This blog post recorded by the Rev. Dr. Richard R. Swanson is a result of Leaders for Hybrid Futures, a community of learning and practice created by Rev. Tim Schenck and Learning Forte’s CEO, Rev. Stacy Williams-Duncan, to reflect on and experiment with hybrid ministry. This innovative program is a partnership with LEAD, TX, and Learning Forte’s Digital Ministry Initiative and is funded by a leadership grant from Trinity Church, Wall Street.
I’m back to reflect on two years of a journey at St. John’s in the Mountains that has begun to transform who we are and the way we understand God in our midst.
Starting in April of 2020, just a month after the pandemic shut us down, the vestry and I realized that having video opportunities to enter and engage in all of our life together was necessary, so we began a journey.
In 2021 in the spring, as we started to enter getting back together, we realized it was time to take those beliefs, and those thoughts, and those hopes, and those dreams into reality. What you’re going to see right now are some pictures about that journey from March of 2020 through Easter Day of this year, April 17, 2022.
“Thus says the Lord God, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spreads out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it, and the Spirit of those who walk in it. I am the Lord. That is my name. My glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and the new things I now declare. Before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” – Isaiah 42: 5, 8-9
Being 100% online, using Zoom as our primary and sole mode of engagement with one another, we realized how it built community even when we were separated. It was difficult, and it was also a lifeline.
When we returned to this space in the summer, in fact in June of 2021, we didn’t know what we were going to do. We didn’t know how a new device, a new way of doing church, was going to actually work, but we had to try. And so before our new AV system was in place, we tried to figure out if we could do it with just some computers and their basic cameras. We realized that we were trying to do something that we once thought we could do, but it still wasn’t working.
“No one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the wine will burst the skins and the wine will be lost, and so the skins. But one puts new wine into new wineskins.” -Mark 2:21-22
“Then Jesus told them this parable: A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down. Why should it be wasting the soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year until I dig around and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good, but if not, you can cut it down.” ‘ ” -Luke 13:6-9
This image of taking the manure and working the soil around it so that in the future something just may grow up is real for us. It makes sense for us, even if we don’t know what’s about to come.
“And I heard a loud voice coming from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them. He will be their God, and they will be His peoples, and God himself will be with them.’ ” -Revelation 21:3
So here we are. We’ve come through a journey of pictures I’ve just shared with you about how we got to this day and how we have as a faith community moved slowly, surely to this point of having this monitor as a new picture of “electronic furniture,” as I reflected on in my previous blog. What this has done it allowed us to experience faith anew. Many would say that the monitor and the camera and all these new “toys” are just a technical fix to the faith – something akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Assuming that the church is going in that same direction, what I believe this does, and I hold hope in God in Christ of what is to come, is that connection and the continuance of this altar in new ways.
This faith community has gathered together for 100 years this year. What a celebration to bring and extend the Word of God in new ways to the Stowe community and beyond – a vacation community that never sits still. Our faith is new, our faith is alive, and we have planted seeds that we now nourish. We have a new wineskin filled with new wine. What will become of where we are, I don’t know, but I trust in a loving God that will lead us. I trust in unconditional love that says what we do and the faithful work that we engage will only empower the faith in this church to continue for years to come.
Father Rick Swanson currently serves as the rector of St. John’s in the Mountains Episcopal Church in Stowe, VT, and has been serving the Stowe Mountain Chapel in various capacities since 2011. Ordained as an Episcopal priest in 2001, he has served parishes in Los Olivos, CA, Morristown, NJ, Dowagiac, MI and Stowe, VT. Fr. Rick graduated from California State University, Northridge in 1995 with a B.A. in Deaf Studies, he received a Master of Divinity in 2000 from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill, and was awarded his Doctor of Ministry from Bexley-Seabury Seminary Federation, Chicago, IL, in 2019.