New Guidelines for Worship - September 29, 2021
To the people of the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina:
Greetings to you, and peace in the name of our risen Lord Jesus!
More than eighteen months have passed since the onset of COVID-19 and the suspension of public worship in the Diocese of East Carolina. Sixteen months have passed since we first published guidelines for a return to public worship in our diocese, guidelines which since then have been regularly reviewed and revised as appropriate. We have worked together to establish safe and creative ways to gather for worship, whether online, outdoors or in our buildings. We have learned new ways to be together as the body of Christ and to respond to God’s call to serve our neighbors. We have been reminded of inequities that are built into our societal structures, inequities which prevent some from having the same access as others to things like health care, education, and employment. These last eighteen months have been deeply challenging for all of us.
During the recent online gathering of the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church, our preachers offered imagery that pointed to their understanding that we stand on a threshold. We have left behind that which we have known in the past but have not yet fully entered into that which waits for us in the future. Many of us find such threshold moments to be unnerving and awkward, perhaps because we crave certainty. Threshold moments can be stressful and in response many of us behave as if we believe that we hold the “right” position on most every important issue, while judging others to be wrong when they differ from us.
Perhaps at threshold moments like the one we continue to face, it is important to remember words which the apostle Paul offered in a different context, “we walk by faith, and not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7 NRSV) When we “walk by faith” we acknowledge that we cannot know all the details and yet we must still make choices about the path forward and commitments about how we will give of our time and energy. When asked by a teacher of the law which commandment was the greatest, Jesus responded by affirming that we are to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. (from Mark 12:29-31) Perhaps at threshold moments like the one we continue to face, we ought to focus all of our efforts on loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Hopefully, you will hear that spirit expressed in our newest guidelines for public worship. These guidelines resemble those published on May 26th of this year, but for the first time since March 2020 now allow for the option to share wine during celebrations of Holy September 29, 2021 Page 2 Eucharist, when congregational leadership determines they are ready to do so. Please see the attached guidelines for details. We will continue to trust our clergy and churchwardens to make good decisions for our congregations, while staying within the parameters of these guidelines. In all things, let us look to the common good of those whom God will lead to worship with us, demonstrating generous hospitality to all, regardless of their vaccination status.
As we continue to “walk by faith, and not by sight” I strongly encourage you to get vaccinated if you have not already done so and if your doctor recommends it for you. In the communities where we live and serve, let us be known as people of faith who look not to our own interests first, but to the needs of our neighbors, seeing in each neighbor the face of God. May God’s Holy Spirit equip us with everything we need for the journey that lies open before us!
Yours in Christ,
Robert Stuart Skirving
Bishop, Diocese of East Carolina