Bishop’s Pastoral Directive on
Resumption of Physical In-Person Gathering
Octave within the Sunday of Pentecost
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
My beloved in Christ,
You would recall in my earlier directives, I authorized suspension of physical In-Person Gatherings for worship from Sunday, March 22nd to Sunday, May 31st in response to the coronavirus – COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has emerged rapidly with serious consequences for public health safety. The exponential growth around the world, our nation and the state of Maryland continues to be of grave concern to everyone. This grave concern continues to permeate unabated through communities without any effective early prediction of its eradication. With this in mind, and until a cure or vaccine is developed, we as a resilient community of faith must endeavor to mitigate its effects on personal and public life. We must strive to do so through effective planning complemented by public health safety precautions. Our robust actions must be undergirded by a robust hope and confidence in God’s power and authority to guide, protect and sustain us. The church is called to model what it means to be both a safe and sacred space for the regathering of the ecclesia (community of faith).
Our people have been patient in their wait for gathered community worship where historically we have felt the Holy Spirit move and be present among us. However, we also acknowledge and have borne witness to the Spirit’s abundant presence in various creative live-streamed worship and digital platforms and in on-the-ground ministry. This witness has led me to conclude that when our communities resume physical in-person worship, provisions should be made for the continuation of livestreamed worship. We recommend offering both formats – in-person and digital.
Even as COVID-19 continues its course, we are much more educated, informed and better resourced now than when we began this journey in March. This puts the church in a better position to engage our mission and ministry in safe and measured environments. However, regardless of how many safety measures we put into place, there isn’t a substitute for your individual personal attentiveness and vigilance. While our churches will do their utmost to ensure the public health and safety of our worship space, each of our members, including our clergy, is expected to be their own personal advocate. If anyone feels uncomfortable returning to in-person worship, it is your right to abstain until your comfort level allows for that next step.
The much anticipated work of the Diocesan COVID-19 Pandemic Preparedness and Response Task Force is now complete (see document linked here). Clergy had an opportunity to review and discuss the guidelines/protocols contained in the task force’s document on Tuesday, June 2nd. The Standing Committee and Diocesan Council, including the Diocesan Chancellor, Mr. Ernie Cornbrooks, reviewed and voted on Wednesday, June 3, to approve its diocesan wide implementation. This action was underscored by the assurance that parishes must observe the provisions addressing health and safety of anyone using diocesan facilities and sanctuaries. This document presents a “new normal” for what it looks like to live faithfully into our baptismal vows of loving and caring for each other.
To this end, on the advice and counsel of the Diocesan Standing Committee, Diocesan Council and Diocesan Chancellor, I am authorizing the resumption of in-person gathering for worship and use of parish facilities by community groups commencing Sunday, June 14, 2020, inclusive of the Second Sunday of Pentecost, providing that church leadership has submitted their check-list for reopening and has received approval from the Bishop, in consultation with the Chancellor. Please note that vestries are required to vote unanimously to enact this decision. The checklist is found in the Guidelines/Protocols. The permission of the bishop, on the advice of the chancellor, is mandatory for the resumption of in-person worship. Parishes are to determine what form or shape that resumption may look like – in sanctuary, outdoor or drive-in worship, or the continuation of digital-only gatherings.
Although this directive is issued for the resumption of in-person worship as early as Sunday, June 14th, churches are not required to do so until they feel they are ready, have submitted their check-list, and have received approval from the Bishop. We will also continue to monitor the health care situation as it unfolds, factoring any updated guidance or directives from the CDC, the State of Maryland and local health care authorities in the respective counties where our churches are located. Should you require further clarification on the contents contained in the Guidelines/Protocols, simply email firstname.lastname@example.org.
On behalf of the diocese, I wish to sincerely thank members of the task force for their labor of love and sacrifice of time and talent in developing our diocese’s guidelines/protocols. I wish to reiterate that the primary critical mission of our diocese living in pandemic mode is the health and safety of our communities, our beloved family, and those with whom we partner in living out God’s mission and ministry.
May God’s Spirit continue to blow unabated across this beloved diocese and church holding the faithful in the everlasting and secure embrace of our ‘Heavenly Father in heaven’.
Let us pray,
“Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude vs 24)
Together in Christ’s service,
Bishop Santosh Marray
XI Bishop, Diocese of Easton
June 4, 2020