“Only connect! Live in fragments no longer.” This cry for human connection echoes to me from EM Forster’s novel Howards End, written from 1908 – 1910, a time when the author witnessed an explosive growth of technology and urbanization. There are some lush cinematic portrayals of this novel. (I love the one with Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Helene Bonham Carter. Oh my!)
“Only connect!” As drama unfolds, this cry for human connection plays out in the relation or disconnect between social classes, between genders, between siblings, between industrialization and nature. Forster paints a profound sense of connection with the land and the history of the English countryside as the drama increasingly centers on an ancient home – a sense of place! – called Howards End.
“Only connect!” This cry has come from my lips all too frequently lately as I have struggled with a new Internet service provider. We have not yet arrived at functionality. (That’s me being polite.) So here I am, trying to meet you lovely people, trying to step into a leadership role with various teams and commissions … and I can’t even hold a WIFI connection! Voices break up, the visual freezes … the connection is dropped altogether. Eventually it fades back in, but the meeting is disrupted.
There is something about this fragmented connection that really pushes my frustration buttons! It’s probably a less-than-helpful perfectionism … being new, I want to prove you have hired a competent person! Instead, I can’t even get to the meeting! Aaah! My fingers poised over the keyboard, waiting; powerless. “Only connect!”
How do you start a new job in a pandemic, a new ministry? How do you lead a community of people when even meeting them is a challenge? How can we gather our people to discern how God is calling us to respond to the twin pandemics around us - COVID19 and racism? The WIFI struggle – “Only connect!” - is a microcosm of the larger question.
I am loving meeting you individually and in small groups at our Gazebo. Small opportunities for connection in this devastating season. But how can we gather the whole community?? It is still a question of safety, literally a matter of life or death. We struggle to connect. Some still feel incredibly isolated; others, masked, are out and about.
One of my daughters is teaching a classroom of 4th graders, and it’s all virtual. She calls me at the end of the day, tells me how hard this is! My other daughter is starting graduate school, and the whole thing is online. “Only connect!” As school begins, across this nation and world, we are all in this astonishing challenge together! There will be moments of frustration and fatigue for all of us.
I beg your patience with me as I seek to connect. Perhaps there is an invitation, for all of us, to be patient with ourselves as we navigate this autumn with its manifold risks and challenges. We are being stretched and shaped and changed in ways we cannot even fully fathom! So let us be gentle with each other, and with ourselves.
“Only connect! Live in fragments no longer.” This is our prayer. May God help us find the way! Amen.
The kitchen window at the Rectory looks out at a War Memorial. It’s lit up at night, when I stand at the sink doing dishes, making coffee. I’ve never lived in the shadow of a War Memorial. It makes one more aware of history, how the dead - and the conflicts they died in - are still a part of present life.
Chuck and I visited the Memorial our first weekend in residence. We read names of those who served – and died – in many conflicts: the War of 1812, Vietnam, the Civil War.
The dedication reads: “Newtown remembers with grateful prayers and solemn vows her sacred dead [and] her honored living who ventured all unto death that we might live a republic with independence, a nation with union forever, a world with righteousness and peace for all.”
I wonder, often, what this town was like during the Civil War. I just picked up a book by a local historian on the history of slavery in Fairfield County. I look forward to learning more.
This grand old house, as I understand it, was built just after that terrible, bloody conflict ended. (1870? 1890? I’ve also seen 1867.) What was the supper-time conversation - within these walls - about the state of this nation when the paint, the timber was still fresh?
The division of that Civil War, the original sin in this great nation of slavery … we see today this ancestral pain continue. People in the streets this summer – this summer of what the Episcopal Church in Connecticut calls “twin pandemics.” COVID19; and racism. The connection between the two: the disproportionate death toll in communities of color.
There is such a sense of grace and space in this home with its high ceilings and tall windows. We wonder: who were the people who slept here, drank morning coffee, prayed for loved ones? Who witnessed other pandemics, other wars; hoped for a better future??
I’ve never lived in the shadow of a War Memorial. It reminds you history is still with us.
Friday is 9/11. We pause, and remember that day of unspeakable loss. 2,977 lives. We remember where we were, who we were. We know, in our bones, the importance of remembering. People of Newtown, you know, in your bones, the importance of remembering. Bearing witness: we carry memories. I know, in my bones.
We may also pause, as we reflect on 9/11, to seek – and we cannot fully comprehend! – to acknowledge the growing toll of those lost to COVID19. Almost 200,000 Americans, and the number grows every day. In the absence of national mourning, leadership, how can we fathom such a loss? How can we bear this witness? Where do we go from here, as a nation?
We offer to God these twin pandemics, and our own personal losses. Our profound concern about our nation. We bear witness to its past, and we endeavor to live into our hope of justice, of health, of equality and freedom yet unattained by many. From our Book of Common Prayer, a prayer for the social order:
“Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart (and especially the hearts of the people of this land), that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
It’s time for ‘Blessing of the Backpacks.’ On a Sunday, just before the kids start a new school year, normally we’d invite everybody to bring their shiny new backpacks to church for a special blessing. Not just young kids! College students heading back to campus, adults with their briefcases or laptop bags – anybody starting a new grade, a new job, a new school … it’s that season of new beginnings. We feel the air starting to chill, the leaves show a little bit of color. It’s back to school season!
Normally, for ‘Blessing of the Backpacks,’ we would invite everybody, at the end of announcements, to come forward and make a huge pile of backpacks in the front of the church. We’d get everybody in a semi-circle, and we would all raise our hands in blessing and I would say a special prayer of blessing for a new academic year, that we would feel God’s presence with us. If someone was feeling a little anxious, it was a reminder that our Church community was WITH us in a new adventure. The children were so excited!
This year, no ‘Blessing of the Backpacks.’ We will return to this beloved tradition next year … we hope. This Labor Day, as some of our youth head back to their classrooms – and some join their peers online in virtual learning – we are not yet gathering indoors as a community of faith. But we are praying – fiercely! –for our students and our teachers as they take up the challenges of learning and teaching in these days of COVID19.
We pray for the safety and well-being of our children, teens and adults in a new school year! We pray for administrators and leaders making agonizing decisions, for all support staff who keep our schools and pre-schools running. We lift up to God how stressful it is to plan curriculum, set up classrooms, pack lunches and get down to business in a pandemic that is ongoing. So much uncertainty about what the fall will bring.
So, let us join our hearts and minds and spirits together virtually, and bless those shiny new backpacks, praying God will keep our loved ones safe! Please pray with me:
“Holy God, surround and uphold our students and our teachers in this ‘back-to-school’ season. Fill our children with a love of learning, our teachers with the joy of instructing. Keep our loved ones ever in your care. Guard them from illness, from anxiety, from worry. Help us to stay safe, to wear our masks, to make wise choices and decisions. Show us, O God, how to love and care for one another in community, that we move through these days in mutual support and care. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.”
Peace be with you all,
Rev. Andrea Castner Wyatt
“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give thine angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering; pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for thy love’s sake, Amen.”
I read this prayer the other day at my first graveside service here in Newtown, wearing black on a scorching August day. This is one of my favorite prayers from our Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
When I was first ordained – back when I was a UCC minister – I borrowed these words from the Book of Common Prayer to add to my funeral service. There is a dignity and a timelessness – and poetry! – in these old prayers that beckoned to me, even then; long before I sought Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church.
‘Keep watch, dear Lord’ … please, keep watch. We pray for those on the Gulf Coast this week, facing hurricane winds and water. We pray for those in California, facing wildfires. We pray for those killed and maimed by racism, for peaceful protesters hurt by armed vigilantes, for victims of gun violence across our land. ‘Bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted’ … keep watch, we pray.
Heal our nation, God, from our original sin of racism, from this deadly pandemic sweeping the globe. ‘Give thine angels charge over those who sleep.’ Protect medical workers, Holy One; comfort and uphold grieving families. And what of our own fatigue, our own personal struggles and losses and just plain tired-ness of it all??
‘Give rest to the weary.’ I pray each of you are finding moments of rest and renewal – and re-creation – as summer hints of autumn. I pray for moments of rest after the upheaval of moving. I rejoice in the blessings of meeting you, gradually, in ways so altered by social distancing! We meet each other in out-of-the-box ways. We delight in the promise of new relationships unfolding; slowly, this time, but surely.
‘Shield the joyous; and all for thy love’s sake.’ At the heart of this journey of life is our God-planted heart of joy, even in the tumult and pain of this world. Shield your hearts, friends. Guard your spirit, your joy; this will sustain you when the going gets tough, when the storms come and waters rise. How? In prayer and in community.
Seek quiet moments to listen to the still, small voice inside and be nourished. Seek connection – holy connection by sharing your story in community. And turn to the ancient words of our faith. ‘Keep watch, dear Lord,’ keep watch. Amen.
Beloved Saints of Trinity Church -
On behalf of the Wyatt Family, thank you for your beautiful welcome to Trinity Church, to the Rectory, to the Newtown community!
Chuck and I arrived late on Friday, August 7th, tired and disoriented from packing and cleaning and moving … to find the most delightful greetings. Food, drink and pantry items … fresh garden flowers … gift certificates to local restaurants (yummy treats!) … cards and gifts … and a booklet with personal messages and recommendations of local hikes and activities.
We sat on the floor and ate peanut butter sandwiches, and spent our first night on a guest-room mattress already delivered … the moving truck arrived first thing in the morning. It has been a whirlwind of unpacking, and preparing to begin a new call. Our daughters Molly and Emma, and niece Julia, have already been to visit.
You are so fortunate to have such a lovely and historic Rectory. Thank you for all that you do to make it so comfortable. So, this week … how to begin a new call in a pandemic?? Well, the same way we’ve all been living these past 6 months! Zoom, FaceTime and phone calls, email, and socially distanced outdoor visits.
I know many of you have questions about what Church will look like moving forward. I do, too. I will be consulting with the Re-Opening Task Force, with our leaders at the ECCT, and with the Vestry and Staff about how we will share in worship, outreach and fellowship. Please know our safety and well-being is my priority.
As I finish a post-move time of quarantining, we will meet each other this coming Sunday, August 23rd in a Zoom Coffee Hour/Meet & Greet at 11 AM. With some prayer and conversation, we can begin to get to know one another!
I do look forward to opportunities to meet you face to face, mask to mask! Here’s one idea:
Gazebo Office Hours!
Let’s find a (socially-distant, masked!) way to meet one another. I would be glad to hang out in the Gazebo and chat, or go for a walk – set a time with me; let’s say “Hello!” email@example.com
As I make my way into the community, please let me know of pastoral care concerns. I am honored to walk with you in this journey of faith and life … please let me know how I can pray for and with you.
Peace be with you,
Rev. Andrea Castner Wyatt
The Rev. andrea castner wyatt
The Rev. Andrea Castner Wyatt is honored to accept the call of Trinity Episcopal Church to serve and lead as Rector. She looks forward with joy to walking with the people of Trinity Church, and to discovering with you what Jesus is up to in Newtown, CT. Contact Rev. Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 203-426-9070.