Dear Epiphany Parishioners,
Yesterday – the Feast of Pentecost – we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit, promised to us by Jesus. Jesus refers to the Spirit as an “advocate,” sometimes translated as “comforter” or “helper.” It is a great blessing to have the Spirit’s help and comfort and guidance as we journey together through this difficult season of pandemic.
What follows is an important and full letter. We hope you will take the time to read, reflect, and pray with us. There are three key points we want to communicate up front, in case you can’t read the entire letter now:
There has been much for all of us to absorb recently. On May 12, Bishop Gates and Bishop Harris extended the restrictions on in-person public worship and gatherings in our churches until July 1. On May 18, Governor Baker released plans for a phased reopening of the state that included safety standards for houses of worship, and our bishops released that day their guidelines for a phased reopening of our churches, called A Journey by Stages. It is important to keep in mind that though the state and diocesan plans permit churches to reopen their buildings, they do not require any church to reopen its building.
We will love our neighbors by keeping our building closed for now
After careful review of these plans and consultation with the Vestry, we believe that reopening the church building in the near future would put the health of our parishioners and staff at unnecessary risk, and this risk far outweighs the potential benefits. We believe our best option is for our building to remain closed and to focus on enhancing our online worship and faith formation, while we monitor the local public health indicators of the progression of this pandemic. Staff members may continue to work in the building as necessary, but we may not gather in the building for worship, meetings, or other activities (with the exception of livestreaming and recording worship). To use the language of the bishops’ guidelines, we will remain in Stage One of the diocese’s reopening plan for the time being. We do not have a timeframe for when it will be safe to gather again in the church building. Other churches are also taking a cautious approach, and indeed, our bishops have advised parishes not to rush to reopen their buildings.
We know that this will be disappointing! We all long to return to worship in our beautiful sanctuary, and to gather in the building for meetings and activities and events. The psalmist expresses our yearning well: “How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord.” (Psalm 84.1). And yet, because Covid-19 continues to spread in our communities, and because there is not yet adequate testing and contact tracing in our state, there are risks to all of us in too quickly regathering in the church building, even with precautions. We believe this decision is the best way to safeguard the health of our parishioners and staff, as well as the health of our neighbors. Bishop Harris wrote in her May 29 pastoral reflection, “As St. Paul wrote, we must bear each other’s burdens, and care for the welfare of others, even over our own longings, desires and sense of freedom.” This is what loving our neighbor looks like right now.
An advisory committee has been formed to determine how we can reopen our building
In A Journey by Stages, our bishops encourage parishes to “consider appointing an advisory group to think through the limitations of each stage as it relates to your congregation, your buildings, and your capacity to create a safe environment.” And so, at a special meeting on May 27, our Vestry approved the creation of a Journey by Stages Advisory Committee to evaluate the logistical, financial, and pastoral implications of entering into Stage Two of the diocesan phased reopening plan. You can read the Vestry’s charge to the committee here. The committee is being recruited, and we are pleased that Mary Street has agreed to chair it. We want to emphasize that the completion of the committee’s work will not automatically signal that it is safe for us to regather in the building; the reopening of the building will depend instead on public health indicators and state and diocesan mandates and guidance.
The state and diocesan requirements for reopening church buildings present formidable logistical and pastoral challenges; our bishops describe them as “daunting.” In order for a parish to move to Stage Two in the diocesan reopening plan – in other words, in order to reopen a church building for worship – the following restrictions must be adhered to:
As you can see, these restrictions are formidable, yet necessary given the continued spread of Covid-19. Some have wondered about the possibility of gathering outdoors for worship, but our diocesan leadership has made clear that this entails the same logistical and pastoral challenges as worship indoors, as well as health risks. As our bishops note, “the many limitations on gathering in Stage Two may be difficult for some congregations.”
Our parish remains strong and faithful
As we wait for the time when we can safely gather again, Epiphany remains a resilient and faithful community, for which we give great thanks! Though the building is closed, the worship and ministry of Epiphany carries on in fruitful ways:
We are grateful to each of you for your prayers, your patience, and your faithfulness to Epiphany. We will continue to keep you informed as we walk this path together. We take to heart our bishops’ counsel from their reopening plan: “In every situation we must be guided not just by what is permissible, but by what will best safeguard the well-being of all God’s people.” That is our touchstone. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have questions.
Together in Christ,
Journey by Stages Charge from the Vestry
A Journey By Stages - Reopening our Churches
May 18, 2020
A Message from Your Clergy: Prayer, Care, and Online Church
March 20, 2020
Dear friends at Epiphany,
Though our church building is closed, Parish of the Epiphany remains a vibrant community of prayer and care. We have not stopped being the church! In fact, in some mysterious way, we are more truly and deeply the church of Jesus Christ in this uncertain time. In this letter, we want to share with you some ways we are continuing to pray and to care for each other, as well as some practical information for participating in virtual church.
As of today, we are planning on offering virtual church every Sunday and Wednesday for as long as we can (see more below). On Sundays at 10:00 a.m., you can go to our website and link to a service of Morning Prayer with music, and on Wednesdays at 7:30 a.m., you can link to a service of Morning Prayer. We have also started planning for how we might offer virtual Holy Week services. Bear in mind that, as with so much in our lives right now, our plans may evolve with any new guidance or mandates from local public health officials and our diocesan leaders. We will keep you posted!
And each of us at Epiphany is praying at home, offering to God our hopes and fears, interceding for those who are sick and in need, resting in God’s loving presence. Whether you’re finding strength and comfort in old familiar prayers or exploring new ways to pray, know that God longs for our prayers and listens with love to each one. Every prayer bears fruit in God’s time.
Our Epiphany Visitors, Eucharistic Visitors, and Stephen Ministers have been faithfully reaching out by phone to those parishioners they regularly visit, and other parishioners have been making phone calls as well. We encourage you to keep reaching out! A phone call can make such a difference to someone who is feeling isolated. It’s a tangible and beautiful way of sharing God’s love with each other.
We are also restarting our Parish Fellowship Groups. The names in our parish directory have been divided among Vestry members, and someone from the Vestry will reach out to you soon by email. This is another way to check in, to get a sense of spiritual and practical needs, and to enable people to offer help as they can.
We have added links to our website to access our virtual church offerings, which will be hosted on our YouTube channel. Accompanying bulletins for services will be accessible from our Worship->Schedule and Bulletins page. Be sure to tune in at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday for this week’s offering.
Also, this Sunday at 11:00 a.m., we will host a virtual coffee hour via Zoom videoconferencing. Please join us by clicking on this link at 11:00 a.m. https://zoom.us/j/630762881
If you haven’t participated in a Zoom call before, you can prepare for our virtual coffee hour by following this link: https://zoom.us/test You’ll be prompted to download the Zoom application to your device.
Finally, remember that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.39). As always, we hold you in loving prayer and are so very grateful for each of you at Epiphany.
Faithfully in Christ,
Important Information About Church Closure
March 12, 2020
Dear friends at Epiphany,
We want you to know that given the continued spread of COVID-19 through our communities, we have decided to close the church building through March 31. This means that we will not be gathering at the church for worship services, church meetings and classes, or events during this time. Staff members may work from home or may be in the building to work.
We encourage you to read this letter from Bishop Gates, sent today, in which he offers his support for those churches that decide to close. Though this decision is clearly necessary, we know that it will be difficult not to be with each other on Sundays and at other times. It will help us all if we remember that the church is not a building; it is the body of Christ. Whether we pray together in person or pray together apart, we are the body of Christ. And this is Christ’s work for us right now, to love our neighbors by doing what we can to slow the spread of this virus.
In the days ahead, we will reach out to you with resources for prayer and worship during this time. And of course, it’s essential that we each continue our own spiritual practices, to care for our souls as well as our bodies.
There is a strong network of pastoral visiting at Epiphany. Though in-person visits at most healthcare facilities are being discouraged or even prohibited at this time, we encourage our Epiphany Visitors, Eucharistic Visitors, and Stephen Ministers to offer pastoral care and support by phone to those they would regularly visit. Your clergy are available, as always, in a pastoral emergency.
We will continue to closely monitor this situation and will update you as necessary. For now, let us all:
Faithfully in Christ,
Important Information From Your Wardens and Interim Rector
March 11, 2020
Dear friends at Epiphany,
Today our bishops issued a letter along with a new set of mandated protocols and additional recommended practices. These materials were emailed to you earlier today. Click here to read the Bishop's directive.
We urge you to read and follow these important protocols. You’ll note some significant changes for when we gather for worship: Communion is to be distributed in the form of consecrated bread only; offering plates will be at the back of the church rather than passed among the congregation; and at the Peace and when greeting at the door, people should greet each other without physical touch of any kind.
We want you to know that your wardens, clergy, and Jason Kinchen (who is a Red Cross disaster chaplain) met this past Sunday, March 8, to discuss how we can be prepared as a parish to respond to this situation. We covered every area of parish life and have been following up with staff and ministry leaders this week. Though there is much information to consider and convey, we want to remind you of some basic ways we can help care for each other:
We will continue to email updates and important information – please read them! These updates will also be available on our Facebook page and a Coronavirus updates page on our website.
Please reach out to us with any questions or concerns. Be assured that we will continue to closely monitor this situation and adhere to guidance and mandates from our diocese and local public health officials. Above all, remember that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46.1) and that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.39).
Faithfully in Christ,