My friends in the Diocese of San Diego,
These are frightening times. The State of California is now under a mandatory stay-at-home order from the governor. With the exception of going out for necessities – groceries, banks, health care, gas stations, laundromat – everyone is ordered to stay at home to prevent the spread of a disease that could kill many Americans and overwhelm our health care system.
I have been in conversation with Dr. Cheryl Anderson, an Episcopal public health expert who is Professor and Interim Chair of the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. Dr. Anderson, a member of St. Peter’s Del Mar, is deeply involved in the response to this crisis and very aware of its dangers. Under strong advice from her and from our chancellor, I have concluded that our congregations must follow the governor’s order, not only to obey the law, but also to do our part to protect our communities from a public health catastrophe.
This means that our worship will change. Many of our churches have been live-streaming worship from our church buildings, and have found that online worship provides great new opportunities to reach people we’ve never reached before. I know that it’s comforting to see worship in your familiar church building, even if only a few people are present.
But I believe the governor’s order changes our ability to worship from our church buildings. While we might argue that only a few people are present in live-streamed worship, I would say that we offer a better witness to our frightened, anxious world by staying home as we have been asked to do, and live-streaming worship from our homes. I have asked your clergy to support the health of our communities, obey the governor’s order, and find new ways to lead worship at home. This is our time to demonstrate our love for our neighbors in word and action, as Jesus commanded us to do. This is our way to come alongside the world in its suffering and anxiety during this pandemic.
This does not mean that you cannot worship. Some of our congregations will live-stream worship online, it will just be from your clergy’s homes rather than from the church building. Some will help you find other nearby congregations whose worship you can join online. Some will be providing worship services on paper or by email so that you can pray them at home. In the weeks to come, our diocese will be sharing a number of ways to worship with you.
I ask you to do all in your power to continue praying, worshiping, and caring for others from your home. This is a time to find new ways to connect with others from your church and from your neighborhood. Find ways to share the power of Jesus’ love with others. Find ways to support others who are alone and suffering. Our actions during this time as Christians will be a witness to the power of God’s love, that we are willing to enter this fast from worshiping in our beloved ways for the sake of the wider world. And if legal restrictions are lifted, or we get other information, I will change our guidance in the Diocese of San Diego.
This letter comes with great anguish that I know you all share, my sisters and brothers. None of us imagined that we would find ourselves in a place like this. And yet here we are. And I believe that the church has a vital witness to share, about how our love of our neighbors is so strong that we dare to discover new ways to worship our God and care for our neighbors. The Son of God, our Savior Jesus Christ, gave us the commandment to love each other as he loved us. I believe our love will shine through this crisis and bring hope to our world. And, as has happened in many trials throughout the church’s history, I believe this new trial will strengthen our church’s witness to the Lord of Life. As Paul says in the Letter to the Romans:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
It is true that these are frightening times, but we are courageous people. Let us courageously share the love of Christ in our time.
The Rt. Rev. Susan Brown Snook
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