My dear Brothers and Sisters,
During the last two weeks, Bishops Mary and Allen and I engaged a great number of you in Zoom "pastoral check-ins" across the diocese, and it was for each of us a privilege to gather you all together, however remotely. We got to hear from you the ways in which you are continuing to provide worship, education and fellowship, as well as your essential outreach ministries, in new ways. It was inspiring to discover how much people need and love their church, and the capacity of our communities to retain and build connections with one another even in the midst of crisis and epidemic. But mostly, we were gratified to see that you are well, and are coping under extraordinary circumstances, and even thriving. You continue to be a blessing to us and are always in our prayers and in our thoughts.
In March, when I suspended public worship in the Diocese of New York until May 17, I followed the CDC guidelines which asked that we avoid public gatherings for eight weeks. But we are now going into May, and many of you have asked when we might look to the re-opening of our churches. It is clear to us that we will still be through the month of May, in an active, though perhaps waning pandemic, and we know that the period of suspension of public worship must be extended. We three bishops in the Diocese of New York are in conversation with the bishops in the Diocese of Long Island, so that the two dioceses which overlap New York City and the surrounding area may coordinate our decisions.
We have come to the conclusion that a new target for re-opening our churches for worship can be no sooner than the end of June. Therefore, with this letter,
I am directing that public worship in the Diocese of New York continue in suspension until July 1.
We know that whenever we resume public worship we will do so while the epidemic of COVID-19 continues around us, but at the threshold of May the state of New York is still seeing four to six thousand new cases every day, and the bulk of those cases are clustered in the dioceses of New York and Long Island. We know that the beginning of a return to ordinary life will bring a new surge in cases of the virus, and we must do everything we can not to contribute to that, and everything we can to keep our people safe.
This decision is subject to the changes which may come in an evolving story, and all decisions will be made in light of the guidelines and directions we receive from public health officials and the Governor of New York.
During May and June, we will be studying ways in which we can come back together for worship in July under the limitations which will certainly still be placed on public gatherings, including the use of masks and distancing. We are anticipating a period during which we will need to hold more services with fewer people in attendance, both at church and in homes. Bishop Allen will be particularly involved in the development of models of adaptive ministry. We are anticipating that until there are effective therapies to treat COVID-19, and a vaccine, we will need to continue our congregational lives under modified conditions. Well before we begin to resume public worship, I will write to you again with directions for a phased return to public worship and the re-opening of our churches.
I am so proud of you and the ways in which you have led your churches during an extraordinary period for which we had little warning. The months to come will continue to require of us all of our patience, our best selves, and all our confidence in God. But I am certain that the hardships of these days are but the birth-pangs of the new church which will come to life out of crisis. Soon we will be called to build that new church together, and until then we must endure and overcome and carry our parishes forward in courage and faith. And as always, I remain