Bishop Sloan has directed that all parishes and worshiping communities in the Diocese of Alabama suspend face-to-face services and gatherings for the next three weeks. What this means for us at Grace Church is no Sunday morning (in person) worship for March 15th, 22nd, & 29th, and includes midweek services, dinner, and any in person group meetings.
Read a letter from Bishop Sloan here:
On March 11, the Presiding Bishop sent this message to the bishops of The Episcopal Church:
“We are facing an unprecedented challenge with the COVID-19 outbreak, which the World Health Organization has just deemed a pandemic. In this context, bishops having charge of a diocese have my support as Presiding Bishop if, in light of the public health situation in their diocese, they decide – for a designated period of time – to suspend the administration of the common cup to the congregation in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, and/or to cancel in-person gatherings for public worship.”
Yesterday, Presiding Bishop Curry sent an additional message to the bishops saying, “The next 30-60 days at the least are simply going to be unlike anything we have experienced in recent history, even including 9/11. The dilemma of what we know and what we don’t know will continue to complicate our decision making and our lives.”
This is the moment we are in, making complicated decisions based on what we know, while realizing there is much that we do not yet know.
What we do know is that this morning the first diagnosed case of COVID-19 was reported in Montgomery County. Most of the universities in our diocese have announced that students will not return to campus after spring break holidays, and that online learning systems will be put in place. Some cities are cancelling large events on city property, and last night Jefferson County Department of Health announced that it was recommending that all public events of 500 people or more be cancelled. Many dioceses across The Episcopal Church have announced closures or changes to liturgical practices.
I have met with diocesan staff and our bishop-elect, the Rev. Dr. Glenda Curry. This morning I held a telephone conference with diocesan staff, several rectors of our largest churches, and the executive director of Camp McDowell. We discussed the information available from fact-based reliable sources, and the need to continue our life together as this part of God’s church while doing our part to protect our communities from the spread of coronavirus.
Based on these conversations, I am directing each of the parishes and worshipping communities of the Diocese of Alabama to suspend face-to-face services of public worship in confined spaces for the next three weeks. This includes Sunday morning worship for March 15th, 22nd, and 29th, and all midweek services and group meetings. We don’t typically do baptisms or weddings during Lent, and I am directing you to postpone funerals beyond that time period if at all possible. I am encouraging the clergy of the diocese to create ways for the people of God to continue to gather in worship, making use of technologies available, or inviting the congregation to come together outside our buildings for Morning or Evening Prayer.
I will reschedule my visitations for the upcoming three Sundays; Carpenter House will utilize web conferencing and other forms of communications to limit the number and size of in-person gatherings that are necessary. Carpenter House staff will continue normal working operations, though this will be assessed regularly.
I hate to do this. The gathering of God’s people in worship is such a huge part of who we are and what we do. But I think that this is the best way to serve our congregations and the communities in which we live. Corporate worship is a tool we use for the task we have been given: to share the love and hope we have received in the Good News of Jesus Christ. This continues to be the work of the church and our mission remains the same, more critical now in these challenging times. We will have to find different ways of going about the work our Lord has given us to do. We will be putting on our diocesan website how different congregations are responding to this crisis, and our friend Kelley Hudlow will be posting information about live-streaming and online communications to help all of us remain connected while keeping a healthy distance. If you have ideas to share, please email them to me or Kelley.
Please remember that many vulnerable people in our communities will need our support as they are impacted by closures and unexpected financial costs, and so I ask that as you explore different ways to keep your parishioners connected, you also explore ways that you can continue to support those in need in our parishes and communities.
Our Presiding Bishop reminds us that “Obedience to the moral primacy of love for the neighbor must direct us.” I believe that by limiting our in-person gatherings for a definite period of time, we are best able to love our neighbor, especially those that are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. This is a time of anxiety for the Church and the world, and I am asking you to meet this moment with faith, love, and creativity, preaching hope in a time of despair, not just for members of our parishes but for all of God’s children.
I am always glad to hear from any of you, and I will continue to meet regularly with diocesan staff to evaluate developments and our ongoing response. Updates will be sent by email and posted on our diocesan website. Please continue to pray for those affected by COVID-19, for the medical community, for our civic leaders, and for our Church. May God bless you and your families and parishes.
The Rt. Rev. Kee Sloan
Bishop of Alabama