News from “The Father”

Update from Diocese – March 23, 2020

Below is an update from the Diocese of Montana shared today via email.

Bishop Marty has ordered all Episcopal churches in Montana to cease regular worship in person until May 10th at this point.  This is to comply with both our various county public health authorities and the national call for no group gatherings of ten or greater in number.  If the pandemic abates beforehand, the restart date may be moved to sooner.  Many of our churches are either broadcasting, livestreaming or otherwise recording services so that people can worship remotely.   The clergy had a Zoom meeting with Bishop Marty this last Friday, and several strategies are being developed to help congregations maintain their spiritual health.

Funerals will be family-only to keep the attendance below ten people at this point in time.  Clergy have already been advised of this.  It is hoped that larger memorial services will be offered after the pandemic is over.

Montana is beginning its epidemic curve, please help our medical profession out by assuming you could be infected and follow social distancing recommendations to reduce other people’s exposure.  To model this, all meetings with diocesan personnel will be done by phone, GoTo Meeting, Zoom or social media.  All clergy are also requested to follow this example, except for pastoral emergencies outside of hospital settings.  Most hospitals are ceasing in-person visitations, including clergy.  Please remember to notify your clergy if you go to the hospital: they may not be able to visit in person, but can keep in contact and pray for you.

Because of all the closures of businesses, there are many people who are in financial straits.  Clergy expenditures to help people in need is rising rapidly.  Please give generously to the clergy discretionary accounts and other non-profits so that people can continue to eat, have a roof over their heads, and have heat.  And please do not forget to continue your church pledges and contributions.

For those whose visitations have been cancelled, Bishop Marty will start looking at new dates, based on projections on when the pandemic will be behind us.  Lambeth has been postposed until 2021, so the later summer Sundays will be opening up.

Here is the current CDC information for the faith community:

Below are some at-home and small gathering worship and study resources. Please share with the diocesan office other resources you have found helpful:

Morning Prayer – 3/22/2020

Morning Prayer: Rite II

Sunday, March 21, 2020 at 10 am (Mountain Time)

The Fourth Sunday of Lent – First Sunday of the Quarantine 

Opening Sentence                               BCP 76

Confession of Sin and Absolution       BCP 79

Invitatory and Psalter                           BCP 80

Venite                                                  BCP 82

Psalm 23                                              BCP 612

Epistle – Ephesians 5:8-14 

Canticle 13 – A Song of Praise             BCP 90

Gospel – John 9:1 – 41 


The Apostles Creed                             BCP 96

The Prayers                                         BCP 97

Suffrages A                                          BCP 97

Collect of the Day                               BCP 219

Collect(s)                                             BCP 99

Prayer for Mission                               BCP 100

Invitation for Prayers                           BCP 101

General Thanksgiving                          BCP 101

A Prayer of St. Chrysostom                 BCP 102

Closing                                                BCP 102

Evening Prayer for 3/21/2020

Check our Facebook for the live feed!

Evening Prayer: Rite I

Saturday, March 21, 2020 at 5 pm (Mountain Time)

Observing the Fourth Sunday of Lent – First Sunday of the Quarantine

Opening Sentence(s)                            BCP 61

Confession of Sin and Absolution       BCP 62

Invitatory and Psalter                           BCP 63

Psalm 23                                              BCP 612

Gospel – John 9:1 – 41 


The Apostles Creed                             BCP 66

The Prayers                                         BCP 67

Suffrages B                                          BCP 68

Collect of the Day                               BCP 167

Collect(s)                                             BCP 69

Prayer for Mission                               BCP 70

Invitation for Prayers                           BCP 71

General Thanksgiving                          BCP 71

A Prayer of St. Chrysostom                 BCP 72

Closing                                                BCP 73

Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, 2020

“Healing of the Man Born Blind” by Duccio di Buoninsegna, ~1319

The Fourth Sunday in Lent – First Sunday of Coronavirus Shutdown

Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41

Collect: Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Response

Psalm 23

Dominus regit me

1 The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.

3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.

6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The Gospel

John 9:1-41

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” 

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 ( and on our website ( 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

Daily Lectionary Readings including Saints

Formation using the Way of Love

A list of other Episcopal stuff

Lent Madness!  (during the week)

What to do about the virus

On March 14, 2020 our bishop wrote a letter to the clergy of the diocese that said, in part, the following:

“Because the virus is now here, I am requesting all clergy to announce this Sunday that those who are at risk for serious infections should now refrain from attending church and other large gatherings until Easter to protect their health.  Our parishioners will have the freedom to decide for themselves if they wish to stay home as a Lenten practice.”

From Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Website:

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, you can take simple steps to protect yourself and your family. 

  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Avoid contact with sick people when possible
  • Cover your cough and sneezes with the crook of your elbow or a tissue
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and wash your hands frequently
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe

Call ahead to a healthcare professional if you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or if you live in or have recently traveled to an area with ongoing spread. Tell your healthcare professional about your recent travel or contact. Your healthcare professional will work with your state’s public health department and CDC to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19. 

From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Who is at higher risk?

Early information out of China, where COVID-19 first started, shows that some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness. 

This includes:

  • Older adults
  • People who have serious chronic medical conditions like:
    • Heart disease
    • Diabetes
    • Lung disease

Take actions to reduce your risk of getting sick

If you are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 because of your age or because you have a serious long-term health problem, it is extra important for you to take actions to reduce your risk of getting sick with the disease.

  • Stock up on supplies.
  • Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.
  • When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
  • Avoid crowds as much as possible.
  • Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
  • During a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.

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.