Dismissal, resistance, resignation. That seems to have been something of the process many church leaders have gone through this week in first declining to suspend their worship services and then deciding that it was the right thing to do. Of course there are many churches, especially small ones, that will still be having services on Sunday, but in the last few days—even the last few hours—many have announced they are suspending in-person services. Here are some links to articles and services related to this episode in American religious life.
Esau McCaulley, an Anglican who teaches at Wheaton College has a thoughtful essay in the New York Times. I especially appreciated his attention to religious space and how this crisis calls for different types of practice to achieve the same compassionate ends than the AIDS crisis.
The Episcopal Diocese of Washington and Washington National Cathedral were among the first large groups to announce that they were suspending services. Their initiative is no doubt related to the fact that a parish of the diocese, Christ Church in Georgetown, had to suspend services last Sunday because its rector had COVIG-19. All who had contact with him on the previous Sunday when he was already, unknowingly, infected were called to self-quarantine. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Reverend Michael Curry, will preach at a service of Holy Eucharist that will be attended by few but webcast to the world at 11 a.m. EDT.
Here in Alabama, the Episcopal bishop, the Right Reverend Kee Sloan was scheduled to visit All Saints’ Church in Homewood this week (which I attend). That happens to be the church whose rector, the Reverend Dr. Glenda Curry was recently elected to succeed him at the beginning of 2021. Sloan will preach at a service of Morning Prayer at All Saints’ with Dr. Curry, It will be webcast on the diocese’s Facebook page at 12 noon EDT (11 a.m. CDT). The decision to hold Morning Prayer with Sermon rather than the more usual Holy Eucharist appears to have been made because those watching will not be able to receive communion. Also, the bishop’s direction for worship over the next three weeks appeared to leave open the option of outdoor celebrations of the daily office (such as morning or evening prayer) but not outdoor celebrations of the eucharist.
Among the many other churches making this decision and providing online services, I’ll mention one more. Alabama’s largest church, Church of the Highlands, waited until 4 p.m. on Saturday to announce it would not hold in-person services. it had announced it would go ahead with in-person services. It’s service will be first webcast at 9:30 a.m. EDT (8:30 CDT) and available thereafter of the website. The video message released Saturday afternoon from its pastor, the Reverend Chris Hodges, expressed the frustration many church members experience. They passionately believe that the church, including gatherings of public worship, are an important way of addressing this crisis, but they have been convinced, sometimes with great reluctance that in this instance suspending gatherings is the more important thing to do.
(For a good report on the decisions at other mega churches see Ruth Graham’s article published Friday in Slate.)