Dear Friends in Christ,
Three weeks ago, I invited us to observe a Holy Lent, to prepare for our Lord’s passion and resurrection by a season of penitence and fasting. Lent also came this year with growing concern about the spread of COVID-19 and how best to care for ourselves and one another during this time.
Our original focus was on the common cup and how best to reduce the spread of infection. But that focus is insufficient in explaining the concern the whole population must have for one another.
Discussing our immediate plans with our wardens, Robin and Geoff, we all agreed that the public movement and organizing around a common principle of action has moved rapidly and is ultimately necessary.
While we’ve taken a great deal of time and energy weighing our response to how St. Stephen’s should proceed for the foreseeable future, our decisions, measures for mitigating harm, and trying to remain open have ultimately been removed from our discussion.
The Bishops of The Episcopal Church met virtually most of the week using the online meeting service, Zoom. While the plan was to discuss the upcoming Lambeth Conference, most of it was used to discuss what response The Episcopal Church must take in mitigating harm throughout our territory.
Considering the encouragement of our Presiding Bishop and our diocesan bishop, we will not be gathering in our building on Sundays or Thursdays for common worship for the remainder of the Lenten Season.
While this is effective immediately, I also recognize the proximity to Sunday. This week, those who arrive will be welcome to join us at 8:00 and 10:00 for Morning Prayer. My sermon will be posted online and we will be using Facebook Live to stream the 10:00 service. But all public events at St. Stephen’s are canceled through the remainder of Lent.
Food Distribution through Manna From Seven and AA will be encouraged to continue providing their life-saving ministries.
We have not come to this decision easily. But we are confident it is the right one.
We will keep our website updated with resources, including links to the bishop’s multiple statements and the Presiding Bishop’s statement.
Right now, global health experts are inviting us into a process called social distancing. The purpose is not simply to avoid people so you don’t get sick, but so that we can slow and reduce the spread of infection. As a matter of public health, it will hopefully prevent the overrun of our hospitals and healthcare professionals. But because we must do this before there is serious infection in the community, we are left wondering if it is necessary. Like all good preventative measures, you never really know when it has done its job.
Which brings us finally to what we’re going to do.
After this Sunday, we will not be meeting in our building for worship through Lent. Instead, you are encouraged to join us virtually (online) or in spirit by praying Morning Prayer each Sunday. We will have weekly worship online at 10:00 am on Sundays and noon on Thursdays.
I’m also planning to record videos for our Faith 15 formation class, so if you’d like to participate, you will now have a virtual opportunity to do just that.
Lastly, we are fortunate that our faith tradition has a valuable resource in the Book of Common Prayer. And while we are accustomed to celebrating its genius in harmony together, it is ultimately designed to be used by each and all of us–as individuals, families, small groups, and the whole congregation gathered. In other words, we have what we need in that. And if you need one of these little treasures, I’ll get you one.
Grace and Peace,
The Rev. Andrew Downs
Rector, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
Some links to keep track of:
- News from the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis
- The Presiding Bishop’s statement
- Faith-Based Response to Epidemics (Episcopal Relief and Development)
For further examination
- Should churches forsake gathering for the sake of the vulnerable? (Religion News Service)
- The Time to Act Like a Community Is Now (Sojourners)
- Why Your Church Should Be Closed (Barefoot Theology)