Six attendees at TEC conference in Louisville sickened with the Wuhan virus

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[Episcopal News Service] At least six people who attended the mid-February annual gathering of the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes, or CEEP, have tested positive for COVID-19, the coronavirus, and all six had participated in the same pre-conference event, the network said March 14 in an email update to attendees and on its website.

The conference was held Feb. 19-22 in Louisville, Kentucky. CEEP leaders have been working with Louisville public health officials, who are following up with other individuals who attended the pre-conference session with the six people who were infected with the virus. The session was intended for rectors and deans.

“They are conducting this outreach out of an abundance of caution,” CEEP Executive Director Joe Swimmer said in his email to conference attendees. “Since it has been more than 20 days since our conference ended, we are well outside the incubation period. The health officials believe that anyone who was likely to contract the virus at this session would have shown symptoms by now.”

Anyone experiencing symptoms of the virus, such as coughing, shortness of breath and fever, are advised to contact a health care provider, Swimmer said.

“I know this is a trying time for all of us as we put our energies toward caring for our congregants and communities, who are experiencing the repercussions of the public health crisis,” Swimmer said in his update. “Know that we are here to support you as we get through this together.”

At least five Episcopal rectors were identified last week as among those to receive a COVID-19 diagnosis after attending the CEEP gathering, starting with the Rev. Timothy Cole, rector at Christ Church Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

Cole informed his congregation March 8 that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, the first confirmed case in the nation’s capital, and the church canceled worship services. Hundreds of parishioners who recently had visited or attended services at the church were urged by city health officials to self-quarantine due to possible exposure there to the coronavirus.

Then on March 11, the dioceses of Fort Worth and Los Angeles announced additional priests had contracted the disease: the Rev. Robert Pace, rector at Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Rev. Janet Broderick, rector at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, California. Both had attended the CEEP conference, and both congregations closed and canceled worship services after the priests were hospitalized for treatment.

And in New York, another CEEP attended tested positive, the Rev. Roy Cole, interim rector at Manhattan’s Church of the Epiphany. The church advised anyone who came into contact with Cole since Feb. 23 to self-quarantine because they may have been exposed to the virus as well.

Additional reports followed. On March 13, the Rev. Brad Whitaker, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, announced he had received a COVID-19 diagnosis. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported March 14 that a sixth person had tested positive but didn’t identify the person.

In Washington, the Rev. Timothy Cole “continues to receive good reports from his doctors,” church leaders said on March 14, while four more from the Christ Church Georgetown community had tested positive, including the organist. Parishioners were encouraged to view Washington National Cathedral’s live video service on March 15, including Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon, and the congregation is sharing updates on a blog titled “Grace Under Quarantine.” A blog post on March 16 including video of a “virtual Morning Prayer.”

Trinity Fort Worth said in an online update March 16 it is making plans for its own online worship service on March 22. Fort Worth Bishop Scott Mayer has ordered a suspension of all in-person worship services in the diocese, a precaution in place in dioceses across the country.

“In times of chaos and times of calm, we are God’s church,” the Rev. Janet Waggoner, Diocese of Fort Worth’s canon to the ordinary, told the Texas Tribune after filling in for Pace in an online worship service for Trinity parishioners. “Thanks be to God that Facebook Live helps us come together in mind and spirit even when we must fast from gathering together in person.”

The latest All Saints’ update, dated March 13, includes a message from Broderick, saying she was still at the hospital. “I continue to be so very grateful for your prayers and all the love,” she wrote. “It can be hard to stay good-tempered — and then I think of you and what it will feel like when we can be together again in earnest. How grateful we will be when we can take communion again together.”

CEEP is the largest group of well-resourced and endowment-supported parishes in The Episcopal Church. It is organizing a webinar on March 18 featuring a panel discussion on the church’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

On the panel will be a public health expert from St. Louis, Missouri, and the rectors of churches in Seattle, Washington; Houston, Texas; and Alexandria, Virginia. The Rev. Matt Heyd of the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York will moderate. Registration is available here. It will be recorded and available online starting March 19.