Second Sunday of Easter 2020
I write to update the diocesan family on some relevant issues in our common life as God’s community of faith in the Diocese of Easton. First, I wish to reassure you of Lynn and my love and prayers for all of you, and your loved ones wherever they may be in this time of public health emergency. Our prayers like so many of you continue to ascend for the health care workers in whichever area of expertise they may find themselves. I extend our overwhelming solidarity and immense gratitude for their unselfish, humanitarian, and courageous service on the frontline of this crisis. Equally so, the first responders, food sector employees, public transportation workers and the numerous persons living on the fringes of poverty vulnerable to unimaginable hardship and stress. Also, we pray with those suffering from mental, emotional, physiological or any other medical condition. May God’s grace and mercy strengthened, guide and sustain them.
You would recall that some of the fundamental roles of the Church are to be comfort in affliction, prayerful presence in crisis and center of hope when hope seems distant. The Church is called to syphon through maize of uncertainty and delusion to unearth the ‘pearl of wisdom’ in an otherwise dysfunctional reality. Easter is the sign of new life within an array of negative conundrums. The Good News is that the God who reaffirmed the faith and confidence of a broken and surrendered exilic nation (Israel) was also the God who asked the question, “can these dry bones live?” (Ezekiel 37). For good reason, God has not abrogated the throne of grace and mercy. The love with which Jesus inhabited the stable in Bethlehem and the Cross at Calvary continues to reign unabated. The Good News is Jesus is ALIVE and not even shuttered doors in the Upper Room could prevent him from shining the light of his resurrection – dispensing authority and power to his Church gathered in Mary Mark’s house (Acts 2).
I read an article over the weekend in the Birmingham (Alabama) News referencing the pandemic of the Spanish Flu in 1918. Civic authorities ordered a complete shutdown of life, what we term today
‘shelter in place’ or ‘stay at home’ and ‘social distancing’. Life was at a standstill just like today’s reality. Churches were ordered to close for a period. However, clergy were invited by the Birmingham News in 1918 to write sermons or meditations that were published by the newspaper. The Roman Catholic priest at that time in Birmingham pastored St. Paul’s Catholic Church. Father James E. Coyle was among the clergy who wrote sermons. Here is an excerpt from one of his two reflections:
“Indeed and indeed, “the times are out of joint.” Holding as we do with firmest faith a belief that to many is folly, that holy mass is calvary continued, that our sins, when repented of sincerely and confessed to one of those who inherit apostolic powers, through holy orders handed down, are washed away, that holy eucharist is the true, real substantial body and blood, soul and divinity of God’s Son, the incarnate second person of the trinity, Jesus Christ, small wonder that deprived of access to these we hope and pray fervently that the epidemic will soon pass away, that our churches may once more be thrown open to our devout worshippers. Darkness in a sense is at present over the face of the city. May there soon be a ‘fiat lux!’” (Latin for ‘Let there be light’).
It may be equally appropriate to confess that Fr. Coyle’s words 102 years ago resonate with our hope and anticipation. We will someday soon return to our sanctuaries to receive the body and blood of our Lord and Savior. To once again participate in this solemn and holy faith act in fellowship and communion with the absent family we are missing and yearning to gather again with in worship.
152nd Diocesan Convention
I am grateful to report that the 152nd Diocesan Convention which was a one-day format (March 7) proved to be a fruitful experience. The Standing Committee should be commended for their responsible foresight and courageous decision to change years of tradition. The business of the diocese was completed in good order and everyone was well treated and catered to by our host convocation, the Middle Convocation led by The Very Reverend Charles Osberger and host parish, led by the Reverend Mark Delcuze. Our historic mother parish, Christ Church – Kent Island Parish founded in 1631 as the first Anglican/Episcopal Church in the State of Maryland shone through like a beacon. The diocesan family extends immense gratitude to the parish and offers heartfelt thanks to God for granting this inspiration.
The final cost of our 2020 Diocesan Convention came in under budget. The diocese budgeted 2,500 and we came in under that budgeted amount. As I was reflecting on the present inordinate disruption to human life and economic uncertainty we are experiencing across the country and world, I thought of how irresponsible, reckless and inconceivable it would have been for the diocese to write a check for 55,000. This was the cost our diocese incurred with the hotel for hosting convention each year prior to 2020. We extend sincere appreciation to St. Peter’s Parish, Salisbury, and Emmanuel Parish, Chestertown for consenting to host the next two conventions, respectively.
Furthermore, as a cost cutting measure, Diocesan Council has suspended expenditure on the Mission and Ministry budget for the ensuing months up to 150,000, including all professional conferences and non-essential staff travel for the year 2020.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
In addition, the diocese was recently approved for economic relief through the CARES ACT and SBA/Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Likewise, through the instrumentality of the Diocesan Treasurer, Finance Committee and Finance Officer of the diocese, many of our parishes were given
the appropriate guidance and support to apply. At the time of writing most have received approval for PPP relief. The condition is that there should be no staff layoffs by diocese and recipient churches. This reflects a heathy and loving way the diocese and churches are acting as concerned and responsible citizens. It is our way of modeling care, prudence, and compassion reflective of our baptismal covenant.
Easton Episcopal Funds
I wish to reassure the parishes that are shareholders in the Easton Episcopal Funds that the Board of Manages is acting in an extremely cautious and conservative manner in the management of the funds entrusted to their oversight. The board members have committed to meet every Monday to monitor the market and review the fund’s management. I wish to encourage you keep them in your prayers and the welfare of the portfolio they so judiciously and jealously guard on behalf of the parishes in the diocese. I am extremely grateful to this group of faithful servants of God’s church and both amazed and gratified as to how devoutly they are living out their baptismal covenant. We continue to pray for the Board of Managers.
Deacon Formation Program
The Deacon Formation Program continues unabated and on track. Deacon Postulants engage their formation through zoom platform. The Reverend Dr. Canon Dan Dunlap spearheads the program supervised by the Commission of Ministry. It is the hope that ordination will take place in October 2020 subject to the completion of studies and observance of all canonical formalities. It is of note that this program is funded from a special fund which is outside the diocesan budget.
Education and formation work earmarked by the Bishop’s Institute will continue as planned subject to the lifting of state directives on social distancing. Programs are supported by income generated from source outside the diocesan budget.
Resumption of Physical In-person Worship
At present, the directive on physical in-person worship initiated by the Presiding Bishop’s Office ends on May 10, Fifth Sunday of Easter. However, we will await further guidance from the Presiding Bishop’s Office and Governor Larry Hogan on statewide directives regarding the relaxation and/or appropriate modifications of these guidelines. In any event, whenever we are permitted to proceed with physical in-person worship, I anticipate the diocese like others in the Episcopal Church may or may not issue certain guidelines that may affect the safety, welfare and public gathering of our family in their churches. I am cognizant of the vulnerability, concerns, fears, apprehensions and even misinformation that will be permeating. In such a climate, a responsible church should act in a cautious and prudent manner weighing all the prevailing realties. I am extremely confident in the capacity of our parishioners and clergy to discern truth from fiction or hype. We are the beloved community of God’s family and God in the Spirit will protect and sustain our faith and trust in Jesus.
In the meantime, I am in great admiration of the way our parishes have creatively responded to meeting the pastoral and spiritual needs of God’s beloved. Both clergy and lay have exercised laudable ingenuity in reaching their membership. I am so so proud of all of you and my heart warms at your herculean efforts.
It should be noted that your diocese has offered, as support to parishes, their individual zoom account, including the first-year subscription funded by the diocese. Joanne has offered to work with parishes to conduct training in the use of zoom platform. To date 18 of our 38 parishes have taken up the offer. Some parishes already have their own account.
Personally, I must confess from the deepest core of my being that I am truly missing being with you, especially on Sunday visitations. It has been extremely difficult on me as it is with all the clergy. You are the family the clergy and me lean on for daily strength, fellowship, spiritual energy, and deepening of faith. This physical absence/distancing has been emotionally and spiritually draining. However, may we lean on the light of Christ to see us through this temporary darkness and impasse. Indeed, and indeed we will soon be back together – stronger and more fortified in our faith.
As always, I love you and hold you daily in my prayers.
Let us pray –
Shield us, Lord from all evil,
and lift us from apathy and despair,
that even when we are terrified,
we may trust your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!!