Tuesday, November 17th, 2020
More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8)
My siblings in Christ,
Throughout this time, I have witnessed in both large and small ways the expression of love throughout the diocese. Yes, we have had a difficult journey, but it is one we share with the entire world. We are not alone and this strengthens our resolve. We love one another, we pray for one another, we praise one another and we protect one another. Through this we demonstrate our deep love for the Holy One. And this is what truly matters. As Paul writes, everything else is just rubbish so that we may gain Christ.
We are entering another resting place on our pilgrimage. With our Lord, there are no coincidences. As we enter into Advent, our call is to focus deeply on Christ and how that reorders the essential things in life. As John the Baptist proclaims: “We must decrease so that he may increase.” In this dark time we must be a light that radiates the love of the most Holy One. Let our love for one another be like a fire that throws a luminous and clear flame.
I care deeply about each one of our churches and each one of you. We cannot ignore the surging numbers or pretend they do not exist. We are at a critical juncture and I will not take a chance with your health and safety.
As I wrote over the weekend, I am deeply concerned about the surging number of COVID-19 cases in our diocese. I have said all along that if the numbers started to move in the wrong direction, that our diocese would revert back to previous phases of our protocols. Therefore, after carefully studying key metrics such as the rate of new cases, infection and positivity, and factoring in the likely rise in additional cases as college students come home and people gather for Thanksgiving, I have made the following determinations:
For the next three weeks (11/22-12/13), all our churches will revert to a modified version of our Phase II Protocols. Key elements include:
All other aspects of the Phase II Protocols shall apply. Please ensure you work from the version linked above as it has been updated to reflect current practices. We will continue to closely monitor the numbers and re-evaluate making a determination on the path forward during the week of December 14.
To assist you in your Advent and Christmas planning, we have posted an extensive list of resources to our website as part of Serviam. If you have questions about planning services or how to interpret and apply the protocols, please contact Canon Shawn Wamsley, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Canon Kirk Berlenbach, email@example.com. If your church requires special accommodation for a service or event that would otherwise be affected by these safety measures (such as a scheduled baptism), please contact them to discuss your options so that you can then present a proposal to me for consideration.
I would also like to remind you that the Board of Trustees has set aside emergency funds for any church whose finances have been adversely affected by the pandemic. There is a brief questionnaire (here). All requests are addressed promptly. Applications should be submitted to Canon Doug Horner, firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are in need of hand sanitizer or support in finding cleaning/sanitizing products, please also contact Canon Horner.
In addition, I am working with the Board of Trustees to identify funds to assist churches in upgrading their A/V systems and capacity to stream and record worship. More information on this will be announced early in 2021.
The timing of all this is unfortunate. But we do not lose hope- we have come so far by leaning on one another and through trusting in the Holy One. Our efforts and sacrifices have not been in vain. To date we do not know of anyone who has gotten sick as a result of attending church. This is tangible proof of our commitment to, and love for, one another. Buoyed by this success, we can continue to push forward. Hope is on the horizon- a second vaccine has just been announced and we can look forward to a time when this pandemic will finally start to subside.
This path forward has arisen out of prayer and out of my great love for each one of you. As your shepherd and fellow pilgrim, I can do no less. We journey forward together as one people, one diocese, one body in Christ. We hold one another in love and in constant prayer, knowing that it is the Holy One who will guide our steps and lead us through the wilderness into the green pastures he has prepared for us. Those pastures are not far off, we take this time to rest, prepare, keep watch for danger and then carry on in faith.
Your Sibling In Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Daniel G. P. Gutiérrez
XVI Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania