Response #3 | March 12 | Worship Services Suspended
My sisters and brothers in Delaware,
Earlier today Governor Carney declared a state of emergency, citing the threat to public health of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
There are multiple instructions, restrictions, and prohibitions for Delaware residents, and I encourage you to read the declaration in its entirety — the link can be found here. Paragraph 6 outlines restrictions on “non-essential mass gatherings,” and it is unclear at this time if this applies to church worship services. While the paragraph makes allowances for gatherings up to 100 people, it is also not clear how this limit could be effectively managed while providing meaningful, hospitable worship open to the public. Hence the need for more time to discern.
As an immediate result of this action, I am hereby suspending all public worship services within the Episcopal Church in Delaware for the next two weeks, effective immediately. Priests who wish to officiate at a funeral already planned for the next two weeks may petition me for an exception to this suspension provided (1) the funerals are no longer open to the public and (2) no more than 99 persons (including family, worshipers, volunteers, clergy, assisting ministers, funeral home attendants, everyone) are in attendance. As always, I encourage my clergy colleagues to continue to call me with your questions and requests as you have done since the start of this crisis.
We will update you as soon as possible with options for online Episcopal worship services in our diocese.
I hope to be able to lift the suspension to enable public worship again by Sunday, March 29 (the Fifth Sunday of Lent). This, however, cannot be guaranteed at this point. I expect to notify clergy of the status of the suspension on Wednesday, March 25 (earlier, if at all possible) in order to begin preparing for worship as soon as possible.
We all feel pain and sadness in having to suspend worship, even under these remarkable circumstances and even though temporary. This is not an easy action to take. As I have written, we live in a very uncommon time, and we make our decisions together with the full knowledge that our actions affect one another across the church and across our community. None of us is an island, none of us is alone. I pray we all will find the wisdom and courage in this hour to embody the faith, hope, and love of Christ Jesus to one another and to the world.
Your brother in Christ,