Wednesday, August 26th, 2020
“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8
My siblings in Christ,
May the Holy One’s peace be upon you this most beautiful day.
Over the past few weeks, during my time of prayer, I have been repeating the following: “O most holy one, awaken my heart to your presence.” In these moments of silent prayer, a deepening clarity is unfolding as to our next steps as the Body of Christ in the Diocese of Pennsylvania. We are standing at a threshold that will guide us for at least the next 18 months and perhaps for as long as the next four years; it is a time of prayer and preparation.
Barring a dramatic rise in cases, our churches have the blessing to begin Phase III on Sunday, September 6. For full details, please see the announcement at the end of this letter.
I doubt after these six months of prayer, contemplation, and inspiration, few will be content with “we have always done things this way.” As disciples, we must sacredly disturb the familiar and mundane. Let us not be content with the way things always were. We must discover new seeds of hope and faith to prepare for planting. This is the hard work of personal and church transformation - the revolution of the heart. Now is the time to prepare the fields so that our diocese can plant the seeds of hope, belonging, human equality, sacred inclusion, and love. A place where we live the reality that all people are our siblings, without any worldly definition of difference; a human family with the same divine DNA. These seeds will become the roots of a new church and as they grow, will transform our diocese. Let us not worry about the future abundance, let us focus on the task that lies in front of us, let us go to work and prepare the field. As the prophet Jeremiah said “trust in the Lord, it will bear fruit.”
I cannot help but believe that during this time, many of us have prayed the words “Jesus, awaken our hearts”. I also sense that many others have attempted to articulate the exact same words, but have forgotten or do not know how to vocalize them. I am speaking of those who have left the faith, were never formed in a faith tradition, or are now looking for a greater sense of meaning in their lives and a safe, inspiring, hopeful faith to find the Holy One.
The Holy One has been working and we must be open to respond for this season is a time of prayer and preparation. Our merciful and compassionate Creator is blessing us with a gift few have been given; a sacred opportunity to deepen our faith and proclaim the Good News as it was first proclaimed by Jesus Christ. We have the opportunity to awaken our faith and the faith of those around us, much like a glorious sunrise announcing the beginning of a new day.
Reach out boldly to grasp the hem of Christ. For when we do we will discover that for the past six months, the Holy Spirit has been showering our lives and church with inspiration. In April, I asked all our vestries to meet and plan for a time of COVID, and all our churches responded with discernment, creativity, and inspiration. I am asking that vestries and churches meet as we prepare for the next 6-9 months phase of our journey. I pray that each church ponders the three essential questions: What will we encounter when we return? What will those seeking find when they enter our sacred places for the first time? Where is Christ leading us?
The answers will guide us as we go forward. We have at least another 24 months ahead of us. We cannot become weak nor weary. Our Creator made us out of dirt, and we must be willing to get dirty as we labor in the field. Let us do this work of prayer and preparation never forgetting that we are all one based in one love. We are surrounded by miracles and let us trust and serve. We are not only building our church, but also making our sacred connections to one another, strengthening our hearts, and, more importantly, seeking the Holy One with all our being. Therefore, we shall not fear, we are resilient and we have hope. We are all connected as children of Abba and we need one another. The Holy One holds us in those loving and divine hands and is guiding our next steps as beloved Children. Have hope, stay strong, love one another, go out with the knowing that Jesus Christ is with us always.
The blessing of the Holy One, and I leave you in Abba’s tender care,
The Rt. Rev. Daniel G. P. Gutiérrez
Guidance for Phase III
On Sunday, September 6, churches may begin using our Phase III protocols. At their discretion, churches may instead continue to function under Phase II until such time as they feel called and prepared to expand their activities. If your church decides to move into Phase III, the clergy and vestry are still required to inform the Bishop. They do not need to submit a detailed plan unless one was not previously sent. They simply need to declare their intent and list what changes they will be making from your Phase II practices. They should also copy Canon Wamsley (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Canon Berlenbach (email@example.com).
Although our region continues to make progress, the safest option is still not to gather in- person. For those churches that are gathering, I encourage you to consider meeting outdoors for worship and other activities. The increased ventilation helps to significantly mitigate the risk. We will continue to study the science as it emerges and, as appropriate, continue to make updates to our protocols.
Finally, I have received many questions about singing. We are currently reviewing recent studies on the possible expansion of choral singing. I will be making a determination and announcement once we have sufficient input and information.
Addition of 9/10: Lowering the Age for Youth Activity in Phase III
Given that many of our youth are learning from home and are in need of fellowship and support, the Bishop has lowered the age for in-person activity to 13. We have adjusted our documents online to reflect this. All other Phase III protocols for children and youth remain in effect.