Alleluia! Christ is Risen! ~ Letter from Bishop Gutierrez
April 24, 2020
Knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
My siblings in Christ,
Alleluia! Christ Is Risen!
I would like to thank you for the beauty and faithfulness of Easter Sunday. Each Easter Service was filled with the hope of Jesus Christ. We are proving that we are innovative, creative, resilient, and faithful.
I have been meeting with the clergy on a weekly basis as news and information changes and want to ensure you have the latest developments. In Pennsylvania, there have been 37,053 COVID-19 cases and we hold in prayer the 1,421 who have passed. We pray for family members, friends and our siblings in humanity who have lost their lives to this horrific virus.
At this time, the state has not eased the restrictions instituted in late March. Our diocese is still in danger due to our proximity to New York and New Jersey. Moreover, the guidelines for reentry have not been met. We cannot take the risk of lifting the temporary suspensions prematurely. We will discern our eventual resumption of services in coordination with health and governmental authorities. All decisions will continue to be made with knowledge, information, and prayer. Naturally, if the government/health officials change the projected dates to allow for an earlier opening, we will adapt and adjust accordingly.
It is important that we not judge our reentry based on what businesses are doing or even what other dioceses are doing. We live within a specific place and context during this pandemic and your safety is of our utmost concern. While there is an anxiousness and longing for us to return to “normal” we must be prepared that our life together may look different for the foreseeable future. However, we face these decisions knowing we are resilient and that we have Jesus Christ.
I say this because we have seen the diocese come together in ways one could not imagine five years ago. Churches are streaming services, and many are working in partnership; laity are leading prayers during the week; innovative curriculums for youth are being deployed; coffee hours are virtual; and calls to each other remain vitally important. The ministry of your clergy in this new time is uplifting as they continue to provide pastoral care, create innovative liturgy, and reach out to those who are isolated. You have had an opportunity to see, from a new perspective, their dedication to prayer, their commitment to preaching and teaching, their willingness to explore new ideas, and most importantly their love for each of you.
Due to our reliance on the health authorities and government for direction, and after consultation with diocesan leadership, I suspect that the restrictions on in-person worship will last into June. Thus, we will continue with the broadcast of video live-streaming of the Daily Offices and Holy Eucharist.
As we look to the future, we can see that this virus will continue to affect our lives for the next 18 months. We will have numerous challenges over this time, and we are now busily preparing for what is to come. There will be a period of re-entry. Safety protocols will still need to be followed; gatherings will start out small, and will come in phases, with some areas starting re-entry before others.
I will be with you all along the way, updating you as things change, and I will coordinate with your clergy and leadership if the conditions for reentry are met. Recently, I have asked clergy to meet with their vestry leadership, and in May will provide a detailed plan and accompanying criteria regarding the next critical phases.
My ministry is committed to supporting you pastorally as well as working with diocesan leaders as we journey into the next phase of life amid the pandemic. I am in meetings with other bishops and governmental leaders and health officials on every level. While I lament not being able to be with you in person, I will continue to lead worship including on Sundays and for parts of the Daily Office. We will also be launching a weekly diocesan bible study that I will help to lead.
The staff continues to be proactive reaching out to support our clergy and lay leaders. They are coordinating food ministry, fielding questions about the CARES Act, troubleshooting problems with social media platforms and technology and leading worship at churches that have no clergy. They also help to ensure that our website has all the current information and relevant resources.
The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania has demonstrated to the entire Church our profound hope and belief in the power of Jesus Christ to make things new. Our resiliency, our bonds of community and faith has defined us in the past six weeks; and that makes me all the more confident that we are prepared to face whatever challenges lie ahead. We have traveled this far and although we face challenges ahead, we will persevere; for hope does not disappoint.
Please continue to pray for one another. Check on one another, love one another and let us ground our entire being in the one who makes things new - Jesus Christ.