calendar May 23, 2020 in Bishop, Bishop messages, Public Health

Bishop Davenport on Opening Churches

Dear Beloved,

I am so proud of you for the ways you are keeping the congregations of our Synod open through the pandemic and stay-at-home orders. The church in Southeastern Pennsylvania has truly never “closed,” moving worship and education online and continuing to safely serve people in great need. You, church, are proving to be even more essential to our communities. And you, the rostered and lay leaders of our Synod, are essential to us here in the office in new creative ways.

I certainly agree with President Trump that houses of worship are “essential” and in the language used by Governor Wolf, “life-sustaining.” But our churches are not just the building, rather a people sent by God to bring wisdom, healing and wholeness to the world. I am grateful that you have been doing just that.

Notwithstanding the President’s comments, our counties are governed by the state’s phased reopening plan, which still lists our region as in the “red” phase. You do not need to feel pressure to immediately open this weekend. Under our guiding principle of putting people first – especially those most vulnerable to this disease — I encourage you to refrain from indoors, in-person worship until at least July 1. While we all long to worship in person, there remain significant health risks to our members and our communities.

In the coming weeks I urge you (if you have not done this already) to gather a team to study and practice how the continuing restrictions that come with being in the “yellow” phase will play out in your congregation. Is in-person worship in the best interests of the people you are called to care for? Can your building conform to the requirements for physical distancing? How will you limit participation to the 25 persons, appropriately distanced, allowed by the “yellow” phase? We have many resources to help you, including the ELCA’s recent “Considerations for Returning to In-Person Worship,” available on our website.

As much as we know about COVID-19, there is much we do not yet understand. I urge you to make methodical, informed decisions not colored by the passions surrounding this issue. We will return to in-person worship, although for a while it may look very different from what we have been used to. Yet outside the walls, we continue to glorify Christ through our worship, teaching, and serving.

Stay blessed, and stay safe.

The Rev Patricia A. Davenport

Bishop