Dear Siblings in Christ,
In recent months there have been several legal challenges, here in Colorado and around the nation, regarding whether or not the state can impose restrictions on church gatherings. These challenges escalated to the Supreme Court and the Court decided that the state could not restrict church gatherings, even with regard to Covid-19 safety protocols. While I have stressed throughout this pandemic that we should adhere to all local, state, and federal guidelines regarding COVID-19, I have also been clear that these protocols represented the bare minimum we could do. As followers of Jesus, we are called to go the extra mile when it comes to loving our neighbors.
We who are called to live the Way of Love are called to do all that we can to care for our community. Our worship is not about what is legal; it is about what is meet and right. One of the priests of the diocese recently reminded me of the Apostle Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians (6:12) “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” And indeed, the apostle is right. Our question as disciples is not “What can we do?” but “What is the most loving, healing and reconciling thing that we can do?”
As Episcopalians we rely on scripture, prayer, and reason for our discernment so that we can make faithful decisions in difficult times. I have appreciated the way in which clergy and lay leaders have rooted themselves in this love-centered way and how you have made decisions on behalf of your congregations. I also know the weight and complexity of these decisions. I, like you, have lost sleep over how to nourish and care for our people. Thank you for making tough decisions. Thank you for putting the safety of our congregations and community first. Thank you for working to protect people even when it means disappointing them.
As we approach the Nativity of our Lord, we realize most poignantly that we are incarnational people who long for physical community. It has been months since we’ve be able to gather with each other, to shake hands, to hug each other. This time of isolation has been exhausting and our fatigue is setting in. But even now, we cannot relax in our resolve to care for one another. Even with the hope that the recent vaccines offer us, this pandemic is still with us: people are still getting sick, being hospitalized and dying. Our hospitals in Colorado are overwhelmed and our nation’s death toll has cleared three hundred thousand.
Therefore, I strongly recommend that all congregations transition to virtual worship through January 17, 2021. While, I leave the final decisions regarding worship in the hands of the clergy and lay leaders of each parish, it is my position that we, as the Church, should make whatever sacrifices we must to protect the most vulnerable. If leaders determine they must continue with in-person worship, then I ask that those gatherings take place outdoors. If gatherings are indoors, I ask that no more that 25 persons be present, and that in all circumstances, we always employ masks and observe proper physical distancing.
I understand that many of us will be tempted to gather in-person for Christmas, with our friends and family and with our church. I know that this season of Covid-19 has taken so much from us. And I commend to you a line from the hymn “O Holy Night” which says, “Truly he taught us to love one another, his law is love and his gospel is peace.” Let Christ’s love guide your decision. The greatest Christmas gift we could give to each other is our resolve to love and protect one another so that the most vulnerable among us will see and celebrate next Christmas.