|Dear Haywood St. Community,
The cleric’s essential task is to remind us who we are, and what we were created for, when we forget. In reaching out by word, my prayer is that we, laity and clergy alike, can remember.
While the phrase is new to our common lexicon, social distancing- assume everyone is a carrier, shun touch, stay a bike length apart, desert gatherings– is painfully old. Ask the brother who hasn’t had access to a shower what it feels like when a tourist passes to the other side; the sister with needle marks on her arm who pleads for eye contact in a crowd of averted gazes; the shop keeper who points at the “restroom for customers only” sign before the threshold is even darkened. Many must not only survive with material deprivation but also negotiate a society long practiced in separation.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus straddled the borderlands between Galilee and Samaria. Waiting for him was a roving beggar’s colony. The Law required them to announce their diseased skin condition when others approached, “I’m unclean, dirty, ritually impure, less than whole, to-be-avoided.” Aware that even crossing the shadow of a leper meant contracting the illness, Jesus trespassed the boundaries of risk in the name of rouge healing.
Following his model of ministry, the Church, at its most obedient, has uncompromisingly moved towards infectious disease. During smallpox, the push for a public vaccine was led by a Puritan preacher. When cholera ravaged the Caribbean, Haitian congregations were some of the first to install proper sanitation. As Spanish Flu desolated the Americas, Christians in Asheville delivered food to front stoops. And at the height of the HIV crisis, clergywomen quietly arrived at abandoned hospital wards to hold hands with gay men until.
Unflinching in our ministry of welcome and touch, Haywood Street’s mission statement is, “Relationship, above all else.” A community of proximity that passes the peace with lingering embraces, shares a common loaf, mixes tears at the altar of despair, clasps hands in prayer, applauds the tremored clutch of a white chip. We are a congregation of inspired intimacy.
Because of COVID-19, every intention we’ve brought to our life together is now in direct opposition to the recommended medical precautions. Still, believing that God and science aren’t adversaries but rather joint revelators, we will attempt to honor both safety and Gospel. Knowing the virus spreads in enclosed spaces, we have closed our building temporarily. Protecting the staff’s health, we will postpone new admissions to Respite. Huddling with experts, we will continue to assess and reassess discipleship amid a pandemic.
Although less-than-essentials of Haywood St. will be closed for the moment, our vow is to keep the church open. Starting next week, offering to-go homemade hot meals distributed around campus, we’ll add Saturday lunch to our longstanding Wednesday and Sunday banquets. Needing ever more to remember our baptism and gather around the sacrament of Word and Table, you’ll be able to attend worship online soon.
According to a leading epidemiologist, the public health crisis is not the coronavirus. Instead, it is the far greater threat of loneliness. Certain that our spiritual DNA hardwires us for connection- especially when our clenching anxiety overwhelms, and the world shutters its doors and distances itself even further socially- remember that our calling is animated by the One who always chooses solidarity to interrupt isolation.
We aren’t going anywhere. Haywood St. is here. The love we share endures.
In sickness and in health,
A LETTER FROM REV. BRIAN COMBS