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How lovely is Thy dwelling place

by David Romanik

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, a parishioner quipped on Facebook, “I sure wish I could get back those Sundays I skipped church to play golf”. While at least partially offered in jest, this observation cut to the heart of what many people were experiencing in those early days of what several of my colleagues have started calling “Coronatide”. The pandemic made us suddenly and acutely aware of what we had been taking for granted in our daily lives: from the casual interactions that sustained our relationships with family and friends, to the ability to leave the house without worrying about possible exposure to pathogens. For many of us, the inability to gather for worship at the Church of the Heavenly Rest became one of the most potent symbols of how our life had changed. It was only when a global pandemic forced us to stay away from church that we realized how easy it had been to seek refreshment and peace in this repository of grace.

As the weeks wore on, Heavenly Rest adapted to the new reality. We began by live streaming church services, an option that had never been seriously considered at this parish. We held small groups via Zoom, creating possibilities for connection even in a time of deep isolation. Volunteers gathered outside on Friday mornings, distributing food to the most vulnerable members of the Abilene community. Parish leaders created phone trees and called around to members of the Heavenly Rest community, fostering relationships even when circumstances made that challenging. In other words, the staff, clergy, and lay leadership of this parish invested enormous amounts of time and energy into creating meaningful opportunities for worship, fellowship, and service during a time when so many people were sick and anxious. As proud as I am of these efforts, it is striking to me that they were attempts to reflect what would already be happening at Heavenly Rest. We had to work incredibly hard to recreate what Heavenly Rest does by virtue of its existence. I am a huge booster of this parish, but our efforts to create community during the COVID-19 crisis revealed the degree to which I, like many others, have taken Heavenly Rest for granted.

We are entering Annual Giving season at the Church of the Heavenly Rest: that time in the church year when we ask the members of this parish to reflect on how God has blessed them, consider what this place means to them, and respond with a pledge of financial support. This year, the theme of our Annual Giving Campaign is “How lovely is Thy dwelling place!”, a quotation from a hymn paraphrase of Psalm 84. The choice of this Psalm as the theme for this year’s campaign is probably obvious: after all, we have a renewed appreciation for the beauty of this place and the community that inhabits it. Indeed, after we first returned to in-person worship earlier in the year, several parishioners told me they were almost overwhelmed by the beauty of the Nave. Even more told me how good it was to see members of their church family in person. There is, however, a deeper reason that Psalm 84 is so appropriate to consider as we reflect on the year that is past and look forward to the year that is to come. The Psalm assumes that, no matter what happens, God continues to dwell in the house of the LORD. No matter what challenges we face, in other words, we can trust in the faithfulness of God.

This is the reality that Heavenly Rest has trusted and attempted to enact over the past year, and it is the reality we will seek to embody in the years to come. The only way we can continue to fulfill this call is through your generosity. As you reflect on your relationship with this parish, I pray you will consider how, as a community of faith, we have proclaimed and revealed the faithfulness of God, and I pray that you will not take it for granted.

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