Pastor’s update on re-opening

May 26, 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I write to you about the question of the re-opening of our church.  As you know, we are in extraordinary times.  A global pandemic has gripped every continent, and we see the effects everywhere: countries shut down, major cities gone empty and silent, the ordinary and good things of everyday life – restaurants, sporting events, gatherings – all affected by a virus that knows no borders.  We have not seen anything like this in our lifetimes, and its ongoing effects on everything remain unknown. 

Here at St. Francis, the daily life of the parish has become very different since mid-March, when closings – at first temporary, and then ongoing – began.  We have shifted to livestream mass on Sunday mornings at 9:30.  We have come a long way since our initial, shaky beginnings on Sunday, March 15th, when the mass was filmed by a single iPhone.  We have smoothed the way since then.  We hear from many of you who appreciate being able to tune in on Sunday mornings – seeing the familiar worship space, and seeing familiar faces on the screen.  I know that for us, looking out at a camera and at an empty church, it’s not the same, but we’re adjusting to the whole experience.  We are grateful for your support and encouragement.

At the same time, we realize that livestream is still not “live.”  It’s not church as we know it.  It’s not seeing people in the assembly, no sign of peace, and, of course, no receiving the Eucharist.  All very different, and all profoundly disorienting.  Amid all of our adapting to the virtual world, we are also aware that something is missing here, something essential to the life of any church, and what is difficult is the not knowing how long it will go on for.  We are living between what we once knew, and what we don’t know.  And living in that state of uncertainty over an unknown period of time is profoundly unsettling.

We want you to know that at this time, we are listening to the governor’s office, and also our Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama.  We are aware of the different phases of re-opening in the state.  We are aware that some churches are planning to re-open, either for indoors, or outdoors, or both.  We are aware that some churches are not re-opening at this time.  We know that some churches remain undecided. 

Each week, the friars meet with staff to discuss what re-opening might look like, whether inside or outside.  Our staff has walked through our church sanctuary and measured off spacing.  We have considered things such as cleaning, access, distancing, capacity.  We have considered that many people in our parish are part of an at-risk population.  We have considered what a return to the sanctuary would actually look like: a far reduced number of people, masks, no singing, no sign of peace, no approaching anyone.  We have considered all of these things.

In all of this, our primary concern remains the health and safety of everyone.  This outweighs everything.  At this time, with all we know to this point, we have decided that the best option for St. Francis is to continue with our Sunday morning 9:30 livestream-only mass, until we’re able to get a better sense of the ongoing effects of Covid-19.  This decision is very much in line with our bishop’s recommendation:  he prefers, for the health and safety of everyone, that amid the uncertainty of these times, we continue to offer livestream-only mass.  It’s the best way for us to reach the most people.  We will of course keep you informed if anything changes.  For now, please continue to tune in on Sunday mornings at 9:30.

It is important to remember also that our bishop continues to waive the Sunday mass obligation due to the risk associated with the virus.  He is aware, as well, of the challenges of opening up a Catholic church in a time like this.  By our very being we are a community that comes close together to receive communion, and in this way are different from other churches and denominations, especially in the South.  This is something we have to consider in making any decisions.

We hear from many of you questions, and longing, for a return to the Eucharist.  It’s a central part of our Catholic identity, and it’s now going on almost three months since we have received Eucharist.  We are in a time of absence.  We are, in many ways, in a kind of solidarity with those throughout history who have gone without Eucharist – people in the midst of war, refugees on the move, those who live in remote parts of the world with scarce access to the sacraments.  We are with them now.  We live in a land of one-click same-day delivery; what is it like to now go without?

In this season of Easter, we have been hearing nearly every weekend, and weekday, from the Gospel of John.  John’s gospel is the only one of the four gospels that does not tell the story of Jesus breaking and sharing the bread at the Last Supper.  Scripture scholars presume that the community that John was writing to –  toward the end of the first century and therefore a good seven decades after the life and death of Jesus – already knew those stories from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. 

So what does John do in his gospel?  He tells another story.  He tells the story of the foot-washing, of Jesus “removing his cloak” (a sign of deep humility), and washing the feet of his disciples.  It’s a depth interpretation of what Eucharist is all about: it’s not just about bread and wine, it’s about living one’s life in a way that is modeled around the way of Jesus.  That’s what it’s all about:  can we be people of mercy, grace, kindness, forgiveness, peace?  Can we model our lives on Jesus?  In a time of absence, in a time in which we stand in communion with those around the globe who go without sacraments, this remains our call.

The last words any of us heard at mass were “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!”  Those words still hold for all of us. Thank you for being with us in these times we’re in, and in the words of St. Francis, may the Lord give you peace!

Fr. Steve Patti OFM
Pastor
St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church
11401 Leesville Rd.
Raleigh, NC 27613

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March 2020

Letter from the Pastor During Covid-19

Greetings of peace in these strange days of virus and distancing and learning new ways of being among one another.  If you’re new here, welcome to the virtual world of St. Francis.  We are a parish that, whether we gather in person in our beautiful church sanctuary or via livestream on our parish website, seeks to live into the witness of our patron saint, Francis of Assisi.

In these days of social distancing and Zoom calls, we have adapted and continue to adapt to our new virtual reality.  Scroll down this front page of our website and you can see different ways of being virtually involved in the ongoing life of the parish – our 9:30 Sunday liturgy, opportunities for prayer, friar videos and reflections, faith formation opportunities, ways of offering or receiving help, peace and justice opportunities, and information on our schools.

We find ourselves in strange, strange times, and uncertain times.  As you can imagine, we are feeling the financial effects of a reduced offertory.  We are working hard to contain expenses.  In the meantime, many thanks to all who have continued to support our parish financially.  We know these are difficult times, and we appreciate your support.  One way to give is through Faith Direct.  You can sign up directly by calling 866-507-8757 and giving our parish ID# NC674.  Or if you’d prefer you can send contributions directly to us here at:  St. Francis of Assisi Church, 11401 Leesville Rd., Raleigh NC 27613.  Thank you again, and may the Lord give you peace!

Fr. Steve Patti OFM
Pastor
St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church
11401 Leesville Rd.
Raleigh, NC 27613

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