Keeping Congregations Connected: Spotlight on Jim Papile and Pajama Church

By Ken Howard
(with Jim Papile)

As we continue our “Keeping Congregations Connected” series, faith leaders have begun sharing with the experiments they are undertaking to keep their congregations connected to each other and their communities in the face of the COVID crisis. So in the days and weeks ahead we are refocusing many of our FaithXperimental Spotlight posts on some of their innovative approaches as the crisis continues.

Today we are shining a Spotlight on the Rev. Jim Papile and a his recent COVID-”inspired” worship experiment that he calls Pajama Church.    
Last Sunday, two small, local churches Jim serves came online together for the first time to read Morning Prayer.

As you may already know, the service of Morning Prayer is one of the regular forms of corporate worship in the Episcipal Church’s Book of Common Prayer that does not include communion. 

“To say that it was a new experience for all of us,” says Jim, “is an accurate, and probably an obvious statement.”  On the one hand, some people had trouble negotiating the web platform for the first time, some were not happy having to be in this unfamiliar place.  

On the other hand, most people were very grateful.  “We had a couple who joined us from the road, driving up 95 from Florida,” Jim reported, “We had several elderly folk who live alone that were especially thankful for the service, as they cannot get out of the house due to COVID 19.  Hearing the voices of their friends was a huge help.” At the end of their time together, as they briefly reviewed their pajama church experience, Jim says one member commented that it was kind of nice to worship in my pajamas.” 

To worship in one’s pajamas. That comment made Jim remember how, when he was as a child, his mother and her contemporaries would not think of going to church without their hats and white gloves.  But now that he lives and serve churches in a beach town it’s not at all uncommon for him to see people coming to church in shorts and flip flops. But wearing PJs to church is brand new.

“It got me thinking,” Jim observed, “about how this moment in time, in Church Time, is not only a tragedy with so many vulnerable getting sick and dying, but maybe an opportunity to re-think how we do church.” As deeply committed as Jim is to the moving traditions of our liturgies, it’s not that he doesn’t miss the bread and the wine, and the powerful music, but that this experience has clarifired for him that maybe those things are not the most important reason we gather, or invite others to gather we us, but rather being together, honoring and thanking God for the unimaginable grace and gift of our lives and the lives of those we love. 

Reflecting on the whole experience, Jim offers this observation:

“So what does it mean to be part of a pajama church.  Well, when we have our pajamas on we are vulnerable, unadorned.  Without make-up, with our hair in curlers (does anyone wear curlers to bed anymore?) in our rattiest old t-shirt and boxers maybe we are our realist.  Power, money, big crowds, lots of swagger much of society sees our faith as what Richard Rohr calls “Churchianity.” I remember how excited i would get when I was invited to sleep overs with friends, wasting popcorn in bed, telling each other scary stories which somehow made us feel safer, not more fearful.  Virtual church in our pajamas in this scary time, being present in all our humanity to each other and to the god who will not desert us. May this not be a ending, but a new beginning.”

This post is part of an ongoing series. Future topics may include:

  • Online worship at a distance Part 2: Communion at a Distance
  • Online Outreach Part – 2: More tools and strategies.
  • Social Vulnerability: A new tool for predicting at-risk neighborhoods.
  • Things people can do to create a sense of community with their neighbors and neighborhoods.
  • Tools and strategies for hosting online fellowship.
  • Tools and strategies for facilitating online bible study and formation. 
  • Tools and strategies congregations can use to locate and reach populations most vulnerable to COVID19. 
  • Tools and strategies by which judicatories can resource their congregations

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FaithX is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and Ken’s faith-based consulting practice at FaithX is carried out under an extension of ministry from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.