As we take in the news that our colleague and friend, the Rev. Tim Cole, rector of Christ Church, Georgetown has tested positive for COVID-19, and that as of this morning there are five known cases in Maryland and two in Northern Virginia, I write to share the latest recommendations we have received from public health officials.
Please note that this letter includes:
- Stricter, mandatory guidelines for worship practices
- A call for self-quarantine for anyone who suspects they have had physical contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, and
- Options for remote participation in diocesan meetings
Mandatory Guidelines for Worship Practices
Following the most recent public health guidelines, I now require all congregations and schools in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington to:
- Suspend the use of the common cup and the distribution of wine during Communion and use wafers instead of bread
- Ensure that those leading worship and administering Communion sanitize their hands
- Drain all water from baptismal fonts
- Refrain from physical contact before, during and after worship, including handshakes and hugs during the Peace
Please continue to encourage all in your communities to practice safe hygiene, including regular hand washing and sanitizing, coughing or sneezing into their sleeves, disposing of facial tissues immediately after use, and staying home if they are ill.
In addition, please take extra sanitary precautions when serving food or beverages in social gatherings around worship and other times.
The DC Department of Health, in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has concluded that those who attended Christ Episcopal Church on February 24th and between February 28-March 3 could have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. DC Health is recommending that all attendees to Christ Church on those dates quarantine themselves for 14 days from the last time they visited the church. Isolating at home includes not going to work or school, not attending large public gatherings, and not using public transportation or ridesharing.
We have sought guidance for those who have come into physical contact with attendees from Christ Church through our schools and other gatherings or who also attended the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes (CEEP) conference in Kentucky.
To date, the only firm guidance we have received from health officials is for those who have symptoms of illness, or have been exposed through close contact with someone known to have the virus, to call their doctor for guidance.
Health authorities advise that the symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Links to relevant public health authorities’ information pages are:
Diocesan, Parish, and School Meetings
Unless advised by health authorities to do otherwise, we will continue to hold regularly scheduled diocesan meetings and recommend that parishes do the same.
We will, however, provide the option to participate remotely in all diocesan meetings, via computer and/or telephone. Diocesan staff assigned to each meeting will contact participants with information/instructions for remote participation. Peter Turner is available to assist leaders in setting up virtual options for parish and school meetings.
Future Communications and Thanks
Public health officials have told us to prepare for further updates from them, perhaps daily. I promise to keep you informed of all information we receive.
Let me say how proud and grateful I am for the ways you are responding and adapting to this challenging, ever-changing situation. Thank you for your thoughtful, calm leadership, concern for the most vulnerable among us, continued prayers for those who have been adversely affected by this outbreak, and willingness to make difficult adjustments for the common good. I am especially thankful for the ways members of our diocesan community are reaching out to one another for support. In times like this, I am grateful for the gift of one another.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or concerns.
This is the third in a series of reflections based on Following Jesus: Finding Our Way Home in an Age of Anxiety by Henri Nouwen
If any want to become my followers, let them take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23
Come unto me all that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
“The opposite of a fact is falsehood,” observed the physicist Niels Bohr, “but the opposite of one profound truth is another profound truth.” So it is with the Christian faith, symbolized by the cross. To take up our cross daily is to acknowledge and accept suffering. Yet in doing so, we can feel our burden lifted, not because suffering is taken from us, but because it’s somehow connected to God’s suffering with and for us.
Henri Nouwen writes:Look at the man who is pierced and broken and you see the love of God radiating out to you. . . Everytime you look at your struggles, your pain, and your anguish as the burden you have to bear, see your struggles as being struggled with right there on the cross by the Son of God. Your struggle becomes a light burden because it is the burden of God and God has suffered for us.
Our natural inclination is to resist rather than accept suffering. The resistance creates suffering of its own, what theologian Ann Ulanov describes as a false cross, with pain that goes nowhere. Whenever we’re confronted with evidence that something about us or our world is amiss, our minds will do almost anything to keep difficult truth at bay. Nouwen observes that we are far more willing to carry the crosses that don’t belong to us.
God can only help us carry the burdens that we accept as our own. And while our tendency is to focus on the biggest problems, Nouwen suggests that we start small. “There is always something that is a little hard,” he writes. “There is always some pain that we walk right over and don’t take seriously. That pain is our cross.” It is admittedly a small cross in the larger scheme of life, but there’s nothing to be gained by pretending it doesn’t exist.
The practice of accepting smaller struggles helps us to face larger ones with less fear. For we become more at home in ourselves, and we learn not to run away from what hurts. “Take your worries,” Nouwen urges, “and convert them into prayer.”
Take your fear and connect it with God’s fear. Take your depression and see it in the presence of God’s dying on the cross. Bring it into the Presence who has suffered all and lived it all. You will discover that in the presence of Jesus you can live beyond pain and joy, sadness and gladness.
There is a grace that comes when we accept what we cannot change and invite God to help us take up our cross. What we experience is love–God’s unconditional and abiding love for us. Knowing that we are loved helps us to grow in our capacity to share in Christ’s suffering with and for others.
Remember that it was love that compelled Jesus to take up his cross. It didn’t take away his suffering but helped him to bear it. So, too, when we love; we can go to very difficult places. It’s not that we don’t feel the pain, but our focus is on those we love. In love we can carry even the heaviest of burdens and find rest.