Bishop Goff’s Opening Remarks (Q & A follows)
The journey continues.
We are hearing wonderful news about online worship. Many congregations show more people worshipping on line with them than are usually in the pews on Sunday morning. For example, one congregation with an average attendance of 40 had 160 connect with online worship. This is a tremendous evangelism opportunity. This is a unique moment. The Holy Spirit of God is on the move. How do we embrace and become part of the movement? I feel myself called to let go of fear and worry and overwork long enough to live with eyes and heart wide open to the new things God is doing among us.
Two significant updates:
- A major question of this time is - how long is this season of physical distancing going to last? The best information we have is that it will last a while. Events this summer are being postponed, including the Lambeth Conference which will be rescheduled until the summer of 2021. The College for Bishops Living our Vows residency program for new bishops, scheduled for the second week of June, has been moved to an online format. We in Virginia are beginning to plan new ways of doing events that are scheduled many weeks from now. With that in mind, we will continue to observe our fast from public worship until at least May 8. We will not be at all surprised if we will have to continue in this season for even longer than that. We are probably going to be in this for the long term. It is important for us to establish rhythms now for what is going to be a long-term season. I mean our rhythms of worship and our rhythms of care for each other and for ourselves. We are in this together. And it looks like we’re going to be in it for a while.
- Holy Week and Easter Worship - Groups around the Diocese and across the Church have been doing marvelous work to gather and develop online resources for virtual worship during Holy Week and Easter. The webinars from the Center for Lifelong Learning at VTS were outstanding, and they are available for you to watch. Creative, loving hearts and minds are working together to support us. You can find links to great resources on our diocesan website.
A few of you have requested permission to worship in person on Easter Day in ways that you hope would honor the letter of the law about physical distancing. In light of conversations with the Presiding Bishop and other bishop colleagues, and the latest information we have from health officials, I have determined that I cannot authorize or approve public, in-person worship of any kind on Easter Day - not in small groups in homes, not in parking lots or other drive-in settings. I know this is disappointing to some of you. This is hard because we long for community. So our focus must be on building community in ways that do not risk or compromise the health of anyone. Congregations are building community on line, through phone calls, by providing families with resources for worship at home and in other ways. Continue that good work.
I’d like to offer thoughts for your reflection that might inform how you share this decision with your congregations.
First, our responsibility now is not to find ways around the restrictions that have been placed upon us and that we have embraced as part of a world community. Our responsibility is to find our way through this time - together. We are in it together.
Second, because we are in it together, we fast from public, in-person worship in solidarity with our siblings in Asia and Europe and in many states in this country who live with government restrictions that are tighter than our own. We do it because we are part of something much bigger than our own congregations, much bigger than our Diocese. This time of solidarity reminds us that it’s not about us, singular, but about us, plural.
We also care about our neighbors. In one of our churches in a southern state, the priest developed an outdoor worship service during which people would stay in their cars. People came by the carloads. Neighbors were alarmed and afraid about such a large gathering of people next door to them and called the police to disperse the crowd. In this time of new opportunities for evangelism, and in this time when we are all in it together, relationships with our neighbors of every kind are vitally important. We don’t want to risk the health of the most vulnerable; neither do we want to harm relationships with our neighbors.
Third, in this season we can honor the centrality of the Eucharist in our lives by living into our longing for it. We can share a spiritual communion. We can also remember that we are people of word and sacrament and, during this season until we can gather for the sacrament again, we can lean into and lean upon the Word, sharing it fully in this moment of great evangelistic opportunity
How does this affect our lives in this Diocese?
We are rescheduling or redesigning many upcoming events.
We will reschedule the Renewal of Ordination Vows for clergy until the fall.
The Clergy Retreat scheduled for Shrine Mont May 4-6 cannot happen in person. Instead, we will offer a one-day virtual retreat on Tuesday, May 5. We’re designing it now and will send details soon. I hope many of you will be a part of the rhythm of the retreat day, when we will gather electronically a few times during the day, then be sent off for times of reflecting. We will set up small group chat rooms for those who would like to reflect with others during the day.
The Ordination service for five deacons remains on the calendar for June 6. In another month or so, when we have more of a sense about how long this season will last, we will make decisions about that service.
A decision about the Episcopal Youth Event, scheduled for July 7-11 in Baltimore, has not yet been made. We are asked to pause for a time in making payments or travel arrangements for our youth.