April 29, 2020
Dear Heavenly Rest Family,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Six Sundays have now passed since the last time we gathered for in-person worship at Heavenly Rest. What was initially supposed to be a two-week hiatus has metastasized into an indefinite suspension. Though I am proud of what we have been able to offer in terms of online and at-home worship opportunities, the absence of the congregation is genuinely painful. Like many of you, I am eager to reopen the church and have everyone return to their pews.
At the same time, I am mindful that COVID-19 continues to be a threat. While it does seem that the overall efforts to “flatten the curve” in Texas have been relatively successful, the situation in Taylor County is more uncertain. As of this writing, there have been 277 confirmed cases in this area, and the number of new cases continues to increase on a regular basis. A recent analysis suggested that Abilene could be one of the next hot spots for the virus. The city is already among those with the highest average daily increase in their infection rate in the United States. In other words, the risk of infection remains significant.
With this in mind, and at the request of the Bishop, we will continue to suspend in-person worship services and other activities at Heavenly Rest through the end of May. Appreciation Sunday, when we acknowledge and celebrate our graduating seniors, musicians, Sunday School teachers, and other liturgical volunteers, has been tentatively rescheduled for June 14. Confirmation, which was previously scheduled for May 31, will be postponed to a later date. In the meantime, online worship will continue via Facebook Live or at heavenlyrestabilene.org/live on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. and weekdays at 8:30 a.m. Children’s Sunday School and New Member Formation classes will be available on Sunday mornings via ZOOM, a video conferencing software. We will continue to offer food assistance to those in need on Friday mornings from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and have reopened Hands On Outreach in digital form. I am grateful to everyone who has helped this parish maintain its commitment to worship, formation, and outreach during this unusual time.
I am aware that most of the ways to engage with Heavenly Rest right now are, by necessity, on the Internet. If you feel that you are not getting sufficient information from Heavenly Rest, or if you know someone who would like to receive more information from the parish, please contact the church office.
The governing bodies of the parish have been working hard to ensure our financial stability during this time of pandemic. Under the Vestry’s leadership, Heavenly Rest has secured a forgivable loan through the Paycheck Protection Program. These funds will help ensure that budget shortfalls will not force us to lay off any members of the staff. In response to the turmoil in the stock market, the Church Foundation Board has rebalanced the Foundation’s portfolio, in order to ensure that we can continue meeting our outreach commitments to the Abilene community. As a reminder, the funds of the Heavenly Rest Church Foundation are not used for the day-to-day operations of the church.
While these steps have been instrumental in securing our financial position, we would not be able to continue the church’s work without your generosity. Thank you for your financial contributions and for continuing to honor your pledge commitment to Heavenly Rest.
When we first suspended in-person activities at Heavenly Rest, I had hoped that we would be able to have a triumphant return once physical distancing requirements ended: an Easter celebration, just a few weeks late. It is now clear to me that this will not be possible. We will need to continue to be vigilant about the Coronavirus, and the risk of having 300 people in the nave at one time is simply too great. We are currently planning what we are calling a “graduated return.” As the name suggests, this return will have several phases. As the Vestry and staff consider the nature of these phases, we have been and will be consulting medical professionals, along with local authorities and the governor’s “Report to Open Texas.” Please know that our priority is to keep the members of this parish and the people of Abilene safe and healthy.
As frustrating as this time has been, I feel exceedingly blessed and fortunate to do the work that I am doing. A recent Gallup poll found that 19 percent of respondents said that their experience of their faith had “gotten better” during the course of the pandemic, while only 3 percent said that it had gotten worse. This sixteen point spread is astonishing, especially in light of the fact that most people have not been able to visit a house of worship in person for more than a month! Anecdotally, I have noticed similar feelings. Many of you have told me that this time of being away from Heavenly Rest has not only made you consider the ways you take church for granted, but has encouraged you to discover unfamiliar elements of the Christian faith and reconnect with the God who created and redeemed you. I have been excited to hear about the ways that people are bringing their faith into their homes. While I am eager to see your faces at church again, I am also thrilled that so many of you have taken this as an opportunity to meditate on God’s faithfulness.
I miss you all very much. Know that you are in my constant prayers. As always, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if there is any way I can be helpful to you. May God bless and keep you during this season of resurrection.
The Reverend David F. Romanik