Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
I had a frank and fruitful conversation with our clergy and some wardens yesterday about keeping churches open or closed during the Coronavirus threat. We spoke by Zoom for almost an hour and a half. I am grateful for the clarity and wisdom of clergy in charge of congregations, and wardens looking after congregations without a priest-in-charge.
While it is clear that there are congregations who wish to remain open during this health crisis, the preponderance of opinion is running in the other direction. Everyone agrees that common worship in person is central to our tradition. But the countervailing concern is that people who have contracted the disease may spread it without knowing it. I concur with this concern.
To that end, I am asking that all congregations suspend public services for the time being. This is a serious and difficult decision for me. Common worship is the way we commit ourselves, week by week, to the risen Lord’s work in the neighborhoods that surround us. How shall we express that commitment when we ourselves are not primarily at risk, but are ourselves the carriers of risk to others?
The canons of our church are very clear about our obligation to provide opportunity to worship on the Lord’s day: “All persons within the church shall celebrate and keep the Lord’s Day, commonly called Sunday, by regular participation in the public worship of the church, by hearing the Word of God read and taught, and by other acts of devotion and works of charity using all Godly and sober conversation.” (Title 2. Canon 1)
This canon does not necessitate a physical group meeting, but in the circumstances will require our clergy to offer public worship, by using available technology, such as conference calls, Zoom meetings, Facebook, and existing online broadcasts of services. Our office can help with this. Please note that Cathedral services are routinely streamed and available.
I am also asking that public gatherings apart from worship including classes, adult forums, and bible study be done remotely. For instance, my Lenten Series that begins this Wednesday with evening prayer at 6:30pm will be live streamed from the Cathedral. Please go to the Cathedral website for access.
This crisis cannot be an excuse for shrinking back from our obligation to serve those who need our care. On the one hand, all of us, as followers of Jesus, must figure out how to make our essential connection with every other human being an occasion for healing rather than contagion. On the other hand, we need to relearn how to do this, not just individually, but together.
So we must redouble our efforts to connect with one another in common ministry to those in need. We must continue to feed the hungry, provide space for twelve-step groups, maintain contact with sick or isolated individuals, and keep exploring ways to worship remotely in community. Local clergy and lay leaders will know best how to do these things safely and compassionately. If you have knowledge and experience to share, please use your social networks to do so, and, if possible, communicate directly with our office of communications at email@example.com so we can add new information to our resource link.
In this season of social distance, let’s not forget that nothing can distance us from the love of God. May this challenging inspire us to find creative and effective ways to be Christ’s body in the world. Please know you are in my prayers, as I know I am in yours.
The Rt. Rev. Thomas E. Breidenthal
Bishop of Southern Ohio