Transcript of Bishop Goff's Remarks on Calls with Clergy - Week 7

April 28 and 29

Opening Prayer - The Rev. Canon Mary Thorpe
Opening Reflections

I share with you today two matters.
You have received the letter from the Roslyn Memorial Trustees about the decision to close Roslyn Conference Center for the duration of 2020.  This action will, we trust, protect the staff who will be retained as well as the staff who are furloughed, and will help ensure that Roslyn is strong in the future.  We plan for Roslyn to reopen on January 1, 2021.

Roslyn is far from the only conference center to make this decision, but it is the first of the related organizations of the Diocese of Virginia to make such a dramatic change in their operations.  The decision might serve as an example of how to make such an important determination faithfully, even as it may cause anxiety for other church-related organizations that have hard decisions ahead of them.  Don’t hesitate to be in touch with me or with the Trustees about your questions and concerns, or to learn from their wisdom. 

As soon as the decision was made, a small group of Trustees and I met virtually with the leadership of Shrine Mont to let them know about it before it became public.  Shrine Mont’s board and leadership continue to examine possibilities for functioning this year.  They don’t plan to make a final decision for another couple of weeks.  We will keep the people of the Diocese informed. 

I address the question of when and how we might return to in-person worship.  I mentioned this briefly last week.  Since then, there has been much work done on these questions across the Church.  You have likely seen that the two Episcopal Dioceses in Georgia are not re-opening their church buildings or otherwise permitting gatherings for in-person worship, despite permission to do so in the new guidelines of the state Governor.  Episcopal dioceses in other states that are re-opening are following suit.  It is a matter of safeguarding the most vulnerable, including our own members and our clergy and lay leaders in our aging congregations.

One example of how keeping restrictions in place protects lives is the CDC statistic that 91% of COVID-19 deaths are people age 55 and over.  The age of our church members trends older, so this statistic makes clear that a majority of our people are at risk.  In addition, the report of Johns Hopkins University, prepared to guide state Governors, clearly states that worship gatherings and choir practices are “super-spreaders” of the virus. 

With these and many more pieces of information firmly in heart and mind, we are developing a phased process for re-gathering as congregations.  Bishops of Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., are working together on this.  In this Diocese, we have expanded the conversation by inviting the elected and appointed leaders of the Diocese to meet via Zoom on Wednesday evening at 5.  These groups are the Standing Committee, Executive Board, Regional Deans and Regional Presidents.  Together, and with input and reflections from many, we will develop materials for our congregations, including a phased re-gathering plan with checklists, guidelines and resources. 

I expect that, in the near future, each congregation will be asked develop a specific plan for how it will live out the guidelines at each phase.  It may well not be “one size fits all,” as I’m sure you as seeing in the materials that are already out there from other dioceses and other sources.  We are blessed in that, while we were on the leading edge of requiring a move from in-person to online worship and meetings, we are not on the leading edge of phased re-gathering - in great part because the government of our Commonwealth is not on that edge.  We have the gift of seeing materials that other dioceses are developing and learning from and with them.  We have time to do this planning and preparation because we won’t begin a phased regathering of our congregations until COVID-19 infections have declined in Virginia for 14 days - and such a decline has not yet begun.  We will have much more to share in the next couple of weeks. 

While many of us long just to get back to normal, to get back to the way things were in January, we know that it won’t happen quickly and it won’t happen in one step.  Amid all of the challenges and stresses, we are also seeing that a new way of being Church is emerging from this time of disruption.  Some have gone so far as to say a new Church is being birthed now.  Giving birth is painful and messy.  We’re right in the middle of the pain and messiness now, and we don’t know yet what is being birthed.  But the Holy Spirit is acting, powerfully.  While we don’t know where this is leading and while there is a lot we have to let go, we don’t have to be afraid.

So again, I remind us all, and I remind myself -

Let some things go.  Especially let perfection go right now.  We are all still learning new things and new ways of being.  We are all operating outside of our old competencies and well beyond our comfort levels.  All of us.  Often we don’t know what we’re doing as we adjust quickly and keep trying to learn new skills.  So we need each other.  We need help.  Don’t be afraid to reach out and get the help you need.  Do what you can as well as you can at the moment, then let it be.  Keep learning.  Keep growing.  Keep praying.  Above all, keep loving your people and keep loving the people whose lives are being saved because of the sacrifices we are making. 

Staff Announcements: 
Julie Simonton and Stephanie Higgins - Stewardship
Ted Smith - Financial Matters

Centerpiece Presentation:
Pastoral Care in the time of COVID-19 - the Rev. David Niemeyer

Next week. Clergy retreat. No webinars - unless there breaking news to which a timely response and communication is needed.

Q & A, Niemeyer notes and more