Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
As we move through Advent 2020, we struggle with how best to respond to the dangers of the COVID-19. Even though, as a religious community, we may be afforded certain exemptions by our government, as Christians, we are never exempt from caring for our neighbors and putting other’s safety before our own needs and desires.
Yesterday, the Ohio Public Health Advisory System listed only one county in our diocese (Montgomery) as Level 4, the highest health threat alert – Severe Exposure and Spread. Almost every other county is at Level 3. Given the continuing surge in every metric – positive tests, symptomatizing patients, hospitalizations, growing numbers in Intensive Care, and COVID related deaths – it is time for all of us to take extreme safety measures for ourselves and others in the midst of a still-growing major crises. After deliberations with Bishop Hollingworth in the Diocese of Ohio, we have come to a common understanding of what this means for The Episcopal Church in the state of Ohio.
Following the prediction of medical experts at both the federal and state level, we join in asking all congregations in Ohio to suspend all in-person worship by Sunday, December 13 if they have not done so already, and return to worshiping by online services only. This will continue until further notice, certainly through the end of the month and likely well into the new year. It will also include the suspension of other in-person gatherings, save for feeding, clothing, and recovery ministries. It will be essential to work closely with leaders of those ministries and organizations to determine whether they can be safely continued.
This means that our diocese’s previously issued guidelines for worship will be altered with the instructions for the purple level now applying to both purple and red. Our state’s dangerous situation has increased dramatically since those guidelines were issued, leading to this revision. (See revised guidelines
) Live-streamed and pre-recorded worship may be offered from churches, with a limit of 10 people in any room for liturgical roles and technological assistance, masked and at least six feet apart. I ask all clergy to join me in a Zoom call on either December 11 or 15, (separate invitation to be issued soon) where we can discuss this further. Until then, you are welcome to reach out to me or any other member of the diocesan staff for assistance.
Taking these steps in this unprecedented emergency is, indeed, an act of faith and a witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus. It is vital that we continue to model Christian charity as we strive to meet the practical responsibilities demanded of us in this time of challenge. By so doing, I believe we can provide hope and protection to those who are suffering from illness, fear and loss. In spite of all of this, we will hear again the angels sing and proclaim joy to the world with unfailing confidence in the incarnate love of God, who is Christ the Lord.
Please know that you are in my every prayer.
The Rt. Rev. Kenneth L. Price Jr.
Bishop in Southern Ohio