THE Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, has suspended all public worship in the country and in Episcopal churches abroad in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Bishops of the Episcopal dioceses of Washington and Virginia had already made the decision to close churches and cancel services last week in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.
In a letter to his churchgoers, on Tuesday night, Bishop Curry wrote: “Last week I stated publicly my support for bishops who, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, decide ‘for a designated period of time. . . to cancel in-person gatherings for public worship.’ I write now concerning the need to suspend in-person gatherings for public worship, in most contexts, during the sacred time of Holy Week and Easter Day. Because this is a global health crisis, the principles in this letter apply throughout the Episcopal Church, including beyond the United States.”
His letter came shortly after President Trump told Americans not to gather in groups of more than 10, and to avoid bars, restaurants, food courts, and gyms over the next two weeks. More than 4600 cases of the virus have been confirmed in the US and 85 people have died.
Globally, more than 8000 people have died, and more than 200,000 people have tested positive.
Bishop Curry continued: “It is reasonable to assume that some form of recommendations restricting public gatherings will continue for some time.
“Considering this changing landscape, I believe that suspension of in-person public worship is generally the most prudent course of action at this time, even during Holy Week and on Easter Day. I am also mindful that local situations vary. Bishops must make this determination and the duration of said suspension in their respective dioceses, based on the public health situation in their context and the recommendations or requirements of government agencies and officials.
“It is important to emphasise that suspension of in-person gatherings is not a suspension of worship. I very much encourage and support online worship.”
As in the Church of England, Episcopal churches in the US are being encouraged to livestream private eucharists, where possible, for at least the next two Sundays. Conducting services over the phone is also being considered. Information on pastoral care, emergency financial assistance, and virtual meetings in the Episcopal Church can be found online.
Like Church House Publishing in the UK, the US company Church Publishing Incorporated is providing online resources for devotional use, including a PDF version of the Book of Common Prayer.
Bishop Curry is also to film short weekly meditations. In his first, on Monday, he says: “While I often always say my prayer time early in the morning, there is more time even during the rest of the day now. And so maybe the habit of prayer can increase a bit for me and maybe for us.”
“One of the things that I am aware of is that consistent habits, what some have called habits of grace, can really be helpful especially in unsettling times.” He then praises the growing movement of people in Italy who take to their balconies every evening to applaud the health professionals and first responders, before breaking into song.
PAA medical officer disinfects St Antuan Church, Istanbul, on MondayContinental situation. Italy has been on lockdown for more than a week. There are now more than 31,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country, of whom more than 2900 have recovered and 2500 have died. The oldest victim was 95 and the two youngest were 39.
The advice given by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York this week to suspend public worship until further notice — but to keep churches open where possible — extends to the diocese in Europe. Again, livestreaming services is encouraged, where possible.
A statement on the diocesan website on Wednesday explained: “[The Archbishops’ letter] is addressed in the first instance to churches in England, but much of the advice and the ideas it contains are applicable to our own diocese in Europe (always subject, of course, to the laws of the regions and countries in which we operate).”
Bethlehem appeal. In the Middle East, Bethlehem is also in its second week of lockdown, ordered by the Palestinian Authority. A Christian hospital in the city, the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation (BASR), has launched an urgent appeal for donations to help health professionals tackle the pandemic.
The director, Edmund Shehadeh, said on Wednesday that the hospital was “critically short” of basic supplies. “We are currently looking after 30 infected patients and helping to support more than 2500 people in Bethlehem under precautionary home isolation, and this number is still increasing. Our work relies on voluntary donations and this pandemic has brought us to breaking point.
“We are critically short of basic hygiene necessities such as gloves, masks, hygiene kits, sterilization material, and sterilized gowns. We are running short of antibiotics, fever reducers and other medication for existing patients who are now at high risk of contracting the virus.
“We appeal to friends of McCabe to help BASRA continue to be a shining example of Christian love to the people of Bethlehem.”