Notice of a Pastoral Direction to the Episcopal Church in West Missouri from Bishop Martin S. Field
Monday, March 16, 2020
Yesterday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (aka the CDC) issued a nationwide plea for no groups to gather if they are 50 or more in number. I believe we must accept that wisdom and act in accordance with the CDC’s recommendation. To do otherwise would be a serious breach of the moral imperative to act as a community, not just as individuals — to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.
Therefore, starting at 12:01 a.m. this Wednesday, March 18, 2020, and until further notice, the buildings of the parishes and congregations of West Missouri are closed to all gatherings. Furthermore, no parochially sponsored gatherings will be held in any other meeting places (e.g. homes, pubs, etc.). Exceptions for small group gatherings may be granted, and I may grant such exceptions after consultation with the leadership of the parish or congregation.
I am aware that some of our congregations have an average attendance under 50, and therefore, might feel the CDC notice should not apply to them. I am, nevertheless, making this Pastoral Direction applicable to all 47 congregations and parishes of the diocese because much of the membership of our churches (small, medium, or large) is in the most at-risk demographic: people over 60.
I have communicated more fully with the priests-in-charge of congregations and parishes and with the Wardens of congregations that do not have a priest-in-charge. They more fully know my thoughts about moving forward together as a faith community during this pandemic.
It is Lent. Easter and Holy Week are coming. We will not gather for our usual rites. But my fellow bishop, Mark VanKoevering, Bishop of Lexington, offers a connection to what we are going to do and our Lenten journey. He wrote, “I am loathe to cancel services, but I … think that I must humbly ask our faith communities to practice a Lenten fast from public worship … as a sign of love for one’s neighbor, especially the most vulnerable.”
My brother bishop speaks eloquently and captures exactly how I feel.
God bless you as you faithfully pursue ministry in this unprecedented context.
Peace be with you and yours,
Update: March 17, 2020 & March 18, 2020. In response to queries and requests for clarification, Bishop Marty has issued addendums to these directions.