Dear Partners in the Gospel,
The news is dominated by stories about the coronavirus. The volatility of global financial markets is expressing the growing anxiety about whether the virus will cause a pandemic. Only God knows if the coronavirus is going to be a pandemic. But, He does know. So, in the midst of the rising anxiety around us, I encourage us to be a people of hope, trusting in the power and plan of God. One expression of this trust is to be praying both that God would accomplish His purposes through the virus and that He would deliver us (i.e. all people) from it.
Along with being a people of hope, I want us to be a people of courage and compassion, ministering to those who are sick when others shy away. The Church in the early centuries manifested this courage and compassion during epidemics in Roman cities. It was the Christians who stayed to tend the sick. And, at the end of the plague, it was the courage and compassion of the Church that won the world to Christ. Practically speaking this means that no one should suffer through an illness (or quarantine) in isolation. While we might not need to provide medical care to the sick (as the early Church did), we can pray, send notes, make phone calls, and drop off meals (or chocolate – even in Lent). I encourage congregations to develop a communication plan so that we can care for folks who are sick.
But, I also call on us to be a people of common sense. We need to do everything that we can do to protect the most vulnerable in our midst from contracting the disease. Here is a link to a very thoughtful piece that Bishop Julian Dobbs (Diocese of the Living Word) sent out last week. I agree with him that having a plan is important; including encouraging folks with cold and flu symptoms to stay home (possibly receiving a visit from a priest, deacon, or Eucharistic minister) and encouraging people to wash their hands thoroughly. You might consider toning down the Peace and greeting at the door (or at least discouraging shaking hands).
While some suggest that the common cup may not be a problem, there is still a lot of concern regarding the best approach to its use. I encourage each congregation to think carefully about a compassionate pastoral response that balances competing values (health concerns and spiritual practice, for example). Here are a couple of suggestions I’ve received:
- Encourage those who are sick to stay home. If possible, find a way of allowing them to connect with your service (or that of another Anglican congregation – St. Peter’s, Tallahassee, FL, for example) through Facebook or some other streaming app.
- Ask those with any cold or flu symptoms (who have chosen not to stay home) to receive “in one kind” (receiving only the bread).
- Have the person who is distributing the bread intinct for everyone directly from the chalice (without ever touching the hands of those receiving) and place the host on a person’s tongue or I their hand.
- Consider making receiving only the bread the norm for everyone for the rest of Lent while making the wine available for those who wish to receive in both kinds.
At the end of the day, the most important thing that we can model during these anxious times is a profound trust in the Lord. He is the sovereign Lord of the Universe who is completely on our side. He has promised to be with us. And nothing can separate us from His love. Therefore, we can come boldly to the throne of grace. We can let our requests be made known to God.
Praying fervently, living in peace, AND washing my hands,
Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh