Yesterday, the governor of California announced a new stay-at-home order for regions of the state that have only 15% remaining capacity in ICU units. As part of the Southern California region, our diocese’s California counties have not quite reached the threshold, but it appears that we may reach it quite soon. Yuma County, Arizona is not subject to the governor’s order, but as in the past I am considering the situation in Yuma as quite similar to that in neighboring Imperial County.
All of our counties are already prohibiting indoor worship. Although the governor’s order will still allow outdoor worship to occur, even in areas subject to the lockdown, I strongly encourage congregations to consider suspending in-person worship from Dec. 7 through 23. I want us to do what we can to support the cause of public health, because we Episcopalians are committed to loving our neighbors. I am aware of two congregations in our diocese that had persons attend outdoor services who later tested positive for COVID, and those congregations have had to notify all people present at those service that they should quarantine, including the clergy. Both of them have also suspended in-person worship for at least two weeks. I am aware of a third congregation that had a similar experience at an outdoor congregational non-worship event. Those experiences remind us that even with careful precautions, we can’t keep everyone safe. With Christmas approaching, I ask you to consider doing all you can to protect our people, our health-care workers, and our wider communities from the spread of this disease.
I know this has been a very difficult year for all of us. We clergy have devoted our lives to following Jesus in worship, prayer, and service, yet many of the things we love to do, including leading in-person worship and interacting with our congregations, have not been possible in the usual way this year. I so appreciate how you have devoted yourselves to innovating, learning new skills, and serving your churches the best you can. This pandemic has stretched on much longer than any of us expected, but the development of vaccines tells us that the end is in sight. This too shall pass, and this Advent, our faith tells us that God is still near – still loving us and still calling us to greater faith in the Lord who calls us to sacrifice and service in his name. With the prophet Isaiah, we believe that God will soon assure us, “Comfort, O comfort my people.”