Dear People of Christ and Grace,
I am writing to let you know that we will not have worship or any other scheduled activities at church for the next two weeks.
As you know by now, the coronavirus is now a pandemic. Mathematical models show that the virus is spreading exponentially, and while we can't stop the spread we can slow it, thereby saving lives and helping ensure that our health care system can continue to meet the needs of all who are sick for any reason. Social distancing is our best means of slowing the spread of this virus. Businesses are asking people who can to work from home, events where large numbers of people gather are being postponed, and schools are being closed to aid in this effort.
This is not the first time our churches have suspended public worship. One hundred two years ago, the bishops of Virginia cancelled visitations and churches were 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.
Bishop Susan Haynes has suspended all church activities for parishes in our diocese for two weeks. This means we will not have worship services on Sundays, March 15 or March 22. The Celtic Service for Sunday evening has been canceled. Additionally, there will be no Lenten Program on Wednesdays, March 18 or March 25, and no Spiritual Reflection Group at the Petersburg Library on Tuesdays, March 17 or March 24.
Although there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Petersburg yet, it is important that all of us do whatever we can to slow down the spread of the virus. Not gathering together in large groups is one of the best ways we can slow down the spread of this virus. Please understand that this is a very difficult decision because worship is the center of who we are as a church, but we must do our part to protect each other and our community.
I hope that even though we will not be gathering for worship, that you will still take time to read the scripture, take a little time to think about God in your life and offer prayers for our congregation, our community, our nation, and our world. Because we did not receive this directive until Thursday afternoon and due to some restrictions in our mass email capability, I am not able to send out a message to you for this Sunday. I encourage you to find a service online on Sunday morning. It will allow you to worship and hear a different preacher! I recommend the National Cathedral Service (they are not open for worship but will hold a service for broadcast), and our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will be preaching. Details for finding this service and other resources are below, along with the message from Bishop Haynes.
You can access our Lenten Program, Signs of Life, at www.ssje.org and watch the video and ponder the discussion questions at home.
As followers of Jesus we are called to love one another and one of the ways we do this is by putting the needs of the vulnerable ahead of our own needs. If you are available in the weeks ahead to run errands, pick up medications, get groceries, or meet any other urgent needs of our more vulnerable parishioners, please let me know. If you become sick please let me know.
Jill and I will be at church during regular office hours to handle daily business and respond to any needs you may have. As always you may call or email me with any questions, concerns, or pastoral care needs. (click to contact) This is a rapidly changing situation and we will contact you should there be any additional information we need to share with you.
Do not be afraid. God is good. God is leading us and guiding us even now - especially now. God is teaching us how to be Church in ways that might not be comfortable, but in ways that will be faithful. May this very different season of Lent increase your faith and commitment to follow our Lord Jesus Christ.
Live-stream worship at Washington National Cathedral this Sunday at 11:15 AM
A message from Bishop Haynes -
immediate suspension of all church activity
"Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
do not be alarmed, for I am your God.
I give you strength, truly I help you,
truly I hold you firm with my saving right hand."
(Isaiah 41:10, NJB)
Much has unfolded since I wrote to you less than 48 hours ago. Just yesterday, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. Major universities, including many in our own Diocese, have closed their classrooms. Employers large and small, some in our own Diocese, are directing employees to stay home and telework. Numerous dioceses, including the Dioceses of Virginia and Washington, D.C., have suspended or sharply curtailed church activity.
To safeguard our people and those in our communities and to mitigate the rapid, uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus, all church activity including worship is suspended immediately for a period of two weeks in the Diocese of Southern Virginia.
During this suspension, we will monitor forthcoming guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and healthcare professionals in our own communities and assess new developments and the precautions they require. Further guidance will be issued by March 26.
As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry wrote in a statement released today: "The next 30-60 days at the least are simply going to be unlike anything we have experienced in recent history...The dilemma of what we know and what we don't know will continue to complicate our decision making and our lives."
Holding one another and all affected by this pandemic in our prayers, let us remain steadfast and faithful, trusting that the One who promises to "hold you firm with my saving right hand" is abidingly faithful.
Let us encourage one another by being purposeful in finding ways to remain connected with one another electronically or by phone, so that together we sustain our spiritual health and as one body and respond in ways that safeguard our physical health and that of others.
Resources for worship at home
Prayer Amid an Epidemic by Kerry Weber
Live-stream worship at Washington National Cathedral
Live-stream worship at Trinity Church, Wall Street
Live-stream worship at Cathedral of St. Philip, Atlanta
The Audio Office Listen to Morning and Evening Prayer
Daily Office Morning, noonday, evening prayer and compline
Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families
Morning Prayer podcast
Click here for the March 10, 2020 update from Bishop Haynes: more news on the coronavirus.
from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
A statement from Presiding Bishop Curry (video and text) with guidelines and resources from The Episcopal Church
Faith-Based Response to Epidemics
Episcopal Relief & Development
Get Your Community- and Faith-Based Organizations Ready for
from the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention