Bishop’s Pastoral Letter

March 13, 2020

Dear Clergy and Parishioners of the Diocese of Tennessee,

Less than two weeks have passed since the destructive tornadoes that affected so many parts of Middle Tennessee. Now we are faced with new challenges in our communities through the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

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). These words of encouragement inspire us through the Holy Spirit as we do the work Jesus has called us to.

On February 28, the three Bishops in the State of Tennessee shared with our three dioceses some guidelines for best practices in light of the virus. We have continued to consult with each other and to support each other in prayer. I continue to commend this statement to you. We have also determined, this week, that our differing contexts require maximum flexibility in addressing this complex crisis.

This same principle of flexibility applies within our own diocese. We are a single community of faith that gathers in different communities within Middle Tennessee. We differ not only in geography, but in congregational size and in the average age of our parishioners. Our circumstances are different.

In responding to the different contexts and circumstances in which we minister, my intention at this time is to give you the maximum flexibility in responding to the needs of your situation. Clergy conducting worship, in consultation with vestry and mission council leadership, are free to make determinations about public worship and the “Due Celebration of Sundays” (Canon II.1). I ask the clergy to communicate with me and Canon Howard about these developments.

This is a rapidly evolving situation. We are aware that in some parts of our country, churches have been asked to suspend public worship by the civil authorities, or have themselves determined to suspend it. We are closely monitoring communications from State and local authorities, as well as trusted information from the health care community. I anticipate that you will hear further from me early next week as we chart a course through this season of our life together.

We are now challenged to do ministry in new and creative ways as this situation evolves. Live streaming liturgies and preaching; continuing our ministries to the homebound, the sick, those who may be quarantined; discovering new ways to engage the Holy Scriptures and each other in light of this challenge. We are still called to mission and ministry. We are still called to be a community.

Please see the attached document on best practices. You are in my prayers as you continue to engage in the work of the Church.

“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). 

The Rt Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee