Yesterday, after taking counsel with the Office of the Bishop, other clergy, our staff, our Wardens, and our Vestry, I made the decision to suspend in-person worship and meetings at St. Martin’s for the next two weeks in response to the Coronavirus Pandemic. This was a complicated and difficult decision on so many levels. The question that led me at last to the decision is, “What does love require of us?”
Maybe the reason that question came to mind is because during Lent, at the beginning of our Eucharistic celebrations, we are following the long-standing practice of reciting Jesus’ summary of the Law:
Jesus said, “The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord your God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31
How will this decision express Love Divine in our parish and to our neighbors in the wider community?
The answer came clearly into focus as I read and listened to comments from those whose counsel I sought. Loving one another, and especially the most vulnerable among us, requires us to do what we can to at least slow the spread of the Coronavirus so that our healthcare system is not overloaded. It is one response we can make to nationwide calls for social distancing. Taking such steps doesn’t mean that fewer people will be infected; it means that when hospitalization and medical attention are needed there will be capacity in the system. We have only to look at the situation in Italy to see what happens when the healthcare system is overloaded.
The media are referring to this objective as “flattening the curve.” Here’s a chart that helps explain it:
We will miss seeing one another. Worship is central to our life together. But our worship includes what goes on in our lives beyond the building. For example, on Ash Wednesday, we began our Lenten fast with the reading of Isaiah 58:6-12, which reminds us that our fasts must take into consideration our care for others. The Prophet Amos reminds us that our feasts must also involve justice and righteousness (Amos 5:21-24). So, whether fasting or feasting, our worship of God leads us to loving actions for the sake of others.
I made the decision to suspend in-person worship and meetings for two weeks in light of the many vulnerable people who are members of our parish and their friends and families. Such steps may not be best for other worshiping communities. There are many ways to spread Love Divine. We’re just doing what we can in the hope that it will contribute to the well-being of those who are vulnerable.
We will be broadcasting worship on the internet and details about how to access the video link are being sent out today. We have made arrangements for our ministries to hold virtual meetings using the ZOOM video platform. We will be communicating in a variety of ways, including the use of our existing mass email program, mass text messages to those whose mobile phone numbers we have, and recorded phone messages. The parish office is not closing and will be accessible under the normal schedule.
I’ll close with some advice from Bishop Scott Mayer: “Pray for one another. Stay calm. And wash your hands.”
A Prayer for Quiet Confidence
O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer, p. 832
Blessings and Health to you and yours,
The Very Rev'd Ron Pogue
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church