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March 13, 2020
 
Dear friends in Christ,
 
At our House of Bishops meeting this week a major topic of conversation has been the Covid19 coronavirus, and how the Church can faithfully respond in these times. The diocesan staff has been monitoring the various local health departments in our diocese, as well as notices from the CDC and from the wider Episcopal Church. One of the important points made by everyone around our response is the need to care for the most vulnerable. These include our own members who are in the higher risk category; those over 60 and those with health issues. The most vulnerable also include those whose work has been impacted, and those who are losing income or support because of the virus.
 
In our diocese we have few cases at this point, we also know that the numbers will grow. Beyond the normal recommendations about washing hands and staying home when we are sick, the other consistent recommendation is to avoid gatherings in large groups unless the work is essential. I have been pondering quite a bit what part of the church's work would not be considered essential!
 
The following is information, instruction, and advice for our ongoing life together during these times. Further explanation and instruction follow in this letter.
  • I am asking for all congregations to suspend public worship for 3 weeks, we will re-evaluate after March 31st.
All members of our church who feel it is in their best interest for their own health to stay away from church functions, including worship, should absolutely feel free to do so and may you know that you are in our ongoing prayers.
  • All diocesan sponsored meetings and events are cancelled, congregations and committees are asked to limit in-person meetings, we will review after March 31st. Events and meetings scheduled beyond April 4th have not yet been cancelled.
  • Funerals and other services may be held as deemed appropriate. The Memorial for the Rev. Christine Soule will be re-scheduled, information to come.
  • The Diocesan office will be providing in-home worship materials and live streaming to continue to connect our members and worship virtually. Look for instructions and materials today by email, Facebook and website.
At our 2019 diocesan convention, we discerned our biblical metaphor for this time as a diocese the image of Setting a Table in the Wilderness. This is a time of wilderness, of new challenges, and opportunities before us. What table will we set?
 
In all our work, the primacy of the call to love God and love our neighbor must guide us. These are challenging times, and yet while this particular context is new, the church has faced challenging times before, and in those times and contexts the church found ways to love God and neighbor.
 
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Worship
Worship is an essential act for all Christians. We have from the beginning of the Church gathered together for worship of God, singing songs and offering prayers and praises to God. This also has happened for many of the early church in the local home. Our local health authorities have not (yet) asked us to cancel public worship. However, I am asking for all congregations to suspend worship for 3 weeks until we may review at the end of March.
 
Please consider how you might still allow for individuals to come and pray. The church has traditionally been a place of comfort and solace in times of crisis, we want to be able to continue to offer this. Having times when the building is open for individuals to pray, letting your community know this, and then having practices in place for cleaning, all of these are ways to continue to minister to your community. For cleaning go over door handles, pew tops, restroom handles, locks and faucets, and the altar rail with cloths and a cleaner containing at least 60% alcohol. Clean before and after each service or gathering.
 
We will start offering to the diocese as of this week (this Sunday) the following:
 
Live streaming
of the Sunday liturgy of Morning Prayer
Morning Prayer is the service that has been offered by the church for centuries and is one that all are invited to pray daily. While every local congregation may if they so choose set up to live stream their own worship, I want to offer the congregations and clergy an opportunity to focus on other matters, such as pastoral care for their members. We will offer worship online. This will start this week, look for a coming email on live streaming instructions and home worship materials.
 
Home worship
I invite us to see this as an opportunity to reconnect with the deep tradition of worshiping in our homes. I invite all our households to set up a space apart in their home, use a small table and place on it a candle, cross, icon - something which represents the sacred. We will be sending out to all our congregations and contacts a weekly home worship service that is patterned on Morning Prayer and will include the collect, the psalm and the Gospel for that Sunday and reflection/discussion questions around Gospel. This will start this week, look for a coming email on live streaming instructions and home worship materials.
 
Funerals and other services
Funerals and other services may be held as deemed appropriate. Please observe all of the previously offered practices for the safety of all. The memorial for the Rev. Christine Soule will be re-schedule, more information to come at a later date.
 
Our Spring Gathering Day and other meetings
It seems to me that part of the question of what is essential might be "what can be delayed until a better time." Some of our upcoming diocesan gatherings are not time sensitive. It is for this reason that I am cancelling the spring Gathering Day and the Wardens/treasurers Administration and Finance day and all coming Diocesan sponsored events and meetings. I do not want our gatherings, which are in fact important places of learnings, and yet also can be delayed until a better time, to be places where someone is inadvertently infected by the virus.
 
I want to acknowledge the work of the Regional Canons and Developers who have already put in hours of work in preparation for the Gathering Day, and the work of Laurie Boss for the wardens and treasurers day.
 
Bishop Curry has just announced that all church wide meetings from now until May 31 will be held virtually, or postponed. I am asking that congregations and diocesan committees limit in person meetings as much as possible, and use technology for meetings when you can.
 
Feeding ministries
During this time those who depend on the church for food will still have needs. For our congregations that have feeding ministries, please consider the needs of those who look to you for food and ask if there are ways of providing food that keeps them safe as well as allows for the necessary precautions. Some places, for instance, are providing boxed meals for people to go, instead of having people eat onsite. Of course ask everyone to wash their hands upon entering and provide ways that they can do that, and think about how you might give food if you are asked to stop gathering as a group.
 
Social distancing
The term social distancing has been used by many as a way of talking about the need to keep people further apart to help prevent, or slow, the progress of the virus. There have been guidelines issued that those who are older, or with underlying health concerns, should consider avoiding events where large groups of people will be present. Please know that all of our members should do as they deem best with respect to staying home. At the same time, the last thing we need in an increasingly divided world is more "distance" between us. Perhaps we might see this as a time to increase our relationships among us, instead of increasing distance.
 
I read that a rabbi recently wrote to his congregation to consider every handshake we don't make an opportunity for a phone call. Every embrace we must avoid a chance for verbal expressions of love. Every inch of physical distance a recognition of our need to be together. Let us find ways to care for each other in the midst of distance. If we are called to stay apart physically let this not keep us apart in other ways. I urge congregations to set up ways for every member of the congregation to be in communication with each other and the church. I also urge that congregations utilize members in this work of communication, and not rely solely on the clergy for this important pastoral care.
 
We need to know one person in each congregation who can serve as the emergency response contact. Laurie Boss and Skip Hubbard are the diocesan emergency response team and they need to know who in each congregation they can be in communication with as needed. You may email them at laurieb@spokanediocese.org and campcross@spokanediocese.org.
 
Information
Please make sure that all your information comes from reputable sources. Be in touch with the local health authority and watch for updates from the CDC. Below is a link from the CDC for faith-based organizations. We will continue to put links on our website for ongoing information.
 

Faithfully,

+Gretchen
IX Spokane
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Episcopal Diocese of Spokane
245 E. 13th Ave
Spokane, Washington 99202-1114