Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
This is the second pastoral letter I have sent out since the coronavirus pandemic took center stage in our lives. “Pastoral letter” is a technical term in the Episcopal Church. It is an official message from a diocesan bishop to his or her people, which under normal circumstances would be read aloud at all Sunday services immediately following its publication. Obviously, we are not in normal times. Indeed, I am writing this letter to extend my request that you continue to abstain from physically gathering for worship, and to thank you for abiding by this request.
My staff and I have been paying close attention to our governor’s directives, and I am aware that he has announced Phase 1 of a return to business as usual, beginning on May 1.This includes permission for religious gatherings, assuming adherence to social distancing. I appreciate that permission, but feel strongly that as a religious body the Diocese of Southern Ohio must go the extra mile to take every measure not to spread COVID19. We must make sacrifices to obey Christ’s command to love our neighbor, and take every precaution not to infect others unknowingly. So, as of May 1 (unless Governor DeWine decides to postpone Phase 1, in which case I will postpone the relaxation of this restriction as well) I will permit live-streaming or pre-recorded streaming of church services from the interior of our church buildings, with a maximum of five people physically distant from one another (for instance, one officiant, one or two readers, a musician, and a technician). Masks must be worn. Hand sanitizer or hand-washing must be used frequently.
I am continuing my directive to limit worship to Morning Prayer or one of the other Daily Offices. I understand the hardship of fasting from the eucharist, as I am undergoing that fast myself. But as my fellow bishop, Prince Singh of the Diocese of Rochester, said last week, our fundamental sacrament is the word of God, and Jesus himself, walking beside us. So let us use this time to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” God’s holy word in scripture, prayer, and give generously to those less fortunate than ourselves (BCP, p.236).
I wish to acknowledge several of many painful cancellations in the Episcopal church, the worldwide Anglican Communion, and locally in our diocese: 1) EYE (Episcopal Youth Event); this summer; (2) the Lambeth Conference, this summer; (3) summer camp programs at Procter, this summer.
It is hard, but we will come through this stronger.
Please be assured of my prayers, and my pride in you for your witness in so many ways to the resurrection of our Lord.