Dear People of the Diocese of Virginia,
As the Coronavirus spreads, we are called as people of faith to protect one another, particularly the most vulnerable among us. As a step toward doing this, Bishop Brooke-Davidson, three diocesan staff members and I met virtually with 185 of our clergy this afternoon and conveyed to them the decision that we will not physically gather for worship in our church buildings for the next two weeks, between now and March 25. Toward the end of the two weeks, we will assess the situation and adjust as necessary.
An early version of a Washington Post online article says that we have “closed” our churches for two weeks. That is not correct. Churches may remain open, unless told otherwise by local health officials. Church staff may come to work. We will not, however, gather physically for public worship.
Why? The Coronavirus is now a pandemic and we are responsible for one another, especially for the most vulnerable among us. Mathematical models show that the virus is spreading exponentially. We can’t stop the spread, but we can slow it, thereby saving lives and helping ensure that our health care system remains effective. Social distancing is our best means of slowing the spread. The Diocese of Washington has made the same decision as COVID-19 cases increase in the DC urban and suburban area.
This is not the first time that our churches have suspended public worship. One hundred two years ago, bishops cancelled visitations and churches closed for two to six weeks during the great flu epidemic. As it was then, these are extraordinary and unusual times. They require extraordinary and unusual measures.
While we won’t gather in our churches for worship these next two Sundays, God will be worshipped and praised. By the end of the day tomorrow we will send you resources for virtual worship with a variety of options for churches of every size. We’ll also include links with answers to questions that clergy of the diocese asked this afternoon during the ZOOM meetings, and other questions we receive.
Do not be afraid. God is good. God is leading us and guiding us even now. God is teaching us how to be Church in ways that might not be comfortable, but in ways that will be faithful.
God bless you and God bless us all as we care for one another, especially the most vulnerable among us.
Bishop Suffragan and Ecclesiastical Authority
Holy, Gracious, Loving God; Our times are in your hands, and these times have brought us to a strange moment. We read the news. We hear the stories. We know of people who have either tested positive for the Coronavirus or have been in a room with people who have tested positive. And we wonder. We know that there is fear out there, and we ask you to help us to turn this fear, our fear, into an opportunity for your love. We pray for all who have been affected by this illness, for those who are afraid, for all healthcare workers, for our hospital system, for all leaders who are making decisions that affect their people. Guide us all, because we haven’t done this before and we are figuring out how to do it as we are doing it. Lead us, bless us, fill us with your peace and with your presence, so that our faith may always exceed our fear, and that we may be a part of the healing work that you are doing. And we pray it all in Jesus’ name. Amen.