Dear People of God in the Dioceses of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania:
As the governors of our states begin outlining plans to reopen economies after Covid-19 shutdowns, it is clear that the risks of gathering in groups is still significant, particularly for people who are vulnerable to the most serious effects of the virus. As a result, I must ask that we continue our suspension of in-person worship, meetings, and gatherings until at least July 1.
I know that many of us long to be together again, to share communion, and to worship in our sacred spaces. As we continue abstaining from the rituals and sacraments we love, I urge you to find comfort in the knowledge that we are making sacrifices for the common good. As precious as in-person worship is to us, the lives of people in our congregations and communities are infinitely more so.
Between now and July 1, we have many decisions to make together about how we can safely gather in person. I met online earlier today with the clergy of our dioceses to begin these discussions, and I have asked the mission strategy group to continue this work as part of its larger exploration of how we will respond to the needs of our communities in the wake of the pandemic. I will be in touch again in the coming weeks to update you on how we will take the first steps toward regathering in person.
In the meantime, I encourage you to continue gathering online for worship, bible study, check-ins and all the other virtual gatherings that people across our partnership have devised to stay connected and to share God’s love. We will continue offering Sunday worship online at 10 a.m. each week with rotating leadership from across our dioceses, and I invite everyone to join. Find login information on the website.
I also urge you to continue finding safe ways of serving our vulnerable neighbors through takeout meals, food pantry pickups and deliveries. Even as state restrictions are eased, we must continue to safeguard the health and safety of our faithful volunteers and of those who depend on the meals we serve and the supplies we provide. Our Easter offering continues to support feeding programs across our region, and you can donate online until May 31 to continue caring for those most in need.
In the last few weeks, a group of leaders on the mission strategy team has gathered to begin defining the values that will guide us as we reopen our buildings. The team is also considering the new ways in which these buildings might be used once they are again places of safety and sustenance. In a draft of their work, they write, “We hold fast to the assurance that when two or three or more gather, even digitally, God has promised to be in our midst. Even in the wilderness of exile or pandemic, we are certain that God is with us and is calling us to new ways of living out our mission.” These words will sustain me for the days ahead, and I hope their assurance of God’s steadfast care will also give you hope.
As we continue this journey in the wilderness of the pandemic, please pray for those who are sick from this terrible virus, those who have died, and all those who are laboring in essential, yet often thankless jobs on the front lines of the response. Thank you for your perseverance and your continued willingness to sacrifice for those most in need.