April 9, 2020
My siblings in Christ,
I pray you are journeying through a sacred and deep encounter with our Lord in this Holy Week. As you know, this crisis is continuing to lead us to adapt and adjust. Today we enter the Paschal Triduum – Jesus’ last meal, his arrest, condemnation, crucifixion and death now fill our vision. We have gone far not only in our Lenten and Holy Week journey, but also in our ability to care for one another. We have been creative, we have been careful, we have been caring. We have covered the gap of physical distance through prayer and countless individual acts, staying connected.
Late Wednesday, I learned that the City of Philadelphia is now asking all churches to discontinue the practice of any and all in-person gatherings, even in small groups. This includes gathering to lead worship for streaming. In a call with faith leaders, the indication was that churches may be cited if they fail to comply.
Given that the peak impact of the virus in our area is expected in the coming weeks, it is my pastoral counsel and instruction that all churches in the City of Philadelphia comply with their order effective Monday, April 13th . This will continue until we receive further information from health authorities. Since we are already planning to gather to lead worship for Holy Week or Easter, it is my counsel that we hold the number of people gathering to the absolute minimum and continue to abide by all other health guidelines.
As we know, the virus is not restricted by municipal or county lines. Therefore, in terms of our churches outside of Philadelphia, after careful reflection and prayer, it is my counsel that they should make every effort to abide by the same restrictions for this time. I will follow these same restrictions, starting immediately after the taping of the service for television broadcast scheduled for the morning of the 13th.
These instructions are consistent with the advice and direction being given by health and governmental authorities throughout our greater region. For example, over the weekend, the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey adopted even more rigorous restrictions.
This is in no way a prohibition of live-streaming services. We must continue to be the church and shepherd the faithful under our care even if it is from altars created in our homes. Once again, the church is being reimagined. As much as possible, lead worship, streaming or taped, from home. Clergy, or other worship leaders, may go to the church to stream worship only if they are by themselves and then only if they abide by all other health precautions. If it is absolutely necessary, they may be accompanied by member(s) of their immediate household but again, the number should be kept to a minimum.
We will be offering more guidance as to how we can best adapt to these new limitations early next week. In the meantime, do not worry. This too shall pass and in time these restrictions will be lifted.
I have faith in you. Together we have managed to adjust so far, and I know that through the grace and strength of Jesus Christ we will continue to adapt to face and overcome this challenge. I am continually humbled by and grateful for each and every one of you, and I am blessed to walk alongside you as your Bishop.
Your brother in Christ,