Charting a New Path

March 17, 2020

Members of the Saint Stephen’s Community,

This is not how I expected to be writing my first parish letter to all of you.  First, allow me to thank all of you for the great day that we had on this past Sunday.  The installation service and reception were amazing.  Thank you to everyone who helped out! It was a wonderful celebration in the midst of chaotic times.

Now for the main reason for this letter… the virus situation.  As the presiding bishop said in his email published last week, which some wise preacher referenced on Sunday, “The next 30-60 days at the least are simply going to be unlike anything we have experienced in recent history, even including 9/11. The dilemma of what we know and what we don’t know will continue to complicate our decision making and our lives.” 

There have many changes in the past few days. 

On Saturday, March 14, our bishop said that those who are at higher risk to the virus should abstain from church until Easter.  Those defined as being at higher risk includes older adults and people with serious chronic medical conditions (such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease).  This age group incorporates A LOT of our church’s membership. 

On Sunday, March 15, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said that people should not gather in groups of larger than 50 people to avoid spreading the virus.  

On Monday, March 16, The President’s Coronavirus Task Force issued its “15 Days to Slow the Spread” plan which includes the following recommendation, “avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.”  That document also states that “in states with evidence of community transmission, bars restaurants, food courts, gyms and other indoor and outdoor venues where groups of people congregate should be closed.” That last sentence is the most telling.  Now, Montana doesn’t yet have documented cases of community transmission, that I know of, but it is only a matter of time. 

Given all of this, I feel that it is necessary to close our church through the end of March, at the least.  This would mean at least two weekends without a celebration of the Eucharist.  I think that this gives us some breathing room to find out where we are as a society with the virus and it also is in line with the most recent recommendations from the federal government.  I do not take this action lightly but feel that it is the wisest decision for our people.  I have discussed this with our wonderful wardens and the vestry.  

So, what happens now? 

First, worship can and will continue.  I will work as I normally do to prepare for worship weekly and I plan to offer a live stream via our  Facebook page (facebook.com/ststephensbillings/) and on our website (ststephensbillings.org) for Evening Prayer (Rite I, of course) on Saturday evenings and Morning Prayer (Rite II) on Sunday mornings.

Second, our office will be closed during this time to allow our staff to stay safe.  I will be in from time to time and will be checking the mail.  The vestry decided that it was appropriate to continue to pay our staff during this crisis for the time being.  This allows them to focus on their health and safety instead of worrying about making ends meet.  Given this, as much as is possible, I would ask that you continue to make contributions to the church as you normally would, but instead of placing them in the offering plate, you can mail them directly to the church.  

I will still be available to all of our people in one form or another.  Please note my phone number and email address at the bottom of the letter and feel free to get in touch if you need anything.  This crisis will pass. We shall endure. Please know that you are not alone.  I ask your prayers for the vulnerable among us and for those who help to keep us all well and our needs met.  Please check out our webpage and in particular my page, “News from ‘the Father’” for the latest updates and more resources.  

Allow me to close with a prayer that seems appropriate:

O Lord, we are at the limits of our power to help. For what we have left undone, forgive us.  For what you have helped us to do, we thank you.  For what must be done by others, lend your strength.  Now shelter us in your peace which passes our understanding. Amen.

Stay safe and healthy, and keep the faith,

Father Stephen

Some resources suggested by Bishop Marty:

Daily Office by Mission St. Clare      https://www.missionstclare.com/english/

Daily Lectionary Readings including Saints   https://episcopalchurch.org/lectionary-calendar

Formation using the Way of Love   https://experiencingjesuswithbishopmariann.simplecast.fm

A list of other Episcopal stuff   https://episcopalchurch.org/WoL/worship/all

Lent Madness!  (during the week)  https://www.lentmadness.org

Author: Father Stephen

Father Stephen started serving as the rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on January 10, 2020. Prior to that position he served as priest-in-charge in Miles City and Forsyth, Montana. He is originally from West Virginia and has experience in youth ministry, mission work and more.

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