Dear Clergy and Wardens in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut:
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
It appears as if we are beginning to enter a new period in the process of the COVID-19 pandemic. While Connecticut continues to see one of the highest infection and death rates in the nation, per capita, we are beginning to see hopeful new signs of a downturn in the current phase of the pandemic. On Thursday this week, the state recorded an eighth straight day of decline in hospitalizations due to COVID-19, and a 16% decline in hospital admissions due to the coronavirus in the same period of time. And Governor Ned Lamont’s task force on reopening Connecticut has recently come out with a four stage proposal for the opening of shuttered businesses and restaurants beginning after May 20, 2020.
With the news of a possible initial decline in the COVID-19 pandemic here in Connecticut and other states beginning to reopen, it is logical for us to begin asking the questions: When can we reopen our church buildings? And, when will we be able to resume our in-person worshipping life again? We understand the urgency of these questions for many across the Episcopal Church in Connecticut and honor the pastoral need and desire to resume some kind of in-person worshipping experience as soon as possible. At this time, however, we are unable to give you an exact date as to when we will be able to be back in our church buildings. What we are able to say is our church buildings need to remain closed at least through May 20, 2020, and that when we do return to our churches for in-person worship, it will be a staged in process as we seek to continue to do everything in our power to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. For example, we can imagine that to begin with our liturgical and common lives will be significantly constrained including such possibilities as: maintaining a six-foot perimeter between worshippers, the wearing of facial coverings, no physical interaction including at the time of the peace or greeting at the door, no choral music as singing is particularly prone to the spreading of respiratory droplets, limited or no use of the Prayer Book and Hymnals, and no coffee hour or other fellowship gatherings. And this is to say nothing of how we might manage the possibility, or not, of the celebration and distribution of the Holy Eucharist. Clearly there are many issues that we will need to consider as we begin to plan for the possibility of returning to in-person worship. To assist with your planning, your bishops and canons are currently working hard at drawing up protocols for ECCT parishes considering a staged return to our church buildings. Details will be forthcoming as we get more clarity on the questions before us and a possible timeline for reopening churches. What is paramount is that we do all in our power to keep people safe, especially those who are most at risk of COVID-19.
As we envision a staged in and prolonged return to in-person worship, it is becoming increasingly clear to us that the question before us is not: When can we get back to church as we have known it? We do not believe that there is any going back to the way things were. Because of the experience of the pandemic, we are already a different church. We are gathering differently, we are worshipping differently, we are connecting differently, we are giving differently, we are serving others differently, and we are participating in the needs, hopes and aspirations of our neighborhoods and communities differently. So the questions we need to be asking ourselves at this time are: What are we learning about being the Body of Christ in new ways, now and into the future? What kind of church is God calling us to be in the new missional age after COVID-19? These are exciting questions. Questions that bring hope, possibility and new life in the face of despair, difficulty, and death. These are Easter questions. Our friend and colleague, Alan Roxburgh, who has been working with parishes across ECCT on developing spiritual practices for a new missional age as part of our Joining Jesus initiative has recently blogged about the possibilities before us as we are becoming a new church for a new world. You can read his piece here: http://alanroxburgh.com/2020/05/where-are-we-whats-next/ Note that Al is echoing sentiments that we shared with you last Wednesday on our zoom call that “a global pandemic is a terrible thing to waste.” In the midst of the upset, loss and death brought on by COVID-19, we need to embrace the truth of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus and seize the moment to become the Body of Christ God wants us, and needs us, to be now. The future is bright as long as we keep our focus on participating in God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation in our neighborhoods and communities, and not try to go back to the way church was.
As we look to the future, questions are appropriately being raised about forthcoming diocesan-wide events such as Region Convocations and our Annual Convention, as well as parish-based events such youth mission trips planned for this summer and fall. At this stage our recommendation is that you continue to go forward with your plans for in-person events, and at the same time make alternative arrangements for virtual gatherings, cancellation, or vastly scaled back in-person events. We are taking this two track approach towards our Annual Convention and, in consultation with the Mission Counsel, will determine the best direction forward based upon safety and financial realities when we have more information.
One thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed is the ongoing death-dealing realities of racism and poverty here in Connecticut. On our regular weekly call last Tuesday as part of the Governor’s Faith Advisory Council, we learned from the Governor’s staff that the cities of Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford, were among the cities with the highest incidence of COVID-19 cases, per capita, of all cities in the United States. The combined effects of poverty, lack of access to health care, and racism, are causal factors leading to the high rate of COVID-19 in Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford. Our diocesan-wide commitment to Racial Healing Justice and Reconciliation calls us to pay attention to the injustice of these realities and to work for an end to all that separate us from God and one another. To assist us in this work of addressing the legacies of white supremacy and how it impacts our health care system, we invite you to join in a diocesan wide online conversation on: “COVID-19, Health Disparities and Systemic Racism – A Call to Action” on Friday, May 8 from 10:30 am-12:00 pm. More information and registration are at: https://www.episcopalct.org/ECCTCalendar/2020/05/08/covid-19-health-disparities-and-systemic-racism-a-call-to-action/
This week many clergy and lay leaders have taken advantage of ECCT webinars offered to help with matters related to Human Resources and Financial Stewardship for parishes. Kayla Tubolino our Human Resource Manager at the Commons and Robin Hammeal-Urban our Canon for Mission Integrity and Training helped us to walk through staff and employment matters that might arise because of COVID-19. Similarly, Tiffany Reed of CCS Consulting and Rosanna Rosado, our Canon for Finance and Operations, have underscored the importance of parish online giving and the need to continue to urge your parishioners to keep up with their pledges during this time of “staying home and staying safe.” Information and materials from these webinars can be found on our COVID-19 Financial and Human Resources webpage at: https://www.episcopalct.org/covid-19-coronavirus-updates/covid-19-financial-resources/
Finally, we are sorry to say that even in these difficult times because of COVID-19, there are some who would seek to profit from the pandemic in nefarious and sinful ways. With organizations and businesses closed due to the “stay home and stay safe protocols,” buildings and offices are now more vulnerable to illegal entry and theft. The church is not immune from such vulnerability; and on Tuesday night, April 28th the Commons was entered illegally and a small safe that holds checks received in the mail in advance of processing was stolen. No other items in the Commons seem to have been touched or removed. The Meriden police have been engaged and we have changed the locks and are looking into added security measures for the Commons. Our fantastic Finance and Operations Team will be figuring out which checks might have been lost in this theft and are working with the appropriate parties to ensure the recovery of funds. You can help us in two ways:
If you sent a check to the Commons between the dates of April 20 and April 29 please communicate immediately with our Canon for Mission Operations and Finance, Rosanna Rosado, at [email protected] to let her know which checks might have been affected by this theft. It would be most helpful if you could identify the check number, amount, and date mailed. Upon confirmation of the theft, you will be asked to stop payment of that check. Finally, be aware that your church buildings are more vulnerable to illegal entry while currently closed than in regular business times. Please be both careful and vigilant in protecting yourself and your buildings at this time. On Thursday, May 7 at 6:00 pm, we will be hosting an online Faithful Futures program related to Property Management and Security during this time of COVID-19. Be on the lookout for the email invitation to this zoom discussion.
We close with the Prayer for the Church said on Good Friday, at ordinations, and on other occasions. This beautiful prayer calls us to look forward with hope that we might be a renewed Church to serve God’s plan of salvation. May it be so, now in this new missional age of COVID-19 and beyond.
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas The Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens
Bishop Diocesan Bishop Suffragan