Dear People of God in the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon,
I bring you greetings in what is the most challenging of times. Every day the situation with COVID-19 changes and presents new and complicated problems. I am sure most of you are aware of the news coming from the Oregon government, with the closing of several types of businesses, and hearing of the many ways that people are struggling.
This is a time that calls for the most extraordinary action from all of us to safeguard those most vulnerable. In the end we all know that we are a people of faith, hope, and love and these will endure. God is good, and we will get through this to a new and bright day.
As we continue to monitor the situation with COVID-19, watching for signals from national, state, and local officials and listening carefully to leaders in our neighboring states and dioceses, the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon is committed to do all in our power to assist in slowing the progress of the spread of this virus.
This is an update of what we know, how I am making decisions, and what that means for us in this diocese.
When evaluating this pandemic, I refer primarily on the Oregon Health Authority for state information and the Centers for Disease Control for national information about the coronavirus disease. Both of those sources also provide local and national requirements and recommendations to help slow the spread of the virus. Just this morning I participated in an hour long web conference with the Oregon Health Authority and the information below reflects the concerns they shared in the meeting.
To understand how this is affecting the Episcopal Church, I speak regularly with my colleagues in neighboring dioceses, and pay attention to what The Episcopal Church and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry are saying about our response.
There are many, many people monitoring this disease, its spread, and the best way to respond. I will rely on the experts, and as Bishop Curry has encouraged, I encourage everyone to follow the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recommendations to prevent the spread of this disease.
As of March 18, the following requirements and policies have been implemented that affect the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon:
- Governor Brown has banned social, spiritual and recreational gatherings of more than 25 people through April 14 (Executive Order 20-07)
- The Episcopal Church has cancelled all in-person meetings through May 31, explaining that, “In such a time it is important for us to remember to care for ourselves, but not for ourselves alone. The moral primacy of Jesus’ command to love God and our neighbor must guide us in all of our decisions.”
- Governor Brown has implemented many recommendations to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including cancelling all events that will include more than 10 people in the population defined as more vulnerable: all those over age 60, anyone with underlying health conditions, and those without stable housing.
The Governor’s call to limit gatherings to 25, partnered with the recommendation to cancel events with more than 10 vulnerable people, will have a significant impact on our corporate worship. To comply with these recommendations, it is my pastoral direction to all congregations of the diocese that all in person corporate worship through April 14 be canceled regardless of the size of the gathering.
This means Holy Week and Easter will look very different, and I am saddened by this change. Quoting Bishop Mark Van Koevering of the Diocese of Lexington, “I am loathe to cancel services, but I do support the Governor’s recommendation and think that I must humbly ask our faith communities to practice a Lenten fast of public worship this week as a sign of love for one’s neighbor especially the most vulnerable.” Unfortunately, this fast will now continue through April 14 and this time of being apart may well extend further as the situation warrants.
I do offer these guidelines, first shared by Bishop Marc Andrus of the Diocese of California, for how a congregation may continue in worship together:
I urge you, as you have done, to be creative with the ways you are offering virtual worship services to your congregations using video streaming and teleconference. This is permissible, according to the FAQ guidance provided by all of our regional public health departments (as an example, here is the FAQ provided by the San Francisco Department of Public Health). In order to do this, I am providing you with the following guidelines and pastoral direction pursuant to Canon III.9.6(a)(1): You may have the minimum number of people present who can make the worship service functional, and in any case no more than 10 total, ensuring that none are over the age of 65 or in a vulnerable category. All people involved should maintain social distance as required, and you should make sure it is the same group of people for every service to minimize the number of people who are in contact with each other. These guidelines and pastoral direction are intended to comply with the provisions of the public health order for live-streaming by educational institutions, which are most closely applicable to our congregational worship.
The Oregon Health Authority stresses how critical it is now to maintain social distance. They called this the Primary Tool to slow the spread of the virus. Please be strict in maintaining the practice of distancing yourself from others not in your family by a distance of at least three feet and preferable six feet. Coupled with this please also find ways in your community to be in contact with each other via phone or other distance maintaining media. Many of you are already creating phone trees and the like. This is critical work!
We must remember that we are doing this for the least of these.
I am in conversation with our convocation deans about how to connect with each other. I have asked the deans to call all of the clergy in charge of congregations and to work together to see that people have to tools they need to continue to be community together. Many clergy are already doing wonderful work keeping pastoral care and community needs in their hearts and minds. I commend you all for your great work. I hope that you will continue to reach out to each other in this difficult time.
In addition to significant impact for our corporate worship through April 14, this pandemic has forced the postponement or cancellation of several events, including:
- The proposed visit from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has been cancelled
- My Sunday visitations will be cancelled through May 3
- Holy Week Renewal of Vows service has been cancelled
- Clergy conference has been postponed
Also, in-person meetings with diocesan staff will be done remotely, cancelled, or rescheduled.
In addition to these known changes, plans are being prepared to address any changes that might be needed to our planned Electing Convention and Walk Abouts, currently scheduled in June.
I am aware that this is causing a financial strain on many of our communities as well. I would ask all who can to continue to contribute on a regular basis to the congregations you attend and if you can pay pledges ahead this would be of great assistance. And, if there are those who can contribute more please find a way to do so. I will be working with the leadership of the diocese to look for long term help, but in the mean time I will be talking with the trustees of our foundation to see how they might be able to assist congregations as you struggle to adapt to this changing landscape. Please look for information about this in the days to come.
We will closely monitor conditions, I will collaborate with leaders in the diocese and the Church, and will announce any further changes that might be needed.
In encouraging the suspension of corporate worship through Easter, Bishop Curry reminds us that suspending in-person worship is not the same as suspending worship. There are many ways to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world today. There are many ways to pray. I invite you to be creative, be loving and as joyful as you can. This is a time to be present, to be the church, to serve the needs of our people and to serve the world.
Let us Pray: A PRAYER IN TIME OF PESTILENCE
At end of day, the sun hemorrhages into darkness.
Night closes in, and dread comes forth to feed.
O Lord of all, Creator of all that is,
Be our light, our strength, our help.
You who made the herbivores and the carnivores and called
Even the microbes! Free to procreate.
Help us to preserve our awe, and quiet our fears.
For in creation, only you are good.
We know we are sojourners here, whose days are numbered.
We thank you that we do not know the number.
Give us gratitude for what has been, contentment in what is,
hope in what will be,
And constant faith in your abiding presence.
Protect those we love and expand their number.
Give respite to the suffering and blessed relief to the dying.
Comfort to the grieving and peace to those bereft.
New strength to the recovering, and joy
to those who are spared.
See us through to the coming dawn. Grant us quiet rest this
And awake us to rejoice in the morning.
Written by the Rev. Canon Donald Vinson
Diocese of West Virginia
Be of good cheer! Holy Week and the Cross are at hand, and then comes resurrection and new life.
Bishop Michael Hanley
Bishop of Oregon