My Friends in the Diocese of San Diego,
As you know, we are facing an unprecedented health crisis in our world because of the new coronavirus. In Italy and other countries, the health care system is overwhelmed and people are dying from lack of available resources. Sadly, the virus is here in the United States and it is spreading rapidly. A number of new cases have been discovered here in our area in the Diocese of San Diego.
I issued a letter just two days ago with a number of precautions that I asked our churches to take. The situation has changed since then. For those of our churches that are located in the Counties of San Diego and Riverside, as of today, our counties have banned gatherings of more than 250 people. This ban is legally enforceable. In addition, gatherings of less than 250 are asked to maintain social distancing – that is, people must stay at least 6 feet apart. Officials have also recommended that people older than 65 and people with underlying health conditions should stay home and not take part in group gatherings at all.
Here in the Diocese of San Diego, we are committed to loving God and loving our neighbor. We believe that worship and prayer are at the heart of our mission to allow God’s love to form us, nourish us, and strengthen us to serve our communities. In this time of crisis, we have to learn new ways of following God’s mission, caring for our neighbors by doing what we can to prevent further spread of this disease.
I believe that it is possible for us to worship God, follow Jesus, and pray for our world in new ways in this unprecedented time. We are also called to obey the legal authorities, who are deeply informed by the expertise of public health experts. Therefore, I ask all of our churches that are located within San Diego County to follow the new orders.
- Gatherings of more than 250 people should not happen in our churches. This includes Sunday worship.
- Any gatherings of fewer than 250 people must include careful enforcement of a 6-foot distance between people.
- You should strongly consider limiting any worship gatherings to Morning or Evening Prayer or other non-Eucharistic services, since I don’t see a way of maintaining 6 feet of social distance between people if you are giving them communion.
These new legal restrictions apply within the Counties of San Diego and Riverside. For churches outside these counties, I encourage you to also do all in your power to make sure your gatherings have fewer than 250 people and that strict 6-foot social distance is observed.
I have already asked our churches to contact all their members and advise those who are over 65 or have underlying medical conditions to stay home.
I am already aware that some of our churches have decided not to hold public worship this Sunday, and instead offer online or at-home worship options. I support you in this decision. Other congregations may feel that this is not the right decision for them, and they may choose a different path as long as the 6-foot social distance requirement is observed.
This is a heartbreaking thing for me to do. It is not a decision that I take lightly. Worship is at the heart of our identity as Episcopalians and as Christians. I believe that our worship and prayer are more than just things that support us in our daily lives – I believe they are effective in our prayers for the world and our love for our communities. I ask Episcopalians still to worship and pray – at home, in small groups, whatever is right for you, now more than ever. Our world needs our prayers.
And the fact is that this crisis may become the opportunity for us to discover new ways of being the church and serving others. This may be the time when we learn how to support people in small gatherings at home, or form online communities, or help our families worship together at home, or care for our homeless, sick, and friendless neighbors, or truly love others as we love ourselves. Please be creative. Our diocese will be sharing creative ideas with you. Our response to this time of anxiety may be what brings us closer together in community.
In our reading from the Letter to the Romans for this Sunday, Paul says this: “we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” During this Lenten fast from the comforts our usual style of worship brings us, let us remember that our fasting is a gift to the world. We are giving up something we love because we love our neighbors. And we are suffering – but suffering produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us. God’s love has been poured into our hearts, and it is God’s love that we are giving to the world in the name of Jesus. Amen.
The Rt. Rev. Susan Brown Snook
Supported by the Standing Committee:
Mr. Stephen Turnbull, President
The Rev. Kent Branstetter
Mr. Pete Casalegno
Mr. Louis Glosson
The Rev. Mark McKone-Sweet
The Rev. Colin Mathewson
Mr. Darryl Peralta
The Rev. Brenda Sol