Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Grace and peace to you in this eventful time in our common life. Even in the 24 hours since we last issued an updated statement on the coronavirus, the situation has continued to unfold at a rapid rate. There are now at least five counties across the Diocese of North Carolina with reported cases. It is our desire to do our part, in every way possible, to reduce the spread of the virus.
Countries ahead of us on the outbreak timeline have valuable lessons to teach us: The sooner we implement more extreme measures to limit contact, the better chance we have of “flattening the curve” of how the disease spreads. This has crucial implications for the most vulnerable among us and for their access to vital lifesaving healthcare interventions including ventilators, medical staff and even hospital beds. Timing is of the essence, and we need to act now.
We consulted with clergy and lay leaders across the Diocese in the open-invitation Zoom call this morning, as well as experts in the medical field. We are in conversation with our sister and brother bishops in neighboring dioceses, and consulting with our ecumenical partners in North Carolina. We have heard the voice of our Presiding Bishop.
Incorporating the information from all of those resources, it has been decided that for a period of at least two weeks starting this weekend, including the next two Sundays, we are directing all of our churches to suspend all in-person worship. The two-week minimum time span is significant as it matches the known incubation period for the virus following exposure. As we approach Sunday, March 29, we will evaluate the situation and determine whether it is recommended and advisable for public services to resume.
All non-worship gatherings are also to be cancelled, postponed or moved online.
Exceptions to the moratorium on gatherings include funerals and life-giving ministries such as food pantries and shelter.
For our churches that extend the use and hospitality of their spaces to outside groups, some of these are considered critical ministries and services, some are not. For now, we leave it to you to be in conversation with those partners about whether or not to continue this hospitality; if you do, we strongly recommend you follow the recommendations of local health and government authorities.
In this same spirit, Diocesan offices will be closed for two weeks beginning March 15. Staff will be working from home and available to you, and all essential meetings will be held online. As with worship services, the situation will be evaluated prior to reopening on March 30.
One of our areas of focus, even as we work remotely, will be to explore options to help mitigate the financial strain on churches this crisis may create.
This is a pastoral moment unprecedented in our lifetime, and we are responding prayerfully, thoughtfully and with great grace for one another and the difficult decisions being made at a rapid rate.
During these two weeks, we highly encourage virtual worship offerings and the use of other online tools, including Zoom and Facebook Live, to keep our communities connected with one another.
We also encourage outreach to parishioners through phone calls and online channels, and we especially urge you to check in on the most vulnerable and those who are particularly isolated.
The situation created by the coronavirus presents us with a unique opportunity to live into adaptive leadership. It is a chance for us to explore ways to deepen our connections to one another, doing so in spite of physical distance.
The actions we are taking are taken not in a spirit of fear, but rather in a spirit of creating a proactive, preventative, strategic impact to limit the spread of the virus.
We are responding in a spirit of unity and as Christ’s beloved community. We look to Jesus in times like these to be our companion on the journey, the one who walks with us, the source of our hope and the presence of peace among us. At the risk of jumbling our liturgical seasons, perhaps we are called here in the middle of Lent to remember the story from early in the Easter season. In John’s gospel, the small group of disciples gathered in that upper room in uncertainty and fear, and suddenly Jesus is in their midst, saying: “Peace be with you.”
He is in our midst.
As the Body of Christ in this moment of uncertainty, let us live into that promise of peace as we find creative ways to stay connected. Let us recognize the presence of Christ even in virtual gatherings, as we lean into the challenge of meeting social distancing with collaboration and a determination to stem the spread of this virus.
We will share this statement to the public later today, and we encourage you to continue to visit the diocesan resource webpage, as we continue to add resources and information you can us. As next steps develop, we will share those via our usual diocesan communication channels.
This comes with our prayers for all of you, and all of us together, as we continue to witness to the love of God, the promise of Jesus, and the movement of the Holy Spirit, in and through the challenges we are facing together.
With deep gratitude for all that you offer and all those we hold dear, for those who have been infected, all who care for them, and in prayer that these measures will have the impact we intend and believe we are called to implement in this extraordinary moment,
+ Sam Rodman
+ Anne Hodges-Copple