May 9, 2020
To the faithful of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts:
A prayer from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: “God, we thank you for the inspiration of Jesus. Grant that we will love you with all our hearts, minds and souls, and love our neighbors as ourselves, even our enemy neighbors. And we ask you God, in these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, to be with us in our going out and our coming in, in our rising up and in our lying down, in our moments of joy and sorrow. Amen.”
I have prayed that prayer every day for these two months because it speaks so powerfully to the present moment. Three things are true. These are days of emotional tension, with gigantic problems and chaos. It is true that God is with us. And at the heart of following Jesus is love of neighbor. It is all true.
Thank you for loving your neighbor in these days. Our doctors, nurses, hospital staff and first responders, and all essential workers are truly saints. I have witnessed incredible generosity and pastoral care from all of you. Thank you for staying at home and practicing physical distancing when you are out. And thank you for being faithful people of prayer, in your private prayer and by gathering with others online. The Church is truly open and at work in the world.
How can we continue to be faithful followers of Jesus regarding our worship in our church buildings in the days, weeks and months ahead? Here is where we do not want to be “chaotic in detail.” I am meeting with a team in our diocese and with Bishop Alan Gates and his team in the eastern diocese (which includes two of the top epidemiologists in the Commonwealth) to develop a plan going forward. The plan will always be open to adjustment as circumstances require. Here is what is certain right now:
1) Our church buildings will remain closed for worship through July 1.
Listening to medical experts and loving our neighbor make this decision clear. It also allows our congregations to settle into online worship which has developed quickly and faithfully. Remember every church does not have to conduct these services. We can collaborate with other churches locally and with our National Cathedral.
During this time, our team will be working on plans for moving forward toward safe in-person worship in our church buildings
and we will coordinate those plans with our sister diocese to the east so there will be one plan for the Commonwealth.
2) We commit to having guidelines available to our congregations by July 1 so that may mark the beginning of phasing in worship in our church buildings.
What those phases are and how long each one will take, is yet to be determined. The priority each step along the way will be safety and love of neighbor. We had hoped it would be an “Easter reopening” with our doors wide open to everyone but Church leadership throughout the nation has already said, with clarity and faithfulness, that is not safe and not possible.
If science tells us that July is too soon, we will watch and wait and continue our suspension of in-person services.
You are invited, all our church members and your friends, to a very special Diocesan Pentecost Liturgy online on May 31 at 10 am. We will feast on the Word, renew our Baptismal Vows together, and experience music from many voices across our diocese. It will be my joy to preside and preach, to gather us all as one flock on this holy day.
Remember our church buildings are still closed but Jesus’ Mission of Mercy, Compassion and Hope continues even as we grieve the unimaginable losses- all the saints who have been taken from our midst by COVID-19 and those who have died from other causes and for whom we have not been able to mourn in our comforting traditional liturgies. God’s mission continues as we gather online for prayer and bible study, as we reach out to those who are not online in creative ways, deliver food to the hungry curbside, and wear masks for the love of strangers. If you are feeling depressed or anxious or know others who are, our clergy and lay pastoral care ministers are here for you. Jesus’ Mission is as important as ever. Come Holy Spirit and make us a New Creation as we face new challenges. Love is stronger than death.