BISHOP ROB'S FULL STATEMENT
Grace and Peace be with you in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to speak about the re-emergence of the COVID 19 virus in our state. There are new facts and trends of the coronavirus that now confront us. And there is troubling news in the short-term, even if we have been given real hope of an effective vaccine on its way in the coming months.
Over the past two weeks, we have seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of infections among us. Though we had certainly hoped to avoid a second wave this fall, its clear that our country has not yet succeeded in stopping the rate of infections or effectively slowing the way one person can infect even several others. This virus has never fully left us, but it is again knocking at our doors with a new ferocity.
New England case rates have remained lower overall than other parts of the country, but all of our numbers in New England are rising and rising quickly, indicating a potentially exponential spread of the virus in the coming weeks. The chief means by which this virus is skyrocketing is by small group gatherings, including religious and sporting events.
The Diocesan Short Term COVID response team is closely monitoring the spread of the virus county by county in New Hampshire through the COVID Act Now website. They are working on a Frequently Asked Questions guide that will answer questions that have been arising such as; What creative worship alternatives are our churches in this diocese offering?
Now, in New Hampshire, our church has relied on the wise, prudent, compassionate caution that each of our congregations has demonstrated to prevent us being a means of infection. We have sought to be the means of God’s grace and health and not sickness.
I want to express how deeply and utterly thankful I am for the leadership of our clergy and lay leaders who have been straining to do just that, to be means of health, hope, God’s presence, even as we are called into this period of exile. Words cannot convey the depth of gratitude and admiration that your care and collegiality mean to me. It is truly astounding, inspiring and I believe, inspired of God.
Now our approach thus far has been one of what we call "Guided Autonomy." And that principle remains. We need to trust each other to do the right things in the coming months. Medical professionals and scientists expect this to be hard winter, and it is with both sadness and grief and resolve that we will meet the journey ahead. Each of our congregations still has autonomy, but I want to stress, emphasize, counsel us all to slow down our plans to have indoor worship together for the time being. Please. God loves you, God loves your neighbor, and God loves our church too much for us to risk our lives by this virus.
I believe God, and I know your bishop, simply love you too much to ask you to go back to our sanctuaries when they are not sanctuaries from this potentially fatal disease.
Having said that, God does not want you to be comfortless. Nor do I. And so I would like to make a more hopeful announcement.
Before the First Sunday of Advent, on November 29th, we will make available to our church in New Hampshire a service where we can share a sacred meal of bread and wine together via zoom or other means of broadcasting. Known as an Agape or Love Feast, our ancestors in the faith, both Jews and early Christians, celebrated and called forth God’s love and redeeming Presence by sharing a meal where ever they found themselves, whether it was wandering in the desert, or in a prolonged period of exile, or after the destruction of a Temple or sanctuary, in times of disease and distress.
I am not going to say what this meal that we will share together beginning in Advent means or does not mean for us, except to say that it is what God makes available to us now. I hope it will offer us, each of us and our communities, the comfort, the assurance, the blessing, the means of reconciliation, and spiritual endurance and nourishment that our community so needs for the extended road ahead.
I will offer the prayers on the First Sunday of Advent on what is coming to be our Virtual Cathedral on Zoom and YouTube Live. The Liturgy Committee is working hard to prepare an instructional video and a brochure so that you can, at last, “Try this at home!”
Just as many of our Jewish friends worship at home every Friday evening with a Shabbat meal, which is a recitation of the Passover Meal, the simple meal of bread and wine that we envision will be a new source of resilience for our local parishes and diocese for the time ahead.
May our prayers, our actions and our commitment to God and each other in Christ continue to support and even enliven and deepen our faith. May our Lord Jesus Christ come among us in a new and needed way this Advent and Christmas.
We live in God’s re-creative power and presence,
We live in truth that the rising of Jesus Christ from the dead assures us that we have not even death to fear,
We live in the power of the Holy Spirit which sends us new creative blessings every hour and every day.
May God bless you with joy, hope and love, today and always.