Bishop’s (updated) Pastoral Letter

March 17, 2020

Dear Clergy and Parishioners of the Diocese of Tennessee,

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore” (2 Cor. 13:14).

These are extraordinary times in the world, our nation, and in our diocese. In the rapidly evolving situation in regard to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), we continue to monitor communications from the civil authorities in our country, in our state, and in our different communities, and from public health officials as well. I continue to be in contact with my fellow bishops, especially my colleagues in East and West Tennessee.

Much is unknown about this virus. It is a matter of common sense, however, that strategies of social distancing will have an effect on the rapidity with which COVID-19 will spread to the most vulnerable populations. At issue is the capacity of our health care system to respond to the additional challenge posed by the virus. If the spread of the virus can be delayed, the better able our doctors, nurses, and hospitals will be to care for those who are most profoundly affected by it, as well as dealing with the normal crises of health.

In light of this extraordinary situation, I am directing our clergy and congregations to suspend public, in person worship, on the next two Sundays (Lent 4 & 5). This is for the purpose of slowing the spread of the virus in our communities. I commit to reassessing our situation at the end of that period.

I encourage our congregations that possess the capacity to live stream their worship to do so on these Sundays, and into the future. On these two Sundays, the liturgy of the church should be celebrated with a minimal number present, for purposes of live streaming (ten or less). We encourage members of churches that are not live streaming to attend live streamed worship from our churches that are able to offer it. I believe that continuing to have access to the worship of the church in this form will help to sustain our community of faith in these uncertain times, and help to gather us collectively for the work that lies ahead.

I advise congregations to suspend all parish weekday social and educational events until the end of the month. Some of you will have questions about Twelve-Step Groups, which seem in their own category. Clergy and lay leaders should be in contact with the leadership of these groups, discuss best practices and modifications to the usual format, and make a reasonable decision as to how to proceed.

There will be much to assess, and much to do, as we begin to plan for our re-assembly in the future. We are a single community of faith in the diocese. I have confidence in God’s loving care and mercy. The Risen Lord is in our midst even when we are apart.

Once again, I share with you again the words from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which apply equally well to this situation. “Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers… Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:11-13,15).

Thank you, in these extraordinary times, for your encouragement in this ministry we share.

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