Our Sacred Pilgrimage (6/19/20)

Friday, June 19th, 2020

Logo for the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.

Deuteronomy 4:9


Our Sacred Pilgrimage

I write this letter on Juneteenth to share information on two critical steps in our sacred pilgrimage together. I will be issuing a pastoral letter in the next few weeks as to our call as disciples in southeastern Pennsylvania regarding the sin of racism, white supremacy, violence, and hate. More importantly, I will address our prayerful and deliberate presence in our call to transformation.

Our transformation, as individuals or as a Church, must not be superficial, programmatic nor dogmatic. Conversion must be our fundamental identity as followers of Jesus Christ. Our prayers must have action. A faith community moving throughout our neighborhoods so that all people will not only hear our words; they will encounter our lives and faith in the flesh.  Jesus on the move in Pennsylvania. It is fundamentally a revolution of the heart. It requires not only individual conversion, but also institutional and systemic transformation. As your Bishop and fellow sojourner, you have my commitment that I will give my life to this cause.

Over the past weeks, we have gathered a dedicated group of clergy who are in covenantal relationship with one another and are prayerfully listening and discerning the next sacred steps. We will then share this ministry with the diocese, and begin the long journey of transforming our hopes, dreams, and prayers into reality. They are discerning short, medium, and long-term destination points. In the coming weeks, they will expand this ministry to include the laity as well as their stories, voices and our shared history. 

I am also meeting with officials on all levels and working with our interfaith siblings. The ministry in which we are engaging cannot be a program, a short-term fix. It requires the conversion of our lives into Jesus Christ. As mentioned, I will send a letter describing the beginning of our long journey. I ask that you hold one another in prayer as we present ourselves as a living offering unto the Lord.  

Our Phased Re-Entry

The other reason for this letter is to update you concerning our phased re-entry into worship and life together. For some counties in our diocese, the move to Green Phase or Phase III is coming sooner than expected. I want to clarify what you can expect.

Until we have widespread testing, tracing, treatment, and the vaccine, the safest option is always not to gather. That is why I have always stressed that a church should not move to resume in-person activity until the vestry and clergy have prayerfully discerned that they are both called and fully prepared to do so per the protocols we have laid out. 

In Pennsylvania, Phase III is not the lifting of all restrictions. Instead, it is the next step of recovery, which keeps many of the previous precautions in place. This is critical to understand both in terms of regulating our own behavior and in terms of where this phase falls in relation to our Diocesan Plan. In that sense, what our Commonwealth is calling Phase III is equivalent to the "Phase II Plus" in our protocols (see page 9). We will be releasing more details on what may be possible for our churches in this next phase by early July.

As your Bishop, I am called to be your shepherd, which is why I have also said that although our counties may move into Green, our churches will not do so until I believe it is actually possible to do so responsibly. Therefore, our diocese will continue to operate under Phase II guidelines until the middle of July.

We will continue to carefully study all available public health data and keep you informed when that date is established. But, as we look ahead, it is also critical to understand that if cases of the virus begin to increase, counties could go backward and have no choice but to re-impose restrictions. We already see this in Florida, where businesses that were recently re-opened are having to close down again due to an outbreak of cases. For the common good, as well as for the sake of our own parishioners, we all must proceed with the utmost caution.

We have waited for so long, and now we see people thronging together outside at parks and at restaurants. We long to be together again, to worship, to pray, to sing. It is important to remember that secular businesses are transactional for a product. As a church, we are sacredly incarnational for one another. We give our lives for one another. Whereby the secular economy goals are profit, the Body of Christ walks together as we seek the Kingdom of God.

We are called to reject the notion of self and the worldly clamor to normalize indifference to others' needs. Our God, whose holiness requires faithfulness, and whose compassion requires total compassion to others, calls us to a sacred standard that transcends the world. When one person suffers, as Christians - we all suffer. We lift one another up, no matter the personal consequence, and always proclaim the hope of Jesus Christ.

At no time have our churches been closed. We are praying throughout the day. We are tending to one another, we are feeding those in our communities, and working hand in hand to tend to the sick. We are reaching out to the lonely and stepping forward to encounter the evil forces in the world. The Church, at its best, is an indestructible force. We must journey together with a unity of purpose and no fear of failure. But it is essential that we love one another. It is our faith where we have hope, and not despair. Courage, and not fear. Love, and not hate. 

Let us remember God is with us. God is with us in our homes, our daily offices, our outreach ministries, outside in the sunshine and rain. Yes, God is with us in the violent storms of nature and society. God is with us during the night and the day, in our waking and in our dreams, in our living and in our dying. Let us not fear. Let us live one sacred moment until the next holy moment. Our faith is about living and breathing and walking in that light that is upon us. 

We have a long and arduous journey for the next 18 months. Yet, we have hope, love, and Jesus Christ risen and present among us. 

Your brother in Christ,

Bishop signature

The Rt. Rev. Daniel G. P. Gutiérrez

XVI Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania