Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. -- Ephesians 5:1
Dear Friends in Christ,
As we continue to walk in love during this time of physical separation, we, your bishops, share with you our diocesan strategy for phased regathering of our congregations. This letter supplements the message you received on Monday from the bishops of Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.
The work of developing a plan for phased regathering includes your bishops and diocesan staff as well as the elected and appointed leaders of the Diocese (Standing Committee, Executive Board, Regional Presidents and Regional Deans.) This week, we are creating, populating and empowering four working groups, each of which will include clergy and laity from among the leaders.
- Group One is drafting guidelines and checklists to support congregations in each phase of regathering.
- Group Two is creating Area Teams to support congregations in developing their strategies and plans for regathering. Each "Area" will include a cluster of Regions in the same general part of the Diocese. The Teams will be trained to support congregations.
- Group Three will develop and provide training for Area Teams.
- Group Four will develop a process for receiving requests from congregations to regather at each step of the phased journey. They will review the requests and submit them to a bishop, who will make the final determination.
Our process of regathering cannot be "one size fits all" in a diocese as large and complex as ours. The plans for regathering will be different from congregation to congregation, depending on the size of the worshipping community, and the size and location of the church building. Because this is true, four working groups that include clergy and laity from across the diocese will strengthen our efforts.
As we engage this work together, please keep these three things in mind.
- We can do this! We have experienced unexpected wonders and blessings as we have learned to be the Church when we can't go to church in our accustomed ways. There is so much we have gained that we don't want to lose by going back to the "way things used to be" too quickly. God is teaching us new things and new ways of being Church, and we are stronger because of it.
- All we do is shaped by Jesus' command to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. We will continue to show love at each stage of regathering by exercising restraint and patience. Love for our neighbors, those six feet away and those on the other side of the globe, trumps everything else.
- We will live out our policies and processes in the light of our freedom in Christ, which is all about what we should do for the sake of love, rather than about what we can do or what we want to do. For this reason, while our phases will be linked with orders from the Governor of our Commonwealth, they come from a higher authority and may well demand more from us. The Law of Love governs all as we do this work together.
This letter describes the process in broad strokes. Detailed plans will be communicated in the near future. Public health indicators are not yet present that would allow us to regather now, therefore we have the time we need to develop these processes well before we distribute them to you.
You will receive regular communications about this work in coming weeks. As we walk in love, continuing to make sacrifices for the sake of love, God is leading, guiding and blessing us. May we feel God's loving arms embracing us and holding us tight.
The Rt. Rev. Susan Goff
Bishop Suffragan and Ecclesiastical Authority
The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Brooke-Davidson