A Joint Statement from the Bishops of Indianapolis and Northern Indiana Regarding a Phased-in Approach to Regathering

May 01, 2020

 

Dear People of God in the State of Indiana,

As you may have heard, Governor Holcomb this afternoon sketched out a five-phase roadmap that he hopes will return our state to pre-pandemic levels of openness and activity by July 4. Under this plan, communities of faith can return to worship in their buildings beginning on May 8. 

In granting this permission, however, the governor made it clear that he would prefer that churches continue to worship online, or outdoors, rather than in person, and he expressly asked Hoosiers over 65 remain at home. We appreciate both the governor’s commitment to freedom of religious expression and his candid admission that gathering to worship in person still poses risks to people of faith and those with whom they come in contact. 

We remain committed to doing everything we can to slow the spread of the pandemic. For that reason, we will not be reopening our church buildings for in-person worship this month. The restrictions that Bishop Baskerville-Burrows announced on March 24 and that Bishop Sparks announced on March 26 remain in effect, and we urge that you continue to observe them.

Like so many of you, we are eager to return safely to our church buildings and look forward to celebrating the Eucharist with the people of our diocese. But we must do so with the utmost care, or else we put the lives of vulnerable people at risk. To help guide us in this endeavor, we will release a detailed plan next week explaining the conditions and sketching out a possible timeline for a return to our church buildings. The plan will require some serious thinking on the part of each congregation about the ways a return to in-person worship might best be achieved, and we urge you to begin giving this some thought immediately.

In his recent Word to the Church, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry wrote: “As our seasons of life in the COVID-19 world continue to turn, we are called to continue to be creative, to risk, to love. We are called to ask, What would unselfish, sacrificial love do?”

We believe unselfish, sacrificial love requires abstaining a while longer from worshipping in person. We invite you to embrace this discipline as a way to express your care for the most vulnerable among us. You are in our prayers, and we will be in touch again soon.

Faithfully, 

The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrow

XI Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis

The Rt. Rev. Douglas E. Sparks

VIII Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana

At the beginning of Lent I heard a quote, I don’t remember what I was watching, but it has stuck with me all through lent and has been much on my mind for Easter. “Darkness is not the absence of light, but the conviction that the light will not return.” Read that again slowly and think about what you have seen during this pandemic. It is a nefarious sneaky little thought that worms its way into our mind. We have limited movement, fears (sometimes irrational), social distancing, an inability to express our faith in community. If we are honest we begin to wonder if things will ever go back to normal, if we will be able to meet again in our places of worship, or go to a movie or the beach. It then becomes easy to be convicted that the light will not return. We have just spent the holiest week of the Christian year apart after all. 
 
At this point I am sure many of you are thinking,” wow Fr. David way to cheer us up”.  Bear with me a bit longer and it will become clear. As you can imagine Jen and I have continued our preparation for adoption which includes reading, surprise surprise. One of the books we have been reading has a refrain that is repeated throughout the book and is summed up in one word, HOPE. One of the most important words we ever learn in our lives. Hope. The antidote to many things. HOPE. The counter to convictions of despair. HOPE. The process by which all things seem new and possible.
 
This has been one of, if not THE, driest Lenten experiences I have ever known. I imagine it has been the same for all of you. However, when I examine it I realize that it wasn’t very different just…….More.For me Lent has always been a time of self examination and drawing closer to God in whatever way I can. That has been something that I’ve had to rely on throughout all of this, more than normal. I hope this has been the case for you as well. But what does that mean, what does this have to do with Hope? Simply put the Easter resurrection is the epitome of hope. Think about it for a second. The first witness of the resurrected Christ was Mary Magdalene. This is a woman from him seven demons were cast out. This is a woman who earns her living by selling her body. This is a woman who like many of us was one of the most broken among us. She was the first to witness the resurrection hope. The risen Messiah. Her tears of fear and rage and sorrow in an instant were turned to tears of hope and joy. Just like that the small seemingly insignificant word of hope returned to the people, all of the people. The resurrection of Christ is the returning of the light. It is that light that our hope and faith hang upon.
 
When I was at seminary every Wednesday we had benediction of the blessed sacrament. During that service we sang a song with these words that echo in my mind to this very day. “Oh saving victim opening wide the gates of heaven to man below, our foes press on from every side thine aid supply thy strength bestow.” In the earliest churches those of the Christian faith used to paint fish on their chest to identify themselves to one another. They did this for fear of being persecuted, or outright killed. We have not even come close to that in this time. The reality is that the Christian life does not even embrace the idea that darkness is the conviction that light will never return it is that the light has never left. That reality is the basis of our faith, the very reason we hope. It is the reason that we shout from the rooftops every Easter that Christ has risen with the response of the Lord has risen indeed. May you have a blessed and holy Easter.         

If you have an Alexa device in your home you can listen to the Daily Office.

Ask Alexa to “open the Episcopal Prayer” Alexa responds, “The Lord be with you,” and then plays a recording of the day’s morning prayer from the Daily Office. The prayer consists of a collect, Canticle or Psalm, Lesson, a concluding collect of the day, and the Ending.

To the parishioners of Saint Francis,

By now all of you have gotten a phone call, message, or in some cases heard from someone that the Diocese of Northern Indiana has decided to suspend all in person services and gatherings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been taking some time after the phone calls to really think about this, collect my thoughts, and try to understand things a bit better.

            First things first. If I am honest (and I always try to be so) I have problems with this path we have all found ourselves on. I know that for the last 2000 years the saints have been at the bedside of plague victims, aids patients, those affected by war and famine and the list goes on. For 2000 years the faithful have run into the places that others run out of, that is an important thing to remember. If I am honest I feel abandoned in some ways and a failure in others because of what is going on. If I am honest I feel broken and abandoned by not being able to fulfill my vows as a priest. If I am honest when it gets dark and all is quiet and I am alone with my thoughts I worry, I worry about Jen and our families, our future children, our friends and yes of course the parish. I worry about those who will get sick, who won’t have enough food, who deal with fear and addiction. If I let it my fears can get the best of me. I tell you this not because I want you to worry about me or to feel pity for me or anything else.  I tell you this so you understand that I am no different from you, so that you understand the next part of this letter and that we can move forward in hope and not fear.

            Why has the diocese decided to suspend services? This decision was not taken lightly, nor was it a decision of only the Bishop or just a few people. This was a decision made by the overwhelming majority of the diocese. What I have learned in just even the last few hours is why we have done this. The term is called “flattening the curve” and it is very important. What we know about the virus is that upwards of 80% or more of the country will be exposed to COVID-19, many will get sick and it seems most will recover but the reality is some will die. “Flattening the curve” means that COVID-19 may last longer but, and this the the important reason, it spreads the infection out so that medical services aren’t overwhelmed. This translates to MORE people being able to recover and LESS people will die and have a chance to recover. It is to protect the most vulnerable around us, those with asthma or are prone to respiratory infections, the people who are diabetic or have cancer, those with compromised immune systems. In other words this is the church being compassionate to those around us. What it prevents is a situation where I maybe went to the hospital picked up the virus and transferred it to the whole parish without knowing it and then the parish transmitting it to their families and friends. This has apparently happened in NY with a episcopal priest. I’m not sure I could handle that honestly. I hope you’ll consider this as you think through what is going on both in our church and our communities.

            What can we do? Avoid large gatherings, practice good personal hygiene, wash your hands often, don’t run yourself down, stay hydrated. All the things you would do to protect yourself from the flu is a good start. Beyond that keep in touch with one another by phone and email, make sure those around you are healthy and safe. Above all don’t panic (panic has never in the history of the world helped a situation) and be vigilant. As Christians this is a time to lean into our faith, a good place to start is to remember the words of Psalm 23. We have not been abandoned or forgotten remember that above all.

            How do we worship now? Situations like this are the very reason I have wanted to get back to using the prayerbook in the services and why I have used other prayers out of it. There comes a time in everyone’s life that going to a service is not possible but was not always this problematic. Within the prayerbook exists the pattern of our worship, and the reason that it is called “the Book of Common Prayer” is to indicate that when it is used it is always used in communion, whether that is one person or many, signifying unity in our worship. We are united in both our faith and worship always. Beyond this the Bishop has suggested resources that can be easily used by everyone including a streamed mass at the cathedral, the link is in his pastoral email. In addition to that I am in the process of gathering resources that you may find useful and trying to find effective ways in which to worship together in this time of difficulty. As always I am available for questions or concerns that you may have, here I have to remind you that the Bishop has asked that those too are in the form of either phone or email and not in person.

            Lastly I wish to offer a word of caution. Services and gatherings have been suspended until the end of March but that decision may be extended depending on conditions due to the COVID-19 virus. I hope we are able to come back together and worship for Holy Week but be prepared for other possibilities.

 

In His name,

David+

 

“Lord, I offer up to thee all that I now suffer, or may have yet to suffer, to be united to the sufferings of my Savior, and to be sanctified by his passion. Amen

13 March 2020
 
Dear Sisters, Brothers, Siblings,
 
Grace and peace be with you in Jesus, our Crucified and Risen Savior!
 
As I am sure you are aware, the guidance from public health authorities about how to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, is changing by the hour. There are many unknowns about this public health crisis, but this much is clear — social distancing is an essential part of our collective response. As People of God, it is our moral, civic, and spiritual obligation to care for one another by taking the necessary steps to slow the spread of this virus while continuing to serve our communities with generosity, hope, and joy.
 
Throughout the week, I have received council and advice from our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry and my Bishop Colleagues in Michigan, Chicago and Indianapolis, Episcopal Relief and Development and the Office of Government Relations of the Episcopal Church. I also consulted with Clergy and Lay Leaders of our Faith Communities via a ZOOM Conference Call earlier today. During our conference call, we arrived at a consensus that all in person public worship will be suspended until the end of March. This includes Mid-Week Services, Bible Study and Vestry Meetings for example. We will revisit this decision and may need to extend this suspension for a longer time.
 
This hiatus, which a colleague of mine called a Lenten fast from public worship, offers an opportunity for us to explore alternative expressions of worship. Beginning this Sunday, 15 March, I will offer online worship via a link. For those unable to connect online, I encourage you to pray using the Book of Common Prayer, especially the Services of Morning Prayer, Noon Day Prayer, Evening Prayer and Compline. As part of your prayers, please remember those who are ill with the virus…for their healing and recovery; for all health care professionals and for those who have died from the virus and those who mourn their deaths.
 
Out of an abundance of caution, I encourage you to not gather in person but look for ways to gather on the phone or online. Our clergy will certainly be following up with their wardens and vestry members to ensure that those who live alone or are in particularly challenging circumstances are cared for and remain connected to their faith community. Our clergy will also continue in their good work of pastoral care via phone and email.
 
Many of our faith communities make their buildings available to groups in the wider community. Until further notice, those space sharing partners should suspend their meetings.
 
While the Missioners and I will continue working, I am encouraging them to work remotely as much as possible. Please know that you can reach them or me via email or by phone.
 
In the midst of these days, there will need to be Pastoral Accommodations made for various circumstances. For example, the Visitation and Requiem Eucharist for Sylvia Little is this coming Monday, 16 March at the Cathedral of Saint James. People are coming from long distances for the service and to support and comfort Bishop Ed and his family. However, if you are part of the vulnerable population at greater risk of infection, I urge you to watch the service via livestream. We also hope to have a gathering at a later date to give thanks for Sylvia’s life and ministry.
 
In conclusion, I want to assure you of my prayer and support during these challenging and anxious times. We are called to be People of Hope even in the midst of worry and confusion! I am committed to remaining in touch with you on a regular basis.
 
“Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to God from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen!” Ephesians 3:20,21
 
This comes with a brother’s love,
 
Doug
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Douglas E. Sparks
VIII Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana
We have added a page on our website for COVID-19 updates from the Diocese. Resources will be added throughout the evening and weekend. Please visit this page for the most up-to-date information regarding COVID-19 from the Episcopal Church.