November 19, 2020
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
I write you with concern about the ever-increasing spread of COVID-19 and to suggest a few things we can do in response.
Almost every day, I receive reports of clergy, lay leaders, communicants in our diocese, and friends who have tested positive for this virus, are suffering from the symptoms of COVID-19, or, tragically, have died. Very likely, you are experiencing the same. This surge has exceeded the predictions of epidemiologists and physicians in its unbridled spread. It is reported that three million Americans have active coronavirus infections and are potentially contagious, whether symptomatic or not. Some of those are healthcare workers who have put themselves at risk to care for other COVID-19 victims. Their willingness to jeopardize their own health for the care and wellbeing of others is inspiring.
The great majority of cases reported to me involve victims who felt they were taking ample precautions. Nonetheless, exposure occurred, reflecting the pervasive and relentless nature of this virus. We must not relax disciplines of handwashing, mask wearing, keeping distance, and avoiding crowds. The recent news of vaccines with high rates of effectiveness provides comfort and encouragement, and is something for which we can give abundant thanks. At the same time, distribution and vaccination will take an equally heroic effort and considerable time, during which we must increase our vigilance to avoid unnecessary transmission, suffering, and death. We may have tired of the pandemic, but the virus does not tire of us.
At this writing, Cuyahoga, Medina, and Lucas County Departments of Health have issued stay-at-home advisories, with Cuyahoga County specifically recommending that schools and churches close. We can only assume that other counties will follow, if they have not already. In light of this clear and urgent directive, I encourage the clergy and vestry of each congregation in the Diocese to take a serious and thorough look at the pandemic conditions in their communities, the age and health demographic of their communicants, and the physical practicalities of their buildings (size, layout, HVAC systems, etc.) in making responsible decisions about how to gather. I would prefer that the leadership of individual congregations continue to draw their own conclusions about whether to return to online gathering only. My own inclination would be to do so. Continued increases of infection in our parishes and the communities they serve, however, may soon necessitate that we, together as a diocesan body, suspend all in-person gatherings for worship, formation, and governance. We are watching this closely.
It is increasingly apparent that physical gathering in our church buildings for Christmas worship will be unlikely for most, if not all, congregations. To address that likely reality, the Cathedral and Bishop’s staffs are preparing two Diocesan services, one for Christmas Eve and one for Christmas Day, to be available online to all congregations and communicants in the evening of December 24 and the morning of December 25, respectively. Both will include participants from around the Diocese for readings, intercessions, and music. The choir that was assembled virtually for our Convention was inspiring. My hope is that we will be able to replicate that with greater participation for these services. As you adjust your plans for celebrating the Nativity in your parish, please keep these offerings in mind. The possibility of worshiping as a diocesan-wide body may alleviate considerable challenges for individual congregations. Further notice will come out shortly.
Names of communicants for prayer
As we move through these fearful and, at times, dispiriting weeks, I would be grateful to know who among our communicants has been or is currently suffering from this virus – those who have contracted COVID-19 and recovered, those who are battling it currently, and those who have died. If you would allow me to keep you and those you love in my prayers by name, it will inform my intercessions and deepen my pastoral companionship with each of you, as well as help us more clearly understand the burden of this pandemic on our people, parishes, and clergy. You may do so by following this link.
Please be careful and disciplined in your safety as we approach Thanksgiving and Advent, and know of my appreciation and admiration for all you are doing to protect one another and to assure all of God’s love.
With gratitude and abundant prayers,
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio