Dear Beloved in Christ,
The situation with the pandemic continues to absorb our time and attention throughout each day. And as the conditions intensify, so must our response. I had hoped that, as we approached Holy Week, we would have an opportunity to review the decision about no public gatherings for worship. Initially we were targeting March 22 and 29, as “going dark” days. It is clear to me that the timetable for non-gathering needs to be pushed out further, and unfortunately incorporates Holy Week and Easter.
On Tuesday the clergy and non-ordained leaders responsible for operations of congregations met over a couple of zoom meetings to discuss this. I said that we will not be returning to public gatherings through the month of April. This also includes church meetings, and mid-week events. Again, we can review the circumstances at our weekly zoom meeting, which I am holding with the same congregational leaders on Tuesdays, for the time being.
Of course, we pray for the speedy end to the virus’ spreading around the world. We pray for those serving the health needs of the global population, and we pray for the researchers working on a vaccine response. We pray for those who have lost their livelihood and are exposed to severe vulnerability; and with our prayers, we will continue to come together virtually in worship, and especially during Holy Week. Below are details of planned virtual worship services for Holy Week. We have asked different congregations to lead us with online services, over some of which I will preside.
I don’t tie illnesses to God’s judgement. Today is St. Josephs’ day, which makes me think of his namesake in Egypt, who experienced God turning bad things to good. The earth has quickly found an amazing sense of breath with the removal of our carbon footprint upon it. The air and water is cleaning itself up without our interference. And people are finding ways to connect and show concern that we may have forgotten in the rush of taking care of business.
And the Church is learning that God meets us beyond the walls of our institution; that we can pray together online, study the bible in small face-time groups; that our concern for the most vulnerable among us inspires us to make a call, or stand in line and hand out Grub to Go. There’s even a virtual abbey forming online and people are sharing creative ways of offering devotions to God. The Way of Love is still around us. And we are recognizing that we yearn for the time when we will once more receive God’s special way of being present with us in Bread and Wine. We will shout Alleluia and feel every tremor of its quaking!
There is an exile experience in all of this; and the exile was when the people of Israel took stock of their most treasured history, poetry, praise hymns, prophecies, and yes, laments. From the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury to the Baptist pastor in the store front, all are heeding wise advice to go virtual in worship right now. And so are we. It is the loving thing to do; we can help flatten that curve.
In the peace and love of Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa