Bishop’s (updated) Pastoral Letter

March 26, 2020

Dear Clergy and Parishioners of the Diocese of Tennessee,

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:2).

I write in these extraordinary times of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), to offer further direction regarding the worship of the church over the next two-week period.

We are all keenly aware that the next several weeks include the solemn observance of Palm Sunday (Lent 6), as well as Easter Day (Easter 1). During this time the church observes ceremonies that commemorate the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, reminding us that this is not just a past fact but a present reality in our lives. We are used to our churches being full, and to gathering with our friends, our neighbors, and the community of faith, in the presence of Christ.

At the same time, the challenge of the public health crisis makes it impossible for us to gather as we usually do. These are not normal times. Many of our churches are located in communities whose citizens are presently under “shelter at home” orders.

In light of the crisis, I am suspending public, in person worship in our diocese through Easter Day, including Palm Sunday, the days of Holy Week, and Easter Day. This is for the purpose of continuing to slow the spread of the virus in our communities.

I do not do this lightly. It has been over a hundred years since we have faced a public health crisis on this order of magnitude. These are extraordinary times.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a present reality in our lives. It is the foundation of our identity as Christians. Jesus is alive, and he appears to his disciples (both then and now) in the midst of our difficult circumstances of grief and isolation. The Risen Lord’s first words to the disciples on Easter morning were to calm their fears and then to dry their tears. This is when Christ is present.

Easter is a season, not a day. It extends for fifty days, from Easter Day through the Feast of Pentecost (May 31 this year). Each Sunday of the year is a “little Easter,” a celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Easter cannot be cancelled by anyone! The Diocese of Tennessee will re-gather in the light that shines from the Day of Resurrection.

I encourage each of you in the midst of these challenging times to continue to deepen your faith in the Risen Lord. I ask our clergy to continue to claim their identities as pastors and teachers in new ways in these changed circumstances. I invite all of us, again, to read and meditate upon God’s holy Word, as we were invited to do on Ash Wednesday (BCP, 265). Our communion with Christ, and in him with each other, continues whether we are able to gather or not. This is a time for us to deepen the capacity of our hearts to receive him.

All other provisions in earlier pastoral letters regarding live streaming continue to apply. I commend to you the many resources in our tradition as Anglicans that are helpful to us, precisely in times like these when Christians cannot gather. The Diocese of Tennessee is blessed with resilient communities of faith, and faithful pastors and parishioners. Thank you for your support in this ministry that we share.

“The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant: Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight; through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. (Hebrews 13:20-21).

  • The Rt Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee