Coronavirus Update from the Rector

Dear Holy Apostles,

Grace and peace to you from God.  The consensus of the CDC and other health officials is that, along with washing your hands, social distancing is a vitally important part of mitigating the spread and severity of coronavirus (COVID-19) in our community.  Social distancing means keeping away from large gatherings and creating a wider “personal bubble” when you are out in public.  And most importantly, it means staying home and away from others when you are sick.  These steps are essential parts of taking care of ourselves as well as loving our neighbors as ourselves. 

However, the danger is that in the process of social distancing we will end up emotionally and spiritually isolating ourselves.  In other words, I worry our reactions to the COVID-19 health crisis—especially reactions that are driven by fear—will only add to one of the pandemics that has gripped our society for some time, the virulent and insidious pandemic of loneliness, isolation, and despair. 

Emotional and spiritual distancing isn’t going to help anyone.  There is, in fact, a direct link between spiritual health and physical and emotional health.  This essential connection has not diminished because there is a new and scary public health emergency.  We need to maintain our spiritual connection to God and each other.  The question is:  how do we as a church take prudent precautions against the spread of infectious disease while maintaining a sense of community and spiritual care which imbues life with meaning and makes it worth living in the first place?  This is a difficult but not impossible balance.  I wrote last week about the precautions we are taking at church including wiping down high-touch surfaces before and after services, exploring alternatives to handshakes and hugs during the Peace, and increasing the amount of hand washing that goes on before Holy Communion.  I also wrote about the sufficiency of only taking Communion in one kind, the bread.

At this time I want to reiterate what you have undoubtedly heard from many sources: please stay home if you are sick.  Also if you are sick, let me know so that your faith community can provide you with support.  This is a time for solidarity not stigma.

If you are a member of a group that is particularly at risk of serious health complications, please consider your options for spiritual and emotional support carefully.  If you feel comfortable coming to church, please do so, as long as you are not sick.  A second option is that I am more than willing to bring the Holy Sacrament to you in your home.  I am currently healthy and will be monitoring my health carefully.  With God’s sustaining help, I will be available for eucharistic visitation, pastoral visits, and prayer.

Another option is to participate in our worship services digitally.  We are working to make digital options available by this weekend for those who are sick or who want to stay at home.  Digital interaction is not the same thing and face-to-face interaction and participation, and it is not sufficient or sustainable in the long-term.  But as a short-term stopgap it may be the best option for some to connect.  Be on the lookout for links to livestreams of services and other activities. 

Unless the bishop tells me otherwise, I will not be cancelling Sunday Eucharist or weekday Morning Prayer.  During this difficult time we need more prayer and more sacraments, not less.  As one of my friends put it, the prayers of the faithful are the most powerful tool we have in times of crisis.  I stand firm in my conviction that the sacrament of the Eucharist is given by God for the healing of the whole world.  It is more important than ever to continue to offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God and pray for grace and healing on behalf of a broken and anguished world. 

In consultation with the vestry, I will be making decisions about whether to cancel other church activities on a case-to-case basis, including Lenten group activities, Bible Study, and various committee meetings.  I spoke with the Rev. Doris Rajagopal today about the Darby Mission Supper next Tuesday night.  She has not cancelled the supper at this time.  Assuming nothing changes in the next several days, I would like for us to go forward with providing the meal.  However, I am strongly discouraging folks who are at high risk of health complications due to coronavirus from attending the meal.   When the time comes we will decide with Doris whether to deliver the food and leave, or to stay with a smaller group of volunteers and help serve.

Most importantly, don’t isolate yourself from this lifegiving body, our church.  Even if you cannot be physically present please reach out.  Call me if you need to talk.  Call each other.  Let’s check in on each and make sure we’re okay.  Above all else, pray for each other and for the safety and well-being of our community. 

Know that God is with us in difficult times.  God has not abandoned the world.  Jesus came into the world as a human to live among us and to demonstrate that God’s love is in solidarity with human suffering.  We are Christ’s body.  We are called to demonstrate to a suffering and fearful world that God is still present with us now. 

Peace & Good,

Author: jstambaugh

Rector of Church of the Holy Apostles, Penn Wynne, an Episcopal Church in Wynnewood, PA.

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