, we must understand that the feeling of fear is something that happens to us. What we do with it is our choice. We can choose to BE afraid, or we can choose to BE faithful even though we have fear. If we choose the first, we will be a group of people in our homes, terrified of what comes next. If we choose the second, we can be the children of God, ready to spring into action in prayer, consolation, or, should it be asked of us, mighty and terribly glorious faithfulness in the face of our own deaths: The kind of faithfulness to make the devil turn his face away in fear.
For the faithful of Christ are a terrible sight. They look like their teacher, and He looks like His Father who is an all-consuming fire of love.
Do not fear.
Only be faithful.
- Dr. Joshua Wise, Theologian-in-Residence at IHS
Update as of March 13, 2020
"I want to emphasize that we should not walk in fear. We can be careful, not be fearful. Christ reigns at the end of the day." - Bishop Daniel Gutierrez
Dear friends in Christ Jesus at IHS,
Peace be with you during this time when many are anxious, fearful, confused, lonely, and isolated. I want to start by saying that each of you are in my daily prayers during this time. Many of you have told me how you have been impacted by the quick and daily changes to precautions being taken for COVID-19 and influenza. While it is important that we take measures to promote health and safety in Upper Darby, Lansdowne, all of Delaware County and beyond, there are many ways in which the developing situation impacts our IHS family of faith. Please hold each other in prayer during this difficult time.
Our clergy and vestry leaders continue to be in consultation and under the direction of Bishop Daniel Gutierrez and the offices of the Diocese of Pennsylvania to take necessary action to mitigate the further spread of COVID-19 and influenza. We also take direction from community health leaders, public health professionals, and local and regional government. While updates seem to happen very quickly, here are the current steps being implemented at IHS to be part of the community action to help prevent spread of disease.
All non-essential gatherings outside of 10am worship are cancelled or postponed for the time being, including Sunday School, nursery care, Adult Bible Study, choir rehearsal, coffee hour, Saturday Night Strategists and related events, Wednesday Lenten series, Adult Forum, etc. until further notice. We will monitor the situation and recommendations on a weekly basis and continue to keep you updated on these events.
On Sunday 10am we will move to MORNING PRAYER with optional communion to follow. Morning prayer includes no passing of the peace or communion, so we eliminate two factors for transmission while creating a loving, caring space to pray and find renewal in the Word of God. After Morning Prayer ends you may choose to leave or stay to receive communion from the reserve at the altar. We will use wafers and only offer wafers and not the wine. There is much historic precedent for this practice. For much of the 20th century Morning Prayer with communion following was the normal practice in the Anglican Communion, and there is an ancient historic practice during the season of Lent particularly in the Eastern Orthodox tradition you can read about here.
If you desire, you can make an appointment with Fr. Ben to receive pastoral care, to receive the sacrament of absolution (confession) and to receive communion from the reserve sacrament. If you or a loved one is hospitalized during this time please let us know. You can reach Fr. Ben for any reason on his cell phone at 215-909-0345 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you or someone in your family is sick please stay home. You may decide to stay home to practice social distancing, especially if you are part of a vulnerable population (such as over 65 or with underlying chronic health issues) or if you live in Montgomery County. It is our desire that you are able to worship in the communion of all the saints even if you are practicing social isolation. You can live stream the service from our Cathedral at 10am on their website or Facebook page: http://www.philadelphiacathedral.org/. Church of the Holy Spirit in Harleysville is also streaming on their Facebook at 10:15am. You can also listen to past sermons on our website here.
We will continue to have our ushers only handle the offering plates. However, we highly encourage you to consider giving digitally through our website. We are also working to implement a new digital giving tool for churches through our diocese.
Our annual meeting scheduled for March 22nd is postponed until further notice. We will keep you informed as soon as we know more information about when it will be rescheduled.
Please consider others in our church community and reach out to those you think may be lonely or isolated. Most of our home-bound and nursery home members are currently quarantined.
Please alert our clergy or staff if you know someone who is isolated or quarantined and needs groceries delivered! Volunteers may be needed. Please check in with your neighbors who are older or may be vulnerable! This is an act of care we can all do.
If you have employees in your home or place of business, we encourage you to offer them unlimited paid sick time during the outbreak.
Episcopal Relief and Development has encouraged our parishes to adopt this mentality:
"Our role in responding, as churches, dioceses and compassionate Christians, is to:
Combat fear with knowledge in order to encourage preparedness and decrease stigma.
Maintain operational continuity and continue worship life in the case of potential quarantine and disruption.
Show God’s compassion and care to those in our communities who are affected. (From Episcopal Relief and Development)
We will continue to track the spread of this virus, especially as it impacts our region, and will notify you as we continue to adjust our practices. You can find resources from our diocese here on their COVID-19 page.
If you have any further questions or concerns, please reach out to Fr. Ben via email or phone.
We are holding you in the love of Jesus Christ, our Eternal Hope and source of all life, and we are praying for each of you during this difficult time.