This message from Bishop Alan M. Gates was issued by e-mail on March 21 to clergy and diocesan and parish leadership.
March 21, 2020
*** Please be aware, as we are, that some guidelines below may be superseded by rapidly changing circumstances. ***
Dear Clergy and Lay Leaders of Our Diocese,
In the midst of the ceaseless round of Zoom conferences and evolving updates from public officials, I remain hopeful and grounded by virtue of knowing that each of you is serving faithfully in your local congregations and communities. Thank you!
Bishop Gayle Harris has extended to our diocese a welcomed pastoral word in her letter yesterday. This follows my own pastoral reflection last Saturday. As your bishops, Gayle and I commit to sending such a pastoral communiqué to you each Friday for as long as this crisis endures. Knowing that not all those in our pews receive diocesan communications or follow our social media, I hope that you will feel encouraged to extend these pastoral letters to your people through your own channels, and/or read from them in your weekend virtual gatherings, or in other ways you deem best.
Like you, we are feverishly absorbing and responding to latest developments. Many decisions and plans are pending. Consultation with diocesan leaders and other New England bishops is constantly ongoing. Your prayers and patience are bidden!
- It is now clear that all in-person public worship services must be cancelled through Holy Week and Easter Day. This is a bitter reality for us all, but represents our need to care for one another and our wider community. An extended period of cancellations is to be expected.
- Liturgical plans are underway for diocesan offering of virtual worship for the Triduum and Easter Day, to be shaped as circumstances allow. These offerings will be available to all, but need not replace any virtual offerings for which your congregation has already been laying plans. Like you, we are striving for newly imagined collaborations and shared virtual community.
- During this time of necessitated fasting from eucharistic nourishment, our deep sense of loss may tempt us to “work-arounds” that are not theologically or epidemiologically advised. Remote online pseudo-consecrations are not sanctioned; outdoor Eucharists cannot realistically comply with public health guidelines. Instead, be encouraged to explore the tradition of Spiritual Communion (as suggested in Bishop Gayle’s pastoral letter), or by some creative version of an online agape meal, during which readings and prayers could be complemented by a simultaneous moment of enjoying one’s own comestibles.
- Numerous resources for at-home worship are commended. See our updated roster of churches offering online worship here. Bishop Gayle’s pastoral letter reviews Book of Common Prayer resources for home devotions. Our diocesan website will soon offer an expanded listing of further at-home and online resources. Remember that Morning Prayer is a strong and viable option for both individual and communual online worship.
- We are deeply aware that the current crisis will have dramatic effect on finances not only in our households, but also in our congregations and our diocese. At the local and churchwide level, these conversations are underway. The timing of investment draws, amelioration of assessments, emergency relief appeals–all of these and more are being evaluated for their potential impact on our life together.
- Specific budgetary ideas and recommendations for congregations from our congregational consultants, the Massachusetts Council of Churches and others will be shared next week, as well as tips for congregations desiring to initiate online giving, and more.
- In all of this, we must hold as paramount our concern for those most economically vulnerable in our congregations and communities. There is no doubt that various forms of sacrifice will be called for. “Where your treasure is, there your heart is also.”
Caring for one another:
- It is critical that everyone remain at home unless it is essential to go out, abiding by the most cautious of guidelines and restrictions. This is precisely because we care for one another, and must not–however inadvertently–risk spreading this deadly virus. We are told that we can be passing the virus to others for at least five days before we have any symptoms ourselves. For now, “virtual” presence is “virtuous” indeed.
- Perhaps at no time in our memory have we been challenged more fully to live into the oft-quoted truth that “The church is not the building.” The doors are closed; the Church is not! Bishop Gayle’s letter reminds us that the closing of our church buildings “will temporarily keep us from public worship and providing ministry in our physical presence, but they do not dismantle our pastoral and spiritual ministries in the world and with each other.”
- In addition to virtual worship, use every means available to stay in community with one another! Clergy, pastoral care teams and, indeed, every member should reach out with frequent calls, cards, “buddy systems,” checking in–any way to assure that our "social distancing" is physical only. Phone, Zoom, Skype, e-mails…use whatever means you can to assure others that they are remembered and supported!
Faithfully and fondly,
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts, crippling anxieties and self-centeredness which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [The Book of Common Prayer, p. 218; alt.]