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Springfield Episcopal Bishop Defies Presiding Bishop on COVID-19 Pandemic

Springfield Episcopal Bishop Defies Presiding Bishop on COVID-19 Pandemic
Orders his parishes to stay open as a "public witness"
It is not a time to be controlled by fear, he said

By David W. Virtue, DD
March 13, 2020

The Episcopal Bishop of Springfield, the Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins, is going against his Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and has ordered his parishes to remain open on Sunday.

The Anglo Catholic, Communion Partner Bishop wrote at his diocesan website, "Some of my colleague bishops in the Episcopal Church have directed a "fast from public worship" (the words of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry) for the time being.

I do not concur with such an assessment. Of all the times for us to truly "be who we are" as the Christian community, as the church, a public health crisis is such a time. It is good for us to maintain our public witness, to feed Christ's people in word and sacrament on the Lord's Day. It is not a time to be controlled by fear."

Martins says he is not denying the reality of the threat. "We should take the general advice about hygiene and social distancing seriously. Making a decision to not attend Sunday services is plausibly a wise one for some people, those who face the greatest risk if they should be exposed to the virus. I would not be alarmed to hear that Sunday attendance for the next few weeks takes a deep dive. I encourage the communicants of the diocese to exercise their best judgment, in prayer and discernment, about how best to take care of themselves."

However, this is not the same as openly canceling public worship.

"I call on the clergy of the Diocese of Springfield to fulfill their obligation to conduct services on the Lord's Day, for and with those who come. Is there some extra risk involved in doing so? Arguably, yes. And it is a risk I intend to share in myself. As those who have been ordained to be shepherds of Christ's flock, this is our job. We should not court martyrdom for the mere sake of doing so, but the example of Constance and the Martyrs of Memphis looms prominently in my mind today."

We are to minister especially to those who are the most isolated and the most vulnerable, he said. "Those who are homebound, and those who have chosen to self-isolate, may not wish to have a personal visit from their priest or deacon, but it should at least be offered. Such persons are also "at risk" for being forgotten, and we must not let that happen."

Anglican Church in North America

In a letter to parishioners, Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) Archbishop Foley Beach offered four points in response to the physical and emotional strains stemming from the coronavirus.

Those four points, he wrote, are to trust God in the midst of uncertainty; stay informed of advice issued by government health authorities; be prudent by washing your hands "for a minimum of 20 seconds using soap and warm water" and avoid touching your face; and to show love by offering support to neighbors who might be vulnerable to the virus or alone.

You can read Beach's letter in its entirety, here: http://www.anglicanchurch.net/?/main/page/1992

Episcopal Church

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry issued an official statement on the coronavirus, reminding Episcopalians that "we are in this together."

We are facing an unprecedented challenge with the COVID-19 outbreak, which the World Health Organization has just deemed a pandemic. In this context, bishops having charge of a diocese have my support as Presiding Bishop if, in light of the public health situation in their diocese, they decide - for a designated period of time - to suspend the administration of the common cup to the congregation in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, and/or to cancel in-person gatherings for public worship.

"Jesus came to show us how to be in a relationship with God and in relationship with each other, came to show us how to live not simply as collections of individual self-interest, but how to live as the human family of God," said Curry in a video message.

"Listen to those who have knowledge that can help to guide us medically and help to guide us socially. Do everything that we can to do this together, to respond to each other's needs and to respond to our own needs," said Curry.

In Washington, D.C., the Rev. Timothy Cole, rector of the historic Christ Church Episcopal, Georgetown, tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from a gathering of Episcopal clergy in Louisville, Kentucky. According to the Washington Post, Cole oversaw services attended by more than 500 worshipers on Sunday, March 1. He reportedly provided communion and shook hands with parishioners during morning services. The D.C. Health Department urges churchgoers who recently came within six feet of Cole to self-quarantine for 14 days since attending services, as The Hill reported.

The dioceses of Washington and Virginia announced March 11 that they are closing or canceling services at more than 250 churches in the nation's capital and suburban Virginia and Maryland, including Washington National Cathedral, for at least two weeks, as a sweeping precaution to help stem the spread of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, which earlier in the day was declared a global pandemic.

Washington Bishop Mariann Budde explained her decision in a letter to the diocese, first reported by The Washington Post. The "health, safety and well-being of our people" is her first concern, she said, and congregations will be encouraged to explore online worship alternatives.

"Two things are now clear: Social distance is needed to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, and the populations most at risk are highly represented among our congregations and clergy," Budde's letter says. All 88 congregations in her diocese will close effective March 12, and she hopes they will resume worship services by March 29.

In the Diocese of Virginia, one of three Episcopal dioceses in the state, Bishop Suffragan Susan Goff ordered all 179 of the diocese's congregations to cancel worship services in response to the coronavirus, according to her letter to the diocese. Health officials in regions of the United States with high case counts have warned that large gatherings could fuel the virus's spread.

A Roman Catholic response

The president of the Italian Episcopal Conference has conceded that the coronavirus pandemic may be interpreted as a chastisement we have brought upon ourselves by our evil and rebellion against God.

Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti quoted the first part of a verse from the prophet Jeremiah in an interview with leftwing Italian newspaper La Repubblica: "Your wickedness will chasten you, and your apostasy will reprove you" (2:19 RSV).

The archbishop of Perugia-Città della Pieve was asked if believers should view the coronavirus as divine punishment since "the Bible speaks of chastisements from God."

Fr. Andrea Vena, priest of Bibione, calling people to repent.

Basetti, however, was reluctant to attribute the pandemic to God's direct intervention since "God does not chastise, but loves with infinite love."

"If we thought of this situation as a punishment from God, we would betray the very essence of the gospel," he cautioned, before hammering home the warning from Jeremiah.

"God saves man by freeing him from sin, but leaving him free" to choose, the cardinal remarked. "There are already certain behaviors of men that themselves punish human beings by impoverishing our existence, breaking our relationship with God, with others and with creation."


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