News from “The Father”

Virus Update – March 13, 2020

Brothers and sisters in Christ, 

Let me first begin with a prayer: 

O Most mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succor.  Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is, we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (“Prayer for Time of Great Sickness and Mortality” from The Book of Common Prayer 1928)

A week ago, I wrote to all of you to share some basic guidance and some thoughts about the spread of the COVID-19 (aka corona virus) in the United States.  That message was mostly intended to be a reminder about basic practices such as washing of hands, alternative options for the peace and communion options.  As we all know, things have changed a lot in the past week.  

On Thursday, Montana’s governor declared a state of emergency statewide because of the virus.  It is important to note that this was done as a preemptive measure.  There are no confirmed cases of the virus or disease in Montana as of late Thursday.  However, this is likely due to the fact that only 55 people have been tested in the state as of that time.  For the latest Montana-specific details, visit the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services website. But this situation will likely change in the near future.  Now, we must look to and plan for the future with the expectation that the virus will be identified throughout Montana.  

You might have heard that a number of dioceses in The Episcopal Church have stopped offering the chalice during the celebration of Holy Eucharist.  More recently, the Dioceses of Virginia and of Washington announced that all of their churches would be closed for at least the next two weeks.  Those decisions were made because of the known and active spread of the virus in numerous communities in those dioceses.  That is not the case currently in Montana.  Therefore, St. Stephen’s will not be implementing such measures at this time. However, we must make some adjustments to help slow the possible spread of this virus.  

Our bishop sent out what is known as a pastoral letter to the clergy of the Diocese of Montana on March 12, 2020.  She said that she expects congregations to continue to hold their usual worship services for the time being, but to prepare for alternative options.  To that end, there are no immediate plans to alter our service schedule.  I am preparing to test out options for sharing liturgy electronically for those unable to join us in person or, in a worst-case scenario, if we must cancel services.  

The bishop also encouraged considering some adaptations to communion practices and I agree with her wisdom.  So, for the time being we will be using “communion by stations” instead of the kneeling at the altar rail.  This minimizes the physical contact that each of us has with a common surface.  If you are confused, do not worry, we will walk you through this during the liturgy.  The chalice will continue to be offered to people. If you are hesitant about receiving from the chalice, I encourage you to simply hold onto the base of the chalice when offered as a form of receiving the Blood of Christ, instead of intinction.  There is no requirement to receive communion in both forms.  

In my email last week, I encouraged people to not shake hands or hug during the peace.  Now, I would like to say that it should not be done at all.  Exchanging the peace can be done verbally or through hand gestures of various sorts, but for the time being, we should abstain from physical contact.  Unfortunately, this also extends to shaking hands at the end of the service.  

Finally, I wanted to reiterate that I will continue to use hand sanitizer frequently and ensure that I am keeping safe when leading worship.  I encourage you to do the same.  I will continue to drink from the chalice at the end of the liturgy until told not to so to reassure those who also continue that practice.  However, I do not want anyone to feel obligated to do anything that they are uncomfortable with.  

If you are sick, please seek medical support and stay home.  If you have questions about any of this, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or the church office.  We are in this together and I encourage all of us to remain hopeful, while also being prudent.  

Yours in Christ,

Father Stephen

Holy Week 2020

Holy Week 2020 will begin with what Father Stephen has coined “Palm Saturday” services at 5 pm on Saturday, April 4.  Father Stephen will be on his way back from a Diocesan Council meeting in Helena at that time (assuming the meeting is still in-person), so The Rev. Canon Waddingham has offered to cover that service.  Palm Sunday will be celebrated on Sunday, April 5 at 10 am. 


We will have a Maundy Thursday service (without foot washing) on Thursday, April 9 at 7 pm.  This service will include a somewhat informal Eucharist where parishioners will be encouraged to gather around the table. The altar will be stripped at the conclusion of this service. 


On Good Friday, April 10, there will be two services offered.  First, at noon we will have the traditional Good Friday liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer.  That evening, at 7 pm, we will resume our interdenominational partnership with First Presbyterian and Peace Lutheran congregations with a joint service.  The service will be hosted by Peace Lutheran and Father Stephen has been asked to preach (it will be brief, he promises).  


On Holy Saturday, St. Stephen’s will not have a service but you are encouraged to consider attending the Easter Vigil at St. Luke’s which will be at 8 pm, followed by champagne and carrot cake.


Finally, we will celebrate the resurrection together on Sunday, April 12 at our normal 10 am service time.  


These are the plans as of now, but are subject to change based on factors beyond our control, namely, the coronavirus.  

A Message from Presiding Bishop Curry – 3/12/2020

A message from Presiding Bishop Curry related to worship changes during a public health emergency

Statement of the Presiding Bishop to the House of Bishops

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Day #3

“Opportunity is always to be given to every communicant to receive the consecrated Bread and Wine separately.”  (BCP p. 407)

“The Rector or Priest-in-Charge shall have full authority and responsibility for the conduct of the worship and spiritual jurisdiction of the Parish, subject to the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, the Constitution and Canons of this Church, and the pastoral direction of the Bishop.”  Canon III.9.6(a)(1)

Neither the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer nor the Canons of the Episcopal Church address a public health emergency such as the one we are facing. My message to you sent last evening, which is being made public today, is designed to send a signal to the Church that the Presiding Bishop is supporting bishops who make decisions to suspend the common cup because of this public health emergency. My hope is that this will obviate or mitigate any effort to take canonical action directed at any bishop for these actions in these circumstances. This is to help uphold the good order of the Church in this context in which the moral primacy of Jesus’ command to love thy neighbor must guide us.

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.

In an email to me last night our brother Mark Van Koevering of the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington spoke of the decision to honor the Kentucky Governor’s request of religious leaders to suspend public worship with these words.

“I am loathe to cancel services, but I do support the Governor’s recommendation and think that I must humbly ask our faith communities to practice a Lenten fast of public worship this week as a sign of love for one’s neighbor especially the most vulnerable.”

Obedience to the moral primacy of love for the neighbor must direct us. My hope is that this will enable us to do that while maintaining the good order of the Church for the sake of following Jesus in God’s mission for God’s world.

God bless you and keep the faith.

+Michael

What Wondrous Love – Session 3

“Washing of the Feet II” by John August Swanson, 1999

On Sunday, March 15, 2020, we will be discussing the above painting and the following passage:

John 13:1 – 20 (NRSV)

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”

A note from Father Stephen regarding COVID 19


First, I would encourage all people to read what our wonderful bishop had to share in the diocesan newsletter, which I have also shared on our website regarding this virus.  


Second, while there haven’t yet been any confirmed cases of this illness in Montana, it is likely just a matter of time until it is among us and to that end, we should take some minor precautions.  To that end I think that the following practices should be considered:


– Passing the peace is about acknowledging our neighbors and as “a sign of reconciliation, love and renewed relationships in the Christian community (An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church).” But, nothing in the BCP tells us that we must shake hands or hug others as a sign of this peace.  So, for now, I would encourage non-touching signs of exchanging the peace to minimize possible contamination.

– Please wash your hands regularly and use hand sanitizer

– The chalice is not likely to be a source of infection.  As our bishop said, “the common communion cup has never been implicated in a disease outbreak and has been laboratory tested with a variety of infectious agents provided the chalice is silver (plate is fine), wine is used (especially port, which has a higher alcohol content) and the chalice is wiped and rotated between receiving communicants.”

The bigger risk when it comes to the chalice, is from intinction (or dipping) the host/communion wafer into the wine.  That increases the chances of contamination of other sorts. So if you choose to intinct, please be very careful to not dip a finger into the liquid.  Above all, please remember that communion in both kinds (bread and wine/Body and Blood) is not required and isn’t even the historical standard, so please do not feel obligated to partake.  

– The number one item is that if you feel like you are sick, please stay home and consult with a healthcare professional. As a side note, Father Stephen’s sermons are available on our website if you miss church.  

As events and circumstances change, we might need to adapt further, but for now take care of yourselves and let us strive to live in hope, not fear.  If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to me or our office.

Peace,

Father Stephen

What Wondrous Love – Session 2

“Entry Into the City” by John August Swanson, 1990

On Sunday, March 8, 2020 we will discuss the painting above and Mark 11:1-11.

Mark 11: 1 – 11 (NRSV)

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.

Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Musings from Bishop Marty – March 2020 Edition

Some wisdom from our awesome bishop…

I guess it might be topical that I am wearing both hats today: both as an Episcopal bishop and as an infectious disease veterinarian/epidemiologist.  The U.S. Centers of Disease Control has issued an advisory about the new Corona virus in humans, Covid-19.  The CDC and the World Health Organization are predicting a high likelihood of a pandemic with this virus.  There are infections in every continent, except Antarctica.  At the end of February, most of the cases outside of Asia are contained under individual quarantine at the moment.  This virus does not spread as easily as the flu, but if still highly contagious and the human population has not seen this particular Corona virus yet, so most people exposed will likely get some symptoms. WHO reports that 82% of cases are mild (like a bad cold) while 15% develop a more serious respiratory illness.  Symptoms include fever, severe cough, shortness of breath and sometimes gastrointestinal problems or diarrhea. There are cases of people who have transmitted the infection but they themselves developed no symptoms (asymptomatic).  At the moment, Covid-19 is thought to be transmitted by the coughing and sneezing resulting from this respiratory virus.  The incubation period (time of exposure to the start of symptoms) is between 10 to 14 days. Part of the current challenge is the lack of enough diagnostic testing kits and the variability in the diagnostic quality of the available kits.  The laboratory and clinical tests are still under rapid development.

From the February 27th Situation Report from WHO:

If you are not in an area where COVID-19 is spreading, or if you have not travelled from one of those areas or have not been in close contact with someone who has and is feeling unwell, your chances of getting it are currently low. However, it’s understandable that you may feel stressed and anxious about the situation. It’s a good idea to get the facts to help you accurately determine your risks so that you can take reasonable precautions. Your healthcare provider, your national public health authority and your employer are all potential sources of accurate information on COVID-19 and whether it is in your area. It is important to be informed of the situation where you live and take appropriate measures to protect yourself.  If you are in an area where there is an outbreak of COVID-19 you need to take the risk of infection seriously. Follow the advice issued by national and local health authorities. Although for most people COVID-19 causes only mild illness, it can make some people very ill. More rarely, the disease can be fatal. Older people, and those with preexisting medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes) appear to be more vulnerable.

As Episcopalians we need to be prepared for when this virus reaches Montana.  For more information, go to:

CDC’s updates:  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html 
WHO’s updates:   https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

To prepare for the disease reaching Montana, all congregations should have hand sanitizers, surface disinfecting wipes and over-the-counter surgical-style face masks on hand.  These may become difficult to obtain in the midst of an outbreak.  All of these items can come in handy during next year’s flu season.  In the face of a potential outbreak:

  • If you have a fever and any respiratory signs-STAY HOME.This includes choir masters, your bishop, and altar guild chairs: you know who you are! Contact your clergy to let them know if you need pastoral care and let them know you are sick, so the necessary precautions can be made.
  • If the Public Health authorities request church services be cancelled, please follow their recommendations.A church gathering has been implicated in part of the outbreak in China.
  • Please note: the common communion cup has never been implicated in a disease outbreak and has been laboratory tested with a variety of infectious agents provided the chalice is silver (plate is fine), wine is used (especially port, which has a higher alcohol content) and the chalice is wiped and rotated between receiving communicants.
  • Clergy and Eucharistic Ministers need to use hand sanitizer over the entire surface of both hands (not just fingertips); lavabo water is insufficient.Remember to not touch your face or other surfaces (especially altar rails and your glasses) before distributing bread. This is where disease transmission is more likely to occur during Communion.That and altar rails. Resanitize your hands as needed.
  • Altar Guilds need to prepare the table and the sanctuary with sanitation in mind.Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before beginning.Use disposable gloves if necessary.Do not touch surfaces or your face while setting up for communion.Altar rails and the tops of pews or chairs and any arms on chairs (the places people are likely to place contaminated hands) should be wiped with sanitizing wipes before each service.The Altar rail can also be wiped periodically during communion if people are in habit of kneeling to receive and use the altar rail to assist in kneeling or standing.
  • Hand sanitizer should be readily available to all people attending or serving at any church gathering.Use should be strongly encouraged.Teach people to not touch their face or to use the sanitizer if doing so.The face masks can help with this new habit.
  • Toss all paper bulletins used in a service: do not reuse.
  • There is no real way to sanitize the typical pew BCPs and hymnals.Wiping the exterior will help, but teaching people to not touch their face after using the books is the best prevention.
  • Passing of the Peace should be done without handshaking or hugs.Remember to resanitize hands afterward (you may have grabbed a contaminated surface).
  • If you have respiratory signs (without fever), have a weak immune system, or have another health issue that makes you more at risk for severe disease, please use a face mask to help reduce your risk.Be kind and do not pry if someone chooses to wear a mask.Wearing a mask as a precaution is a common practice in Japan and other countries.Do not reuse masks!
  • Figure out ways to assist our senior citizens with these new habits.Work with the children of the congregation to join in this exercise without terrifying or terrorizing them.
  • Sanitize all children’s worship kits. Print fresh children’s bulletins: do not reuse between services.Stuff animals should only be brought from home and taken home.Stuffed animals and paper cannot be sanitized in a church setting.
  • Pray for those who are ill; for those who are terrified of this outbreak; for those who are working so hard to stop it and those who are in the midst of caring for those who are ill.
  • Please remember that this outbreak will be done at some point in time.It is the fear of the unknown and anticipation that troubles the soul so much.This virus is not like those portrayed in Hollywood movies.But as the epidemiologist character, Dr. Erin Mears, said in the movie, Contagion: ‘Stop touching your face!’ and ‘Wash your hands frequently.’