Bishop Goff's Opening Remarks (Q&A follows)
Thank you for being on this call today.
We need one another. We need community. It’s all too easy under the best of circumstances to become isolated, and more so now. We need each other.
In today’s meeting:
I will offer a framework for the life of our diocese in this time of pandemic and social distancing.
We’ll then respond to your specific questions as best we can. The “we” in this case is
Ted Smith, Diocesan Treasurer
Mark Eastham, Secretary and Chief of Staff
Paris Ball, Minister for Christian Formation
Mary Thorpe, Canon to the Ordinary
Erin Kamran, our assistant for communication
You may let us know your questions at any time by either posting them in chat or by e-mailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will have webinars of this kind each week during this global health crisis. The shape of future webinars will morph and change as needs change.
I open with four general guidelines, and follow that with a three specifics:
- Take care of yourselves. Eat well. Get enough sleep. Pray. Meditate. Breathe. God is holding us tight. Fall into those arms of love. Reach out for help when you feel yourself drowning or being washed over with fear. Stay close to your colleague and other groups. Many counselors and therapists are doing their work over the phone. If you don’t already have a prayer partner, now might be a good time to get one. Take care of yourself.
- Let some things go. We’ve all got activities on our calendars, things we’ve been planning for a long time, the regular, ongoing life of the congregation and the special events. On top of that, we’re leading in an extraordinary time that adds another whole layer. We don’t have the bandwidth to do both - business as usual and all of the new things that this time requires. I’m working to give myself permission to let some business-as-usual pieces go. And I give you that permission. I’ll be talking with the Standing Committee tomorrow about how we’ll do this at this leadership level. Talk with your staff and your lay leaders about how you can do it in the congregation.
- Use the technology available to us. Don’t let fear of technology slow us down. Do things online. I recognize that it is a challenge where wifi is not sufficient. Our team is working on suggestions for those places. Please send us your advice and suggestions so that we can share them with others.
- Take care of others, especially the most vulnerable among us. If you have a food pantry, work with local health officials about staying open and about best practices to keep everyone healthy. If you have 12 step groups, talk to your contact person. At this point, it seems that groups of 10 or fewer can continue to meet. Alcoholics Anonymous has guidelines for meetings during this time. We’ve included them on our diocesan resource page.
For pastoral care of the sick, those in hospitals or nursing homes, follow the guidelines of the hospital or nursing home. Hospitals have strict rules about how may enter now. Nursing homes and retirement communities that are served by our deacons are completely closed to visitors. Visiting someone who is home bound could expose them to risk. So make phone calls to those you would otherwise visit. Use technology. Where technology is not available, an old fashioned phone tree might be a good way to stay in touch. Send cards. This is a case in which not visiting others in person might be the best way to care for them.
Take care of yourself
Let some things go
Take care of others, especially the most vulnerable
Three specific pieces for our work together:
- Regarding vestries. We will set up webinars for wardens and treasurers so that we can give them support and share the best information possible about vestry meetings and about giving and finances. I hope these webinars for treasurers and wardens will be a support to you as clergy. But we don’t have up to date names or contact information for your wardens. With their permission, would you please send that information to us?
A related note: please field questions from your congregations to bring to these meetings. It will be more effective than having every parishioner with a question or concern get in touch with us directly.
- Regarding support and permissions from me as Ecclesiastical Authority.
We have a constitution, canons and prayer book rubrics that guide aspects of our life and worship as a Church. I have vowed as your bishop to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church. So questions that touch on canons or rubrics should come to me.
I’ve answered some questions in ways that are, quite frankly, extra-canonical, that stretch the canons or the rubrics, and I expect that will continue to happen. This is a time for grace, creativity and compassion. It’s a time for maintaining the spirit of the canons and the rubrics, but sometimes for stretching the letter of them a bit. So ask me those questions.
There will be some questions that I can’t answer and some permissions I can’t give. These are particularly about innovative forms for distributing communion. For example, I’ve been asked about drive-by communion, about whether people can bless their own bread while watching a live streamed service, and about delivering consecrated wafers to parishioners before a live streamed service so that they can eat them during the service.
These questions are much bigger than one diocese, one bishop. They touch not only on rubrics, but on our Church’s understanding of sacraments. They are significant theological questions. For now, the theology, wisdom and practice of the Church right now requires me to answer “no” to questions about innovative practices for delivery of the sacraments; I don’t have authority to say yes.
Bishop Brooke-Davidson and I will be in communication with our Presiding Bishop and with colleagues in the House of Bishops about these larger matters. As we get new thoughts and understandings on these matters, we will communicate them to you.
Please understand that while it is my temperament to say yes to new possibilities, there are times when I will need to say no. Let’s practice good discernment when these questions arise. Please do keep your questions coming. You’re not alone and you don’t have to figure out these canonical and rubrical pieces alone.
- Regarding Holy Week and Easter:
Based on all we know right now from the CDC and other authorities, we in the Diocese of Virginia will join with people of faith around the world in a different kind of Holy Week and Easter this year. We will not gather publicly in our church buildings in this most holy season of the years. We will worship God. We will commemorate the last week of our Lord’s earthly life. We will celebrate the wonder and glory of the resurrection. We’ll do it all in ways that do not compromise the health of the most vulnerable among us, and in ways that will honor the restrictions that are being placed upon us by our civic leaders. We are the Church, and we will be the Church during Holy Week, and for as long as God calls us.
So what will we do in Holy Week and Easter about
And money (recognizing that many congregations balance their budgets on Christmas and Easter offerings)
We are all in this together, so lets work on options and solutions together. I wonder if any of you on this webinar have a particular passion about one of these areas - worship, evangelism, formation and money. I wonder who might be called to be a part of a team to work on an area and share your best reflections and resources with your region, with the rest of the diocese, and beyond? I encourage us to form teams and work together.
Now, before we turn to your questions, may I offer a personal note.
My surgery, the first stage of treatment for my breast cancer, is scheduled for next Friday, March 27. As of right now, it remains on the hospital schedule. I am working from home between now and then, venturing out only to exercise and to go to medical appointments. I’m doing that to help stay well so that the surgery can actually happen. It adds another layer of stress to this time. I’m aware that the personal and family lives of all of us add layers of stress. I feel buoyed by prayer. And I continue to hold all of you in prayer daily.
God is blessings us. God, continue to bless us now as we lead and serve in your name.
Now to your questions.