A Pastoral Letter on the Regathering of Congregations
June 9, 2020
Dear Members of the Diocese of Maryland,As state and county restrictions have begun to ease and as some of our congregations begin regathering under our diocesan phased guidelines, I want to thank you for the creative ways you have kept worship services going, provided pastoral connections with one another, and maintained important social justice ministries such as food pantries.
I want you to remember that regathering will look different for every single congregation and ministry for a variety of reasons. Some will be due to the difference in local restrictions and testing capacity. Some will be because of the restrictions your church’s architecture presents. Some will be based on the comfort level of congregants as well as the clergy who lead them, many of whom are also in a high-risk health category. So, I want to offer a few words of pastoral advice as each congregation and each of us individually consider what regathering will look and feel like:
Stay calm. Emotions are high and we are all coping in different ways. Our clergy are feeling that pressure just like everyone else. If the pressure of regathering is too much on your leadership, please wait until that pressure subsides sufficiently. I don’t want any of you to feel pressured to regather! Our physical and emotional health are paramount during this difficult time which will remain with us for a while. Clergy need a break and need to still take vacation time this summer. Utilize our cathedral service as need be, even once a month if that helps take the pressure off your own priest or deacon.
Stay connected. Thanks to Zoom, Facebook and other digital platforms (including the good old telephone), we are able to continue to stay connected. So continue to pray for one another. Continue to participate in worship as best you are able. Reach out to neighbors, call people whom you haven’t spoken with in a while, and continue to connect with your governmental leaders on issues of importance.
Stay church. Remember, the church never closed. Our buildings have been closed for public gatherings, but the church is really you, the people, living out your baptismal vows. Our community of love is not defined by bricks and mortar. It is our capacity and passion to pray, to connect, to give, and to speak out that defines who we are as a church.
Friends, we will get through this. It may take a while, but God’s presence and God’s love is steadfast. This is a resurrection moment for us – not a death – and God’s grace is abundant. We need to allow ourselves the space to receive that grace as a salve for the pressures that weigh upon us. So, wait to regather only when you are ready. I have your back and we in diocesan leadership want to help guide you, not force you. We have “guidelines” for a reason, rather than policy or mandate. Trust yourself and your leadership.
Stay calm. Stay connected. Stay church!
The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Maryland