Dearly beloved of God,
The health and safety of the people of the diocese is my top priority, and as people of faith, we must be willing to sacrifice in order to care for those in our communities. Through the course of the past few weeks, we have learned that one of the necessary steps to help stop the spread of coronavirus is to avoid large gatherings of people when at all possible. Governor Wolf has asked religious leaders to help stop the spread of this illness. And though many of our churches do not constitute “large gatherings,” they are often filled with people at higher risk of developing severe symptoms from the coronavirus.
After consulting with medical professionals and the Standing Committee, for the public good and to protect the most vulnerable people in our communities, I have made the difficult decision to call on all churches in the diocese to cease all operations, including worship, from Monday, March 16, to Monday, March 30. The Chrism Mass scheduled for April 2 has been cancelled as well. We will reevaluate proper next-steps throughout this timeframe, and will update you by Friday, March 27 if the situation changes. Clergy (or Senior Wardens where no clergy serve) may choose to also suspend worship for this Sunday, March 15. This decision does not apply to schools or other organizations that operate out of churches, which should analyze their contexts and use their expertise to decide how to respond to the current situation. I would be happy to offer support to any such organization that is looking for further guidance.
I have the greatest respect and trust for the clergy and wardens in this diocese. Please listen to their guidance and take care of yourselves and the most vulnerable in your communities.
We will also create a list of other parishes which offer livestream on our website. I also commend to your viewing the 11am Eucharist on March 15 which will be lead by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Though we will not be able to worship in-person, it is important for us to gather, even virtually, to worship God, and to remember that we continue to be a community of faith during these trying times.
I know that these changes will be difficult for some, both emotionally and practically. Know that I and others on diocesan staff are here to support you in whatever ways we can.
In God’s love,
The Rt. Rev. Kevin D. Nichols
Bishop of Bethlehem