Sunday Service - St. John's Parish
By Kristen Arute, June 7, 2020
Photos courtesy of Fr. Tim Schenck
St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church sits atop a hill in downtown Hingham. The stone parish was built in 1919 of granite quarried from Weymouth; however, it is not the church's first home. The first services were held in the 1820's over what is now Winston Flowers. The church moved to a small wooden building on Main Street across from Water Street in 1883, but it wasn't until 1906 when the building was relocated to the top of the hill where it sits now.
Father Tim Schenck became the pastor of St. John’s 11 years ago, after having served parishes in New York and Baltimore. He has been leading the church through this time of crisis, implementing a variety of programming to maintain the fellowship needs of his congregation in an era of social distancing. "I like to say that while the church’s doors have been closed, the church itself remains wide open," said Fr. Tim. "We’ve been holding online Sunday services at 10:00 a.m. via Facebook Live and our website, reaching out to parishioners by phone, turning St. John’s into a community drop-off center for food items to support three local food pantries, collecting and distributing home-made masks and isolation gowns, holding Zoom coffee hours and putting together a pastoral 'Match.com' of sorts that matches volunteers up with people in the community who have needs."
Some of these programs will continue long after in-person worship returns. "We will be live streaming our Sunday services for the long-term (because) we recognize that there will be a hybrid model of church, with some staying home and some coming to the building," Fr. Tim explained. "We are investing in our infrastructure to insure anyone who doesn’t feel safe returning to church in person will still be able to worship with us."
Fr. Tim recognizes that this time of pandemic has negatively impacted every individual and every institution economically. As a result, St. John’s has had to suspend a capital campaign they have been planning for and anticipating for quite some time. However those parishioners who are able have been very generous in maintaining their donations to the church recognizing that this is a temporary situation. "Giving has remained steady," said Fr. Tim, "I think in recognition of everything that we are doing to keep people connected to God and one another during this time."
St. John's made headlines recently when the church hosted a Black Lives Matter vigil sponsored by the Hingham Unity Council. "We were asked by the Hingham Unity Council if we would be willing to host a community event in support of black lives in light of George’s Floyd’s recent murder in Minneapolis," said Fr. Tim. "My answer was an immediate ‘yes,’ because if churches can’t stand up for racial justice and equality, what’s the point?" He described Jesus as having lived out His life "breaking down barriers between and among people, paying particular attention to the least, the lost, and the lonely."
Hingham resident Chrissy Roberts is a member of the Unity Council and was instrumental in organizing the event and distributing "Black Lives Matter" lawn signs. She has been a member of St. John's for 17 years and has held several roles in her time there. Currently she serves as Chair of the Outreach Committee. "When planning the candlelight vigil in honor of Black Lives, I immediately thought of St. John's for two reasons," she said. "St. John's, to me, represents what is good in this world - a community of people who, in a variety of tangible ways, show what it means to love thy neighbor. I knew that our clergy would be accepting of our idea. And second it made for a good place to safely come together in a socially distant way."
St. John's enthusiastically supported the efforts of the Unity Council; however, it's not exactly because social issues are a part of the church's mission. "It’s that love, compassion, and healing, and care for vulnerable communities stands at the very heart of the Christian faith," said Fr. Tim. "When those values bump up against what’s happening in the world around us, we can’t help but get involved in hopefully meaningful ways."
These challenging times have inspired many to contemplate what is important to them, and the congregation at St. John's is not immune to that. Fr. Tim says that for the church, "this has been a reminder to focus on the basics: love God, love neighbor," priorities that are captured in the church's mission. "That’s the essence of our faith," he said. "It’s easier said than done, of course, but loving God and one another is precisely what we need to get through this time."
Although members of the congregation, like Chrissy, miss seeing their fellow parishioners in person - being able to shake one another's hands and catch up at coffee hour, the online worship services have been spiritually enriching. "It's been a nice, consistent anchor during such challenging times," she said. "I have to admit, when we go back to 'normal,' I'll miss tuning in in my pajamas!"