Dear People of God:
Today, I write with regret to tell you that I am suspending Sunday worship effectively Sunday, March 15. The COVID-19 epidemic is spreading so quickly that I cannot in good conscience permit gatherings that could easily hasten the spread of the disease and contribute to the collapse of our health care system.
I reached this decision after consultation with the Standing Committees, and it is based on the best public health advice available to me. My only concerns are the safety of the people of our dioceses and the welfare of the communities in which we live and work. As Christians, we are obligated to care for our neighbors and the vulnerable among us, and in the circumstances now before us, we can best do that by helping to slow the spread of the virus.
In addition to canceling in-person worship for at least the next three weeks, I am also postponing the March 27-28 aspirants retreat and the March 31 chrism liturgy. With respect to the latter, we cannot risk holding an event at which all clergy from both dioceses could be exposed to the virus at once. I am also canceling all in-person diocesan meetings or arranging to hold them online and I ask that congregations follow this example.
Doing our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 will require willingness to make sacrifices and to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. Yesterday, I urged our congregations to explore online worship through the helpful guidelines on the partnership website. I am aware, however, that it may take some time for many of our congregations to begin offering worship in this way. It is our good fortune that this Sunday, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry provides a solution. He is preaching and presiding at an 11 a.m. Eucharist at Washington National Cathedral. The cathedral is closed until March 25 as part of the Diocese of Washington’s response to the coronavirus, and the service is being held solely for the purposes of streaming it online.
If you are holding online services or prayer gatherings, please send the details to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many of our congregations share their space with community partners such as recovery groups. These organizations may continue to meet in our building at their own risk, if the congregation can make provision for cleaning between meetings. Food pantries and lunch programs may also continue, but must follow these practices outlined by our colleagues in the Diocese of Indianapolis.
When we embarked on this experiment for the sake of the gospel, we knew that the road ahead of us would be rocky at times. This is a challenge we did not foresee, yet I am confident that we can confront it with the same courage, the same resilience, and the same deep faith in a loving God that has marked our collaboration from the outset.
As we continue finding new ways to meet this challenge, I ask you to join me in praying for the people of our partnership, for the most vulnerable members of our congregations and communities, and for the health care workers on whom we all depend.