Hello, friends
First, I invite you to keep praying for our friends Pearl and Willie Slay. Pearl is a deacon in this diocese who tested positive Covid-19, now fighting it in the ICU at UAB. Her husband Willie has also been very sick, and his test results are pending.
Second, I want to tell you that I’m proud of you: all of you – old and young, lay and ordained. I’m proud of the way we’ve been able to adapt and adjust and learn how to work online. It seems like everything is going reasonably well, as well as one could have hoped and better than one might have feared – thank you.
Governor Ivey’s office has released a revision to the public health order from our Health Officer Scott Harris, M.D., (available here), which contains “Guidelines for Places of Worship.” You can find a direct link here. There is also a video now on AL.com.
We all have pressing questions – when will we be able to come back together with our congregations, how can we do the Eucharist that so defines the way we worship safely and responsibly, when will this virus go away. We have these questions and more; what we don’t have is answers. We’ve been trying to fashion a way for us to phase into a return to worshipping and gathering together, but there are so many variables and unknowns, and the facts change so quickly that it’s hard to see where we’re going or when we’ll get there.
So, for now, I’ve asked the clergy of the diocese of Alabama:
  • Please continue to work from home and stay at home as much as possible, and encourage church staff to do the same
  • Please be sure to have hand-sanitizer readily available in our naves and offices.
  • Please wear a face mask and require others to do so when you are within six feet of someone from another household, and provide face masks for others if possible.
  • Please continue to wash hands often, and require others to wash theirs
We will continue our suspension of face to face worship through and including May 17th, recognizing that Governor Ivey’s guidelines for places of worship offer May 11th as the date congregations may gather. As the situation continues to evolve, we may have to extend our suspension later. In the meantime, there are several things I suggest we should do, if we haven’t done them already, so we’ll be ready to come back together.
  • Give your facilities a thorough cleaning, wiping and sanitizing surfaces
  • Make plans for how we can come back together and maintain a radius of six feet around people from different households
  • Work on a system of greeting people coming in without touching them
  • Consider that much of our work can continue on social media – vestry meetings, Bible studies, etc. – even after the suspension is lifted
  • Continue to develop our capacity to offer our worship services online, certainly through the end of this pandemic and probably beyond, for the sake of the vulnerable and homebound, and also to better invite and include the curious and the reluctant
  • Consider what office hours will be like in your setting, so that we can maintain appropriate physical distancing
I’m sure you were hoping I would provide some more definite answers, and I wish I had some. But I do have some questions that I want to make sure we consider as we come closer to the time when we can worship face to face, inviting our people to consider ways to worship that will maximize safety and protect the most vulnerable:
  • How can we come back together safely, with proper hygiene and physical distancing?
  • What’s the best way for us to greet each other, without touching?
  • How will we offer the Eucharist while keeping this virus from spreading?
  • What will we need to do to make our church buildings safe and sanitary?
  • How can we attend to people who can’t or choose not to come back quickly?
I’m sure there are many more questions we’ll need to answer. I think we’ve done very well through this so far, and I really appreciate all of your encouragement and patience. The work of the Church continues, and our clergy are working hard to keep everybody connected with each other and offering worship online. I hope the households will continue to support the parishes, and that the parishes will continue to support the diocese. The world needs the faith and hope we have been given to share now more than ever.
So keep the faith, live in hope, serve God and the children of God, proclaiming the Good News of the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Thank you all for all of your work and your generous support. Stay safe, stay at home, say your prayers, look for things to be grateful for, and may the grace of our Lord be with you and those you love, this day and forever.
God’s Peace,
The Rt. Rev. Kee Sloan
Bishop Diocesan
Episcopal Diocese of Alabama
521 20th Street North
Birmingham, AL 35203