Aloha my Siblings in Christ Jesus,
I write to formally share with you that I am suspending all public worship and church related in-person gatherings (Bible studies, meetings, etc.) for all congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaiʻi and the Episcopal Church in Micronesia until March 31, 2020. We will continue to monitor the situation knowing that this suspension may well need to be extended after that date.
According to the update of the Governor of Hawaiʻi yesterday (1:30 PM, Sunday, March 15, 2020), all of the current confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Hawaiʻi appear to have origins outside of the Islands and that there is currently no evidence of community spread. It is recommended that folk cancel any non-essential travel (including inter-island travel) and to incorporate social distancing into their lives. The islands of Kaua‘i, O‘ahu and Maui have currently been impacted in one way or another by the seven confirmed cases. The State is operating on the assumption that some community spread of COVID-19 is likely, if not inevitable. The Governor described the situation as “fluid.” As of yesterday, as well, the State Department of Education (DOE) announced the extension of Spring Break for public schools until March 30th. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued new guidance yesterday, asking that groups “cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.”
What does this mean? We will have to learn to be the Church in new ways. Our prayer and fellowship will require new ways of meeting (and thanks to technology that is possible for this generation as never before) and, most importantly, it will require us to be intentional about caring for one another and engaging in personal prayer and Bible study. Yes, for some this is a time for anxiety. We aren’t the first generation to face such a difficulty. The churches have closed to public worship in the past during epidemics and natural disaster. Fortunately, the churches and even Sunday morning gatherings are not the Church. The Church is the people wherever and how ever we gather to praise God. We are just unable to gather physically for a time. That doesn’t mean we can’t pray together and support one another.
I am reminded of the end of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians when he writes:
Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-8, Common English Bible)
The suspension of public worship and the gathering of church groups is for the good of the whole community. As members of the Body of Christ, it is at most an inconvenience. The Church is not closed, we – the Body of Christ – just have to gather in new ways and be intentional in our prayer. We won’t have the aid of building or physically being with one another for a while. We are still the Church. “The Lord is still near.” “Be glad in the Lord always!”
Our clergy and lay leaders have (or are) preparing plans to keep in touch with members of the congregations. They are offering opportunities for “virtual” worship and prayer online. Outreach ministries are adapting throughout the Diocese to continue to care for the houseless, the hungry, and the lost. We are in this together.
We may know folk who don’t have a community of faith. Folk who will feel cut-off and alone. Reach out to them and reassure them. Invite them to pray with you and to join in virtual worship. Care and evangelism do not stop just because we are practicing social distancing and foregoing public worship. We – you and I – are still the Body of Christ, the Church. We still have the greatest gift to share: The Love of God Jesus Christ.
Please know that the entire Diocesan Support Center team and I are still here to support the congregations, the clergy and lay leaders, and you – the beloved of God. Please keep us in your prayers.
“No ia mea, e nā hoahānau, e kūpaʻa ʻoukou, me ka nāueue ʻole, me ka hoʻomau i kā ʻoukou hana nui ʻana i ka hana a ka Haku, no ka mea, ua ʻike nō ʻoukou, ʻaʻole i make hewa kā ʻoukou hana ʻana ma ka Haku.” Korineto I 15.58
“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58