Dear Saint Ambrose Family,
I am grateful for your prayerfulness and witness during these uncertain times. I last wrote you nearly six months ago. At that time, we were three months into the COVID-19 pandemic. By that date, the United States had 2.8 million confirmed cases and 129,000 deaths. To date, the United States has over 11 million confirmed cases and more than 260,000 deaths. These are staggering statistics with health experts predicting the next three months will be the worst.
The prophet Isaiah saw a beautiful vision in Isaiah 25:6-9, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever.” How we pray that God will swallow up COVID-19 forever.
Both of our bishops, the Rt. Rev. Samuel Rodman and the Rt. Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, continue to lead us through these uncertain waters. Our diocesan leaders hold our health and wellness as a primary concern. They prayerfully discerned practices that can keep us as safe as possible during this unpredictable pandemic. As your rector, I support the steps diocesan leadership is taking to protect parishioners. Our bishops commissioned a Coronavirus Task Force in late March to help navigate the COVID-19 environment. This task force gave suggestions for maintaining buildings and grounds, financial guidance, pastoral care, vestry meetings, as well as other areas of our parish life. You are probably most familiar with the task force’s efforts around Sunday morning worship. The diocese as a whole has at one point or another been in Phase 1 (no in person worship), Phase 1B (in person worship limited to ten people), and Phase 2 (inside, in person worship limited to 25 people). There are four phases with Phase 4 being no restrictions to inside, in person gathering.
This task force also made recommendations to the bishops regarding important events in a parish’s life including Baptisms, Confirmations, Marriages, and Funerals. Here is direct language taken from the task force’s guidelines for Phases 1B and 2.
● “Graveside services, outdoor weddings and outdoor baptisms of 50 or fewer masked participants observing 6 feet of physical distancing continue.” Page 4
● Baptisms – “It is appropriate to delay baptisms until the community can be together.” Page 10
● Confirmations -“It is appropriate to delay confirmations until the community can be together.” Page 12
● Weddings – “Outdoor weddings are limited to 50 total participants and guests practicing appropriate physical distancing. Indoor wedding[s] are limited to 25 total participants and guests.” Page 12
● Funerals – “Graveside services are allowed within the guidelines already laid out (i.e. 50 or fewer total people gathered outdoors or 25 indoors, maintaining physical distancing and wearing masks).” Page 12
These are extraordinary times. Even though we are in Phase 1B while you are reading this letter, I imagine that it will be many months until we as a diocese transition to Phase 3 which the diocese describes as “Case, hospitalization and deaths are near zero. Widespread testing and tracing are available. Health care systems have the capacity to manage all in need.”
I have heard from some of you how devastated you feel knowing that under these requirements, you or a loved one may not have the funeral you deeply desire.. Some have asked, “Father Taylor, can you lead the funeral at the funeral home and not at St. Ambrose since some funeral homes allow inside funerals and higher attendance numbers?” Our bishops have been clear that whenever or wherever an Episcopal clergy person leads a funeral, it becomes a funeral of the local church and thereby a funeral of the diocese. The same is true with weddings. If I, as your rector, conduct a wedding, whether outside by the beach, in a hotel ballroom, or in the park, it becomes a service of St. Ambrose as if it were held inside the church.
Continue to pray for our country and community. I invite you to join me in praying this prayer written by the Episcopal Church’s Liturgical Committee.
Loving God, hope of the poor and source of all health: Look with compassion upon your creatures who suffer under the weight of this pandemic. Fill us with love toward our neighbor; deliver us from partisan motives as we strive for the common good; and strengthen those who labor for our health. We ask this through the healer of your creation, Jesus Christ, our health and our salvation. Amen.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to me. My mobile number is 919-268-3737 and email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Reverend Jemonde Taylor