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,
“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”