May 14, 2020
In September, the people of St. Stephen’s in Smiths Station gave me a hymn board with a Bible verse in it where the numbers of the hymns usually go. It’s hanging in our dining room, and as I’m spending more time at home for the last few weeks, I see it several times a day: “Let all that you do be done in love.” (1st Corinthians 16:14)
I’m writing to tell you that I am extending our suspension of face to face worship for two more weeks, until June 1st. Like you, I am impatient for us to be able to come back to worship together, and I sure don’t want to stay closed for too long. I miss seeing everybody, passing the Peace, preaching to people instead of a computer, having the Eucharist. I want you to know that this decision to extend our suspension of face to face worship is not based in economics or politics or congregational growth strategies, but in love. I think staying home, and encouraging our people to stay home, continuing to find ways to gather without being physically together in the midst of a pandemic, is the most loving thing that we can do for our people and for the people of our communities.
You don’t have to be in any kind of leadership long to recognize that pretty much whatever you do has the potential to offend or irritate somebody, and if you decide not to do it, you’re just as likely to make somebody else mad. So there are some moments when you just have to do what you think is right because you think it’s right, and this is one of those times. You might not like this, you might gripe and groan – I’m griping and groaning myself – but I think this is the way we follow our Lord in this moment.
For now, I think it’s best for us to err on the side of caution. There is a significant chance that relaxing restrictions by opening society too soon could invite a new surge of this terrible virus, and it seems to me that the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Alabama can wait for two more weeks until we can see how it goes across the state, as many businesses reopen on a limited basis. I can keep my impatience to come together again at bay; I think we all can, and I think it’s the best thing for us to do.
This has been a terrible time and we all wish it could be different. But as with everything else, there is nothing that God can’t bring something good from – I believe a lot of us have learned more than we ever thought we would about offering worship online. I want to suggest that we need to start thinking of our new-found technical talents not as a temporary measure in a difficult moment but as a permanent feature of congregational life from now on. This has been more easily embraced by some of our larger parishes, but even the smaller churches can do it with relatively little expense. Our friend Kelley Hudlow, our diocesan communications coordinator and resident computer and technology whiz, can help you start or improve recording and posting and offering worship online. Her email address is email@example.com
– I hope you will let her know how she can help you. Or, there might be a person under the age of 30 who has a smartphone who can get you started.
I’m so grateful to all of you for your care for each other, especially the more vulnerable among us. I’m grateful for your ongoing support of your parishes, and for our Diocese. Stay safe, stay at home as much as you can, wash your hands, wear your masks and say your prayers. Please pray for those who are struggling with COVID-19, and the doctors and nurses and other people who work in hospitals, and other essential workers. Please pray for our elected officials, and those who are working to find treatments and vaccines. We will get through this. May the grace of our Lord be with you and those you love, this day and forever.