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Bishops of Dioceses of Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. issue letter on regathering

Bishops of Dioceses of Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. issue letter on regathering

The bishops of Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. have together issued a letter on religious services once in-person public worship is allowed. Read the letter here for the phases of regathering.

The Bishop’s Office of the Diocese of Virginia issued a follow-up letter today as well:

Dear Friends in Christ,
As we continue to walk in love during this time of physical separation, we, your bishops,  share with you our diocesan strategy for phased regathering of our congregations. This letter supplements the message you received on Monday from the bishops of Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.
The work of developing a plan for phased regathering includes your bishops and diocesan staff as well as the elected and appointed leaders of the Diocese (Standing Committee, Executive Board, Regional Presidents and Regional Deans.)  This week, we are creating, populating and empowering four working groups, each of which will include clergy and laity from among the leaders. 
  • Group One is drafting guidelines and checklists to support congregations in each phase of regathering.
  • Group Two is creating Area Teams to support congregations in developing their strategies and plans for regathering. Each “Area” will include a cluster of Regions in the same general part of the Diocese. The Teams will be trained to support congregations.
  • Group Three will develop and provide training for Area Teams.
  • Group Four will develop a process for receiving requests from congregations to regather at each step of the phased journey. They will review the requests and submit them to a bishop, who will make the final determination.
Our process of regathering cannot be “one size fits all” in a diocese as large and complex as ours. The plans for regathering will be different from congregation to congregation, depending on the size of the worshipping community, and the size and location of the church building. Because this is true, four working groups that include clergy and laity from across the diocese will strengthen our efforts.
  
As we engage this work together, please keep these three things in mind.
  1. We can do this! We have experienced unexpected wonders and blessings as we have learned to be the Church when we can’t go to church in our accustomed ways. There is so much we have gained that we don’t want to lose by going back to the “way things used to be” too quickly. God is teaching us new things and new ways of being Church, and we are stronger because of it. 
  2. All we do is shaped by Jesus’ command to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. We will continue to show love at each stage of regathering by exercising restraint and patience. Love for our neighbors, those six feet away and those on the other side of the globe, trumps everything else.
  3. We will live out our policies and processes in the light of our freedom in Christ, which is all about what we should do for the sake of love, rather than about what we can do or what we want to do. For this reason, while our phases will be linked with orders from the Governor of our Commonwealth, they come from a higher authority and may well demand more from us. The Law of Love governs all as we do this work together.
This letter describes the process in broad strokes. Detailed plans will be communicated in the near future. Public health indicators are not yet present that would allow us to regather now, therefore we have the time we need to develop these processes well before we distribute them to you.
You will receive regular communications about this work in coming weeks. As we walk in love, continuing to make sacrifices for the sake of love, God is leading, guiding and blessing us. May we feel God’s loving arms embracing us and holding us tight.
Faithfully yours,

 

 

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The good news here is that no one really cares what these Bishops are planning in terms of regathering and reopening. Collectively and as a group their statements when this crisis started were reckless, misplaced, and flat out wrong. After a failure of that magnitude no one is going to take their recommendations seriously.

The fact that this letter is released now is further proof that they are off somewhere in an alternate reality. It's too early to release a letter like this. Did they not get the memo that this is the beginning of May, and that some of the most reliable models in terms of projecting the spread of this virus are estimating 3000 dead daily in June?

Eric mentions Sutton's letter when all of this began to unfold, and to me the most striking part of that letter was the phrase "Go to church!". That recommendation came from Sutton at precisely the exact moment in time that the CDC was recommending the exact opposite. The bishops like to emphasize their communications with exclamations points, so now we have this "We can do this!".

Even my own Bishop in Delaware came out with this on March 4th: https://delaware.church/covid-response-statement-from-bishop-brown/ In that letter Bishop Brown compares COVIS19 to the flu. Seriously, you can't make this up. As the severity of this was becoming clear to everyone, my own Bishop was channeling TV Doctors and prosperity preachers.

They don't get it. They sound like the crazy Uncle that comes out of the closet once a year at Thanksgiving dinner that everyone has to politely humor and listen to but ultimately ignores. That's where the laity is now- at least the laity in my parish. We trust each other and our local church clergy, but as to the Bishops- well, not so much.

This isn't rocket science, and we don't need working groups coming up with recommendations so that the Bishops can make a final decision. We don't need it because no one in their right mind is going to follow a medical recommendation from these Bishops. We are past that.

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Eric Bonetti

Exactly right. We are in the early phases of the pandemic. Not the late stages, not the middle stages. And TEC, like other mainstream denominations, is inherently at risk due to its rapidly aging demographics.

Meanwhile, many states are reopening, even as death counts are hitting records. We expect deaths to climb sharply in the coming weeks, and there is reason to believe things will get really ugly when the annual influenza season hits.

Even worse, I see plenty of churches that still don’t get it, with live-streaming services that include choir members standing three feet apart; clergy wiping their runny noses, then handling the communion silver and altar linens, and more.

And now, the bishops enter the fray, just in time to lend any perceived authority they may have to the ill-gotten notion that it’s time to reopen.

In fairness to the bishops, perhaps this is an effort to get out in front, frame the underlying issues, and actually lead for a change. But for now, it looks suspiciously like the bishops think that reopening for in-person worship can and should happen soon. This, from a group where, inter alia, DioVA hasn’t even bothered to adopt the Model Policies promulgated by the Church Pension Group and approved by General Convention — which, by the way, asked all dioceses to adopt the model policies. And, per prior posts, not that long ago Sutton was urging people NOT to follow the CDC’s guidance.

So how did the bishopric suddenly get the bandwidth, interest, and resources to review each individual parish’s reopening plan, even within the regional framework discussed in the recent communiques? And to Helen’s point, why would anyone take their directives seriously at this juncture?

Heaven help us.

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Eric Bonetti

P.S. Someone contacted me, asking about the reference in my previous post to the Model Policies. That refers to the Safe Church policies developed by the working group involving the Rev. Canon Robin Hammeal-Urban and the Rev, Carol Coie Flanagan, which are developed to protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults (we all are vulnerable adults at various times in our lives) from abuse and misconduct.

The fact that DioVA has failed to adopt these policies almost two years after approval by GC, and the current lack of training on these topics, even among senior diocesan officials, is profoundly disappointing. If the diocese and its bishops can’t take these matters seriously, why would they think anyone else does? What does it say about their commitment to the least among us? And what does it say about governance within the church, especially when the bishops suddenly propose to wade in and start approving plans that involve the health and safety of parishioners?

At this juncture, the bishops have zero street cred. If they want folks in the pews to trust them and follow their guidance, they need to act in a manner that earns our trust. And that extends to the standing committees and other resources intended to help the bishops function effectively. The fact that we keep seeing clueless/indifferent behavior from the bishops suggests a need to re-envision how information flows to them, how they process that information, and how they prioritize their responses to that information. It also suggests that leaders need to consider that true diversity and inclusion includes those with differing viewpoints, particularly when the topic involves governance issues.

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The link to Bishop Brown's March 4th communication is here. I apologize for the error.

https://delaware.church/covid-response-statement-from-bishop-brown/

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Eric Bonetti

I am glad to see that +Sutton has transitioned from his February 28 statement urging people to go to church—an admonition that ran counter to the advice of public health officials.

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