I have directed the closing of our churches for worship and other church events until Palm Sunday. Making this decision has been the most difficult I have made in my tenure as your Bishop. It challenges me to the deepest parts of my soul; however, given our current environment I believe it is in the best interests for the safety of wellbeing of all.
My Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
By now most are aware that I have directed the closing of our churches for worship and other church events until Palm Sunday. Making this decision has been the most difficult I have made in my tenure as your Bishop. It challenges me to the deepest parts of my soul; however, given our current environment I believe it is in the best interests for the safety of wellbeing of all.
This letter is not the place to offer justification for my decision but let me share a couple of observations:
While the number of persons currently confirmed with the virus in Oklahoma is low, we are advised that the probability of significantly more cases is high. Some authorities suggest that there could be upward of a thousand persons who are undiagnosed with the virus in our state. As you have seen in the news; schools, colleges, community gathering places, churches, mosques, corporations, and other establishments have made the decision to close or when possible work or meet virtually.
As recent as today, some national and international experts have suggested that the most effective way of slowing and controlling this virus is through “containment”. In other words, mitigating the opportunities for the virus to reach “community spreading”. This is accomplished by proactively eliminating those places where the virus can infect people.
No doubt some of you will see this decision as over-reacting; it very well may be. But, if we can do our part to prevent or slow the spread of this virus; if we can prevent the suffering or death of just one of the most vulnerable among us, it is the most prudent thing to do.
So how do we navigate the next few weeks?
1. As I stated above, I have advised the clergy of our diocese that we will be cancelling all worship services and other church gatherings until Palm Sunday. Exceptions for funerals is on a case by case basis in consultation with the Bishop.
2. I have asked clergy to provide information about “Live Streaming” capabilities; worship resources for home use; or any other resources they feel might be helpful for use during this time.
3. We will be collecting the above resources and providing them on the Diocesan Webpage. Additionally, individual churches will be posting resources on their webpage. These resources will include opportunities to participate virtually in Sunday Morning Prayer Worship; Daily Prayer; Stations of the Cross; Bible Studies; and self-organizing groups for fellowship and support.
4. I am asking clergy to be proactive in reaching out to the most vulnerable and homebound members of our churches for support; and those who may not be technologically capable of joining virtual gatherings.
5. Eucharist to the ill, hospitalized, homebound, and others will continue as needed. Proper attention to the safety and wellbeing of those visited should be exercised.
6. Use of church facilities by outside groups, such as: Alcoholics Anonymous, AL-anon, etc. is at the discretion of the clergy locally.
7. The decision to continue “Feeding Ministries” is at the discretion of the clergy locally. Proper attention to the safety and wellbeing of visitors should be exercised.
I am sure there will be additional questions that may be specific to an individual church. Please do not hesitate to reach out to my office for clarification.
We will be monitoring this situation daily and I am hopeful we will be able to return to our normal schedules and activities prior to Holy Week.
Please continue to pray for those who have tested positive for this virus; for those who are working to find treatments and vaccines; for our leaders who are making difficult decisions for our safety and wellbeing; and for all people as the world faces this challenge.
God Bless You!
+ Bishop Ed
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Edward J. Konieczny
Bishop of Oklahoma