I hope you and your families are all doing well. Today we are mourning the loss of the Rev. Pearl Slay, a deacon of this Diocese serving at St. Wilfred’s in Marion. She had been struggling against the Covid-19 virus, and gave it quite a fight, but that fight ended this morning. She was a wonderful woman, a devoted wife and mother, a dear friend, and a servant of our Lord. May she rest in peace and rise in hope.
Proceeding as we have with an abundance of caution, I am writing to tell you that I am extending our suspension of indoor face to face worship until July 1st. As I write this, new cases of COVID-19 are increasing in Alabama, and recent days have seen some of the highest single day increases to date. It is also clear that COVID-19 has impacted communities differently, with some counties seeing few cases and little to no spread while other counties become hotspots.
Beginning June 1st, communities may begin outdoor worship if you and your people want to offer it, and if you can do it in such a way that you keep the gathering small enough so that everyone can maintain appropriate physical distance, that everyone will be required to wear masks, and that hand sanitizer should be readily available.
In one of our favorite passages, the apostle Paul wrote that though we are many members, we are baptized into one body, and that the weaker members are indispensable to the body. As your bishop, it comes to me to make decisions in this part of God’s Church that protect the members of Christ’s body, especially those who are most vulnerable. There are no easy answers to the difficult questions we all have. Please know that this decision about extending our suspension of indoor face to face worship is not a decision I have made lightly. I might feel a little foolish for a month or two if we’re being too careful, but I would feel sick in my heart forever if we were not careful enough.
We will get through this, but we’re not there yet. As we get closer to the time when we open the doors of our churches to face to face worship, more and more people are asking me how I think we should go about it. Obviously, there are difficulties drawing up policies that are helpful for all of our congregations because we are all serving in different settings. Some of our parishes are small and more intimate, in others the congregations are very large.
Please note that if you do not feel comfortable coming back to church, whether indoors or outdoors, you are in no way compelled to do so.
For weeks we have been yearning for things to ‘get back to normal,’ with the idea that it will somehow be like it always was. In reality it was never the way it always was – the Church and the world were always changing, even though much of the time it was changing so slowly it was like watching a tree grow. In the last few months, change has been forced upon us, some of it we haven’t liked, but some will help shape the ‘new normal.’ I hope y’all are working toward being able to share your worship online, or making whatever changes necessary to make that sharing a permanent feature of our worship life together.
The Rev. Dr. Glenda Curry will be ordained to the episcopacy at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham June 27th. Decisions about this service are made by the office of the Presiding Bishop, but I do know that we will have a very small crowd attending in person; I hope you will all join us online.
In all of this, we need to be mindful of our people who are more vulnerable. When we come to the point of inviting people to worship, either inside or outside, please give people space to decide that they should not come, because they are in ‘at risk’ categories, or because they are scared to be around people. Some of our good folks will feel obligated to come, and we need to free them from that obligation so they don’t come until the time is right for them.
Again, thank you all for all you’re doing. I believe that in this terrible time there are real opportunities for God’s Church to do what we have been called to do: to preach love, hope and grace; to welcome the curious and reluctant to worship with us; to shine the Light of Christ into the darkness of this dismal time. So stay home when you can, wear a mask when you need to, wash your hands, and keep praying – for the sick and for those who care for them, for the first responders, for the people who can’t stay at home to work, for our secular leaders, for a cure or a vaccine. The Lord bless you and keep you and those you love, this day and forever.