Wandering the COVID-19 Wilderness

“I have led you forty years in the wilderness; your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandal has not worn out on your foot.”
Deuteronomy 29:5

Halfway through the Christain observance of Lent, we join the world in the wilderness of COVID-19. “I hadn’t planned on giving this much up for Lent,” someone wryly posted on social media. None of us had, and the losses, both large and small, continue to mount. 

And though we know that Lent ends on Easter Sunday, we have no idea when we’ll be able to leave this COVID-19 wilderness. 

The not-knowing is precisely what makes this a real-life wilderness experience. 

These are times when we can experience God in ways that sustain our hope and give us courage to persevere and grow. For most of us, this isn’t the first wilderness we’ve experienced, nor it will be the last. We know that a wilderness experience changes us, for good or ill. How we are changed is determined, in large measure, by our response to circumstances beyond our control. 

Jesus’ wilderness time harkens back to the 40 years that the ancient Isrealites spent in the wilderness after their escape from slavery. The biblical books of Exodus and Numbers tell their wilderness stories, so wonderfully human and spiritually powerful.

They underscore several wilderness lessons for us all to learn and spiritual tasks to master. 

The first wilderness task is acceptance. No matter how we got here, we’re all in the wilderness now and there’s nothing to be gained by complaint or blame. We’re bound to experience a wide range of emotions in response to this new reality, sometimes in a single day. Allowing ourselves to feel that emotional range is part of what acceptance requires, while recognizing that not every emotion needs to be acted upon or taken as the sole interpreter of reality. The sooner we accept our new reality and make our home here, the better off we’ll be. 

A second wilderness task is to focus on daily sustenance, distinguishing between wants and needs. God provided wilderness food for the ancient Israelites in the form of manna, a simple substance that fell from the sky each night. It wasn’t fancy fare, but it sustained them. Nor could they hoard manna, for whenever they tried, the food would rot. Likewise for us, simple meals and simple pleasures are what will sustain us as we must let go of so many hoped-for events and celebrations. Nor can we plan very far ahead with any certainty. Focusing on the gifts and tasks of each day helps us experience God’s grace through small things that we might otherwise miss. 

A third wilderness task here is learning to share the responsibilities of caring for the wider community. God originally called Moses to lead the people from slavery in Egypt through the wilderness toward their land of promise. But the burden was too much for one person to bear, and Moses cried out to God for help. God instructed Moses to gather 70 others in one place, and God then took some of the spirit of leadership entrusted to Moses and gave it to the 70. For those of us who have resources, energy, and gifts to share, now is the time for us to step into the circle of leadership and provide whatever help we can. 

A fourth and most important wilderness task that I’ll mention here is learning to trust that God is present. While stripped of so much, we can experience a depth of spiritual connection to God utterly unique to the wilderness. As we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and completely honest in our prayers, our relationship with God in Christ becomes more real, a source of daily guidance and abiding love. I personally love the fact that the people of Israel felt completely free to complain and rail against God. “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness?” they demanded to know. (Psalm 78:19) As it turned out, God could and still can. It may not be the table we had hoped for, but it will be enough. 

More than once, biblical writers describe the ancient Israelites as people who wandered in the wilderness. So if you feel as if you’re wandering these days, rest assured that you’re not alone. We’re all walking more by faith than by sight now. But just because we’re wandering, doesn’t mean we are lost, for we are always walking in God’s sight. Keep following the light that shines in darkness and trusting in the One who promises us to be with us always. We’ll get through this wilderness together.  

Bishop Mariann extends suspension of public worship until May 16

The Lord is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved . . .
Psalm 46:1-2

Dear Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington,

I give thanks to God for each of you and for your courage and creativity as we all adjust to the constraints required of us. Your entire diocesan staff is praying for you, that you may feel Christ’s abiding presence as you tend to your loved ones and all within your sphere of pastoral concern. We are here to support you in any way we can. 

I write with further guidance regarding worship service suspension and to advise you of regional clergy telephone gatherings that we are scheduling for tomorrow and Wednesday, March 17 and 18.  

In keeping with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent recommendation to cancel or postpone all gatherings of 50 or people for the next 8 weeks and in consultation with the Presiding Bishop, I am instructing all public services and other church gatherings be suspended until May 16th. 

Rest assured that if these recommendations are lifted–and we all pray that this crisis passes sooner–I will re-open our churches gladly. For now, I want us all to have sufficient clarity to prepare for what lies ahead, most notably, Holy Week and Easter Sunday without physically gathering in church. 

The spiritual, pastoral and financial implications of this pandemic are beyond what any of us can fully grasp or predict. But you belong to a diocesan community and we are in this together. 

As I write, Canon Andrew Walter and your regional deans are working to schedule clergy video/telephone gatherings for tomorrow and Wednesday. Please watch for a notice from your dean and make your call a priority. I will be present for all of them, along with members of the senior diocesan staff. We want to hear your concerns, share your good suggestions and resources, and make plans together for the coming weeks. The diocesan staff are working to address financial hardships, coordinate resources, and ensure needed care, doing all we can to ease the load for you and your people.  

The storm we are in will one day pass and getting through it is our primary task. How we pray now, how we lead now, how we support one another and our people now, how we serve our community in Christ’s name now will inform our future ministries far longer than the storm itself. 

Remember that Jesus is in the boat with us. 


Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde


Prayer of Gratitude for the Life and Ministry of Bishop Barbara C. Harris

We in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington add our collective prayer of gratitude for the life and ministry of Bishop Barbara C. Harris and sorrow at the news of her death. We give thanks to God that she died peacefully, while many around the world kept vigil in her final hours. 

After her years as Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese of Massachusetts, Bishop Harris served as Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of Washington from 2003-2007. Bishop Harris inspired and mentored many who are leaders among us now. 

Canon to the Ordinary (Chief of Staff) for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, the Rev. Paula Clark said of Bishop Harris:

She was a pioneer and ‘shero’ to many of us in ordained ministry. I was honored to have her preach at my ordination to the priesthood in 2005, and her charge to us was one given at her own ordination, “The [Holy Spirit] Power behind you is greater than any obstacle ahead of you.’ Bishop Barbara Harris kept a slip of paper with this mantra with her at all times. She lived by these words through the myriad challenges and achievements she experienced, and I will always keep this charge from her foremost in my ministry and in my heart.

Bishop John Bryson Chane, Eighth Bishop of Washington, said:

Bishop Harris accepted my invitation to support the work, mission and ministry of the Diocese of Washington during a significant time of transition within the Episcopal Church. She was a champion for women’s ordination, gender equality, racial equality and social justice and was one of the great preachers of the Church. It was an honor to serve with her. She was not just a friend, but a bright, shining light reflecting the courage and fortitude that is required to bring about change in any institution. She was prophetic, compassionate, and lived her life with a great passion for the possible, never wearying in the call to serve God’s people and follow the Good News of the Gospel of Christ. 

As we await the day when we can celebrate Bishop Harris’ life at Washington National Cathedral, we commend our sister Barbara to God and console ourselves with memories of her audacious faith, prophetic witness, disarming wit, and personal kindness.

“The mitre fits just fine,” she said on the day of her historic consecration as the first woman bishop in the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. Bishop Harris was the first to welcome me into the sisterhood of women bishops, and like so many, I owe my ministry to the path she forged. 

Her spirit will live forever. 


Bishop Mariann

Read a remembrance of Bishop Harris from the Diocese of Massachusetts

Updated to include Bishop Chane’s statement regarding Bishop Harris’ legacy. 

For Times Such as This

Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things you have learned and received. . .and the God of peace will be with you. 
Philippians 4:8-9

I begin with a word of thanks and admiration for all in our diocesan community who are responding to the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in with creativity, generosity, and goodwill. As I write, lay and clergy leaders are working to adapt their worship, pastoral care, community service, and educational offerings in light of our decision to suspend public worship and normal church operations for two weeks. 

These are not easy steps to take, but together, with God’s help, we’re learning new ways of being the church. In this week’s e-newsletter, you’ll find resources that your diocesan staff is curating on the EDOW website. But creative options are everywhere, both locally and nationally. Feel free to experiment and share what you learn.

When church buildings are damaged, we remind ourselves that the church is not a building, but a community gathered around the ministry of Jesus. In times when gathering is restricted, we learn that what unites us transcends social distance. And when society at-large is under duress, we realize with great clarity that our primary ministry is to serve others and the common good. 

Yet this is also a time when our own vulnerabilities and fears come to the fore, when real disappointments and frustrations affect our spirits and fatigue takes its toll. As losses and uncertainties grow, we would be made of stone if we didn’t feel the strain of an uncertain future and urgent concern for those facing the harshest consequences of all that is disrupting our lives. 

These are the times that faith is for–times like this, when we and those around us need assurance that we’re not alone, and that together we will get through whatever lies ahead. Now is the time to draw close to God in prayer, and to one another in acts of kindness and love. Remember that we do not walk this road alone. Christ is, as the celtic prayer reminds us, behind and before us, within and around us, speaking to us through the words of friend and stranger. 

Christ spoke to me this morning through this beautiful prayer written by the Rev. Dr. Sam Wells from St. Martin-in-the-Field in London:

God of healing and hope, in Jesus you meet us in our places of pain and fear. Look with mercy on those who have contracted the new virus, on any who are vulnerable, and on all who feel in danger. Through this time of global concern, by your Holy Spirit bring out the best, not the worst in us. Make us more aware of our interdependence on each other and the strength that comes from being one body in your. Through Christ, our wounded healer. Amen. 

Bishop Mariann Announces Two-Week Cancellation of Public Worship Services

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God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth be moved. . . 
Psalm 46

Dear Friends of the Diocese of Washington, 

In uncertain times, each of us has the responsibility to make choices for the public good. Now that the COVID-19 coronavirus has arrived in our communities, those choices become even more important.

As your bishop, my highest priority is the health, safety and well-being of our people, with particular concern for the most vulnerable. It is also our collective responsibility as Christians to be good neighbors, and to do our part to protect the social fabric upon which many lives depend. 

As a diocese, we have been closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19 in Washington and Maryland, and the most recent recommendations from civic and public health leaders. Two things are now clear: social distance is needed to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, and the populations most at risk are highly represented among our congregations and clergy. 

As a result, and in consultation with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, I am directing that all public worship services and normal parish operations be cancelled within the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and parish buildings be closed for two weeks, effective Thursday March 12. On March 25, we will assess the situation, and our hope is to reopen for Sunday worship services on March 29. This does not pertain to schools that function within church buildings that must determine their own response to present circumstances, nor does this affect ministries that serve vulnerable populations such as those experiencing hunger or homelessness. 

In the interim, we invite all members of the diocese to join us online for virtual worship services at Washington National Cathedral on Sunday March 15 and Sunday March 22. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will preach on March 15 and I will preach on March 22. All Cathedral worship services can be accessed via www.cathedral.org, or on the Cathedral’s Facebook page.  

Some congregations already have the capacity for on-line and telephone based worship gatherings, while others are just beginning to explore that option. We are gathering online worship and meeting resources on the diocesan website and will send a link to that site tomorrow,  as well as information regarding pastoral care, emergency financial assistance, and virtual gatherings throughout the diocese. 

My goal in cancelling services and providing a virtual option for all in the diocese is to free up the time and energy of clergy and lay leadership across the diocese to assess the pastoral needs of your people and to reach out to civic partners, so that we aid in the care of our communities. 

I am painfully aware of the significance of this change, and what it will mean for people all across this region. I understand the spiritual and financial implications, the headaches and frustrations, and I share this disappointment that we, as worshipping communities, will not be able to gather.

However, I am equally aware of the responsibilities we have as people of faith who follow the one who came among us as one who served. Not only do we have a moral, religious and civic obligation to take whatever steps are necessary to aid our communities in stemming the spread of this virus, we exist in order to love and serve our neighbors. It is what faith communities do best in times of need. 

To be sure, we will have situations or particular needs arise at individual parishes that need attention or consideration, and I invite our clergy to contact diocesan staff for guidance.

We are indeed in uncharted waters — not just as a diocese, but as a country and as a global human family. As people of faith, these are the times for us to draw closer to God and to look to the Scriptures, where we can find comfort and reassurance:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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: 37-39



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