To my Sisters and Brothers,
The Book of Acts tells us that the early church grew in a time of great uncertainty. It also tells us that with uncertainty comes opportunity. Opportunities to lean into each other, to our faith, and to Jesus more than we have before. This is also a time to show the strength of the Church, faith and community. To try new things to reach our followers – and maybe reach those who are new. This is a period in time where we need to continue to support one another and to meet the world incarnationally. It is also a time to be patient with one another, hold our fears, our hopes and share the love of Christ. In many ways, this is our forty days in the desert as we set our eyes on Jerusalem.
For the past 72 hours, I have been on the phone with the priests in this diocese, other bishops, standing committee and people throughout this diocese, as well as monitoring recommendations from health authorities. There is so much uncertainty and things seem to be changing, sometimes by the hour. I learned earlier that Montgomery County is now advising against large gatherings of 250 people.
There are many opinions and suggestions, however the principle concern is not fear as we trust in Christ. We have been informed of the need to “flatten the curve.” The ideal goal in fighting an epidemic or pandemic is to completely halt the spread. Slowing it — mitigation — is critical. This reduces the number of cases that are active at any given time, which in turn gives doctors, hospitals, police, schools and vaccine-manufacturers time to prepare and respond, without becoming overwhelmed. Most hospitals can function with 10 percent reduction in staff, but not with half their people out at once.
Your clergy and vestries are making prayerful, wise and informed decisions about what to do on Sunday. You may have heard that some dioceses have opted to cancel worship altogether. While I respect their decisions I also know that now, more than ever, our people need prayer and the sacraments. At this moment, I do not want to impose a decision to close our churches. However, I am strongly recommending that churches cancel any large in-person gatherings that are not solely worship.
I believe that your clergy and vestries can make the best decisions for their church communities. I have offered options to
continue to hold in-person worship with modifications
temporarily suspend in-person worship
and offer worship via live streaming, Facebook, or other media
temporarily suspend worship altogethe
r in which case they would direct you to another church that offers streaming and/or is continuing with in-person worship.
In addition I offer the following direction:
Coffee hours, church school and rehearsals should be canceled until a further decision is made.
Church meetings should be
postponed, rescheduled or conducted by Zoom
or other electronic means, unless an in-person meeting is absolutely necessary. (Contact us if you need assistance.)
in high risk groups who have been asymptomatic for the past two weeks are urged to step up
to help assure that the needs of the poor, the outcast, the lonely, the aged and the frightened are not forgotten. We are developing various resources as to how to continue outreach and critical social services. During this time, let us build a stronger and deeper community where we rely on one another and trust in the Prince of Peace and Healing.
Be in touch with one another.
You are encouraged to check on all of your brothers and sisters in the church. Establish phone trees and check in times. I will continue to attend my visitations for Confirmation and Reception in consultation with the church. I will also celebrate the Eucharist by Facebook and this service will be available to all our churches.
I believe fervently that there is no need to give into fear. While in-person worship may cease for a time at some locations, our churches are not closing and will never close. The format may be different for a season, but they will continue to maintain our worship and sacraments. We will continue to pray, worship and support one another, even if it is across a phone line or on a computer screen. This is an opportunity for us to find new and creative ways to live into our calling to be the Body of Christ in the midst of a world that is consumed by fear. We also need to be prepared for other changes as developments are arising hourly.
Jesus Christ is Lord and with that sure and certain hope we will continue to journey through this wilderness together. Our people need us, our community needs our presence and we need Christ. This is the time for the Diocese of Pennsylvania to lead the church through creativity, faithfulness and love.
I am blessed to be your brother and your shepherd.