New Guidelines for Public Worship - March 31, 2022
To the People of the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina
Dear Friends in Christ,
Two years ago this month, I wrote to you to announce that public in-person worship in the Diocese of East Carolina would be suspended through the end of March, as we came to grips with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two short weeks later, I wrote to extend the suspension through April, thereby limiting our observances of Holy Week and our celebration of Easter Day to worship that we could offer online. Beginning in May of 2020, we initiated a return to public in-person worship, albeit with significant restrictions. Over time, we have gradually eased our restrictions on public in-person worship, each of our worshiping communities doing so at their own pace. More than once since then, in my correspondence with you, I have spoken of the “journey” that we have been on together …a journey in which we are accompanied by our risen Lord, as were Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) …a journey in which “we walk by faith, and not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Now, as our journey forward continues and we once again approach Holy Week and Easter, I write to you to remove the remaining restrictions on our practices of worship. As detailed in the accompanying guidelines, congregational leadership will once again have the option of distributing the wine of communion by a shared chalice. For some, this will be a welcome option that will be implemented immediately. For others, it will seem as if we are rushing too quickly, and they will choose to wait for a time. To be honest, it has been a reality of our life as Diocese that each of us has navigated this pandemic journey at our own speed, as has every individual in eastern North Carolina and in the wider world.
In whatever ways you will observe Maundy Thursday this year, I hope that you hear the words of Jesus from the thirteenth chapter of John’s gospel. After his meal with them, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, in an act of servanthood, and then said to them, “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15) Later, after Judas had gone out, he said to them, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
As we continue the journey forward, I pray that by our words and by our actions it will be clear to “everyone” that we are disciples of Jesus, that our love for one another and for all of God’s children will be even more contagious than any virus we may encounter!
Yours in Christ,
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina