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,
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.