Bishop’s Updated Pastoral Letter

April 24, 2020

Dear Clergy and Parishioners of the Diocese of Tennessee,

“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:4-5).

I write to you in the great fifty days of the Easter Season, in the name of God, who holds all seasons in his hand, and of Jesus Christ, who is risen from the dead. Jesus is “the faithful witness,” as St. John the Divine reminds us in Revelation, and Christ calls us in turn to be faithful witnesses to the new life that is within us through our baptism into his death and resurrection.

I write as well 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 in Eastertide.

In light of the continued public health crisis in Middle Tennessee, I am continuing the suspension of all public, in person worship in our churches, through Sunday, May 10, including the Sundays, Easter 4 and Easter 5. This is for the purpose of continuing to slow the spread of the virus in our communities.

At the same time, I call upon clergy and congregational leaders to take stock now of the situation in their own parishes, and begin to imagine together the road back to public, in person, congregational life. Each situation will be different, as our contexts for ministry are different. Whatever our context, the return to congregational life and worship will not be a simple or quick return to our situation on February 23, because of the continued presence of the Coronavirus within our communities.

Our churches will need to embrace a phased approach as we work back to public, in person, gathering. There will be public health markers within our local communities that will need to be met at each step. The capacity of our facilities, and continued physical distancing for the immediate future, will be a constraint. The age and health of our own congregational constituencies will also be limiting factor. Continued creativity in pastoral care, and the use of live streamed worship, will be necessary.

Each of our congregations will have a different context and a different timetable for this return that will be determined by clergy and congregational leadership, in consultation with the bishop. I will be sharing with clergy and congregational leaders some guidelines for such a phased approach in the coming week.

The Diocese of Tennessee continues to be blessed with resilient communities of faith, and faithful pastors and parishioners. Thank you for your support in this ministry we have together, in these extraordinary times.

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