This past Sunday was a day of celebration at Hickory Neck. The bishop confirmed, received, and reaffirmed 16 parishioners, gave out blessings at our Drive-Thru Coffee Hour, and even celebrated Eucharist in our Historic Chapel. It was a day of delight and joy and brought so many people together – both online and in person.
But one of the things we tried for the first time since the pandemic was a “mini Coffee Hour” We could not get past the idea of a celebration like this without a cake, so we safely served up cake and put coffee in safe, disposable containers, and we ate outside in a way that we have not done in ages. It was a small thing in a lot of ways – something we have done thousands of times before the pandemic. But it was anything but small. As the organizer teared up talking about having Coffee Hour that day, I knew there was something much deeper happening.
Some people have joked that Coffee Hour is the eighth sacrament of the Episcopal Church. I always scoffed at that idea, thinking it was much too disrespectful of the sacraments. But in having Coffee Hour taken away during the pandemic and experiencing it again for the first time in 19 months, I now realize the truth hidden in those forced laughs about Coffee Hour’s sacramental status. We are told in the Catechism that a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as a sure and certain means by which we receive that grace. Now I am not arguing that Jesus gives us coffee, but the cup of coffee one receives at Coffee Hour may in fact be that outward and visible sign of the grace of Coffee Hour – where sacred hospitality is offered, intimate Christ-like friendships are nurtured, and forgiveness, pastoral care, and sharing in mutual joy happens.
I would not wish this pandemic on anyone. But I am grateful for the fasting that it created which enabled me to see the fullness of holiness that happens in church: in the pews, at the altar rail, and yes, at the coffee pot. My hope is that we as a church figure out ways to offer those unauthorized sacraments in new and fresh ways as we continue to recover from this pandemic and live into community in restricted ways. I wonder what ways we will be overwhelmed by God’s grace in these in-between times.