A Letter from Mother JoAnn – Food for Thought


Now that talk has begun to surface about how churches should reopen and services take place, I want to offer some observations for us to consider as we think about regathering.  First of all, while we may call it “the church”, the church is NOT the building that sits on the corner of Union and Pearl Streets.  The Church, according to the Outline of the Faith is “the community of the new covenant.”  Further, it is described “as the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head”, and is described in the creeds as “one, holy catholic, and apostolic”. (BCP 854)  In other words WE, collectively, the people of God ARE “The Church”.  We are that part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic group who identify ourselves as those who worship together at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, 321 Union Street, in Jacksonville, Florida.

What does this concept mean to you?  How does it challenge you?  What part do you play as one who chooses to worship at 321 Union Street?

The second part of this reflection involves worship.  The root of the word “worship”.  This word can be either a noun or a verb.  In English, it comes from the Old English “woerth” or  “wurth” meaning worthy or honorable.  The suffix -ship refers to the state of being whatever precedes the suffix.  The use of this word as a noun meaning “reverence paid to God” is first recorded around 1300.  It was also in the 1300’s that this word also began to be used as a verb.

According to a word search, this word came into being to translate the Hebrew word shachah, which when used in the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament means literally “to bow down”.  According to the article it is not clear why the shachah or bowing down came to be translated as “worship” which generally refers to the state of being worthy or honorable. (from the Ekklisia Koinonia, “Fellowship of the called-out ones”)

This being said it is incumbent upon us to think about what it is that we (the Church) do together when we gather, be it on Sunday morning or at any other time.  Once again, referring to the Catechism, when we gather in “corporate worship” or togethers worship, “we unite ourselves with others to #1 acknowledge the holiness of God, #2 to hear God’s Word, #3 to offer prayer, and #4 to celebrate the sacraments. (BCP 857).  #4 did not become the norm for many Episcopalians until the Prayer Book revision of 1969.  Until that time, for many churches, the norm was the service of Morning Prayer with the sacrament of Holy Communion being offered only monthly.

I would further suggest that corporate worship takes place whenever two or three are gathered together to pray and to acknowledge the holiness of God.  This means that we worship in vestry meetings, in Adult and Child Enrichment, in Youth activities, during the Wednesday feeding program and the Thursday sack lunch program, and as we have discovered, on Monday evening when we gather via phone call for prayer.

I say this because it is important to remember that we gather together, as Church, to worship, not for ourselves, not for the fact that it makes “me” feel good.  We gather together as Church, to give honor to God through both our words and our deeds.  It is not about “me and God”.  It is about us together.  In reality the Church, as gathered together under the name St. Philip’s has continued to worship together even though we have been separated by distance. 

We have no idea what form our worship will take as we physically come back together, or whether all of our members will be able to participate in person.  But the Good News is that however, wherever, St. Philip’s will continue to gather and to worship just as it has been doing since 1882.  The church NEVER closed, they merely adapted to current circumstances just as they have been doing since Jesus death, resurrection, and ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit to inform, to empower, to guide the people of God as they seek to be a light to the world and to continue to follow the loving, liberating, life-giving way of Jesus. 

Faithfully Yours, Mother Jo Ann