I did not anticipate, when you called me as your bishop, that I would find myself urging members of the diocese not to come to church on Sunday. But thanks to the COVID-19 epidemic, that is where things stand. In this letter, I want to update you on several significant changes in our common life.
After this Sunday, public in-person worship is to cease until the end of March or upon further notice.
As people of faith, we must do our part to slow the spread of the new coronavirus and to ease the potentially devastating strain it will place on our health care system. For that reason, I am urging members of the diocese to stay home from church effective immediately. Some congregations have already made the decision to worship online this Sunday, and I am glad for that. If you have been planning to worship in person, I hope that you will offer the service of Morning Prayer or the Eucharist with provisions outlined in my letter of March 9. If worship is held, it is imperative that social distancing practices-observing a six-foot buffer between each individual-be observed.
Although we cannot gather in person for a while, our common life will continue. I will lead online worship for the diocese each Sunday beginning March 22, and my staff will publicize other opportunities for online worship in our diocese. Please send links to firstname.lastname@example.org. Congregations interested in pursuing online worship may consult this simple guide. We hope to offer a webinar on online worship in the near future.
Our diocesan offices are closed effective immediately and will reopen when I am advised it is prudent to do so. My staff and I will be working remotely, and I ask that you bear with us as we learn new ways of collaborating and communicating online. All diocesan meetings will be held online beginning immediately. I encourage each congregation to make its own decisions regarding closing its offices, but I ask that you hold all meetings online.
I have also canceled diocesan-wide events through April. Further details are available on the website.
Many of our parishes make their buildings available to groups in the wider community. Those space-sharing partners can continue to meet in our facilities at their own risk, as long as the church can make proper provision for cleaning between meetings.
These are anxious times. If I were of a mind, I could quote you any number of scriptural passages urging you not to be afraid. Instead, I ask you to remember that we are the Body of Christ, and we are all in this together. Bear with one another. Bear with your leaders. Bear with me. Pray for one another, and pray especially for the physically and economically vulnerable people who will be hardest hit by this epidemic. Be alert for opportunities to be of service, even as you are mindful that if you carry the virus, your presence is a danger to others.
We are a diocese committed to welcoming and witness. That commitment must not diminish even though we must now take special care in living it out.