An Open Letter from Rev. Clarence, 6/20/20

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Dear Members and Friends of St. James Church,

I attach [see Sunday’s post] my thoughts re: today’s lectionary readings and hope that they provide you with thoughts how we might address the issues [that] are literally before us on this third Sunday after Pentecost. I remain optimistic that we have the capacity as a nation, working together, to provide solutions to the two major pandemics that are affecting the fabric of our common life: COVID-19 and systemic racism. In addition, I bring you up to date on movement toward re-opening, i.e. in-person worship.

The City of Somerville has established guidelines that places of worship are expected to follow. Two weeks ago, I was invited to attend a ZOOM meeting called by the mayor to prepare for reopening. In a message received this week from the mayor’s office, we/I have before us/me the following documents:
  • Safety Plan Example
  • Cleaning, Disinfecting Log-Sheet
  • Places of Worship in Somerville–Guidelines

CDC: The city expects all places of worship to follow documents based on the CDC’s COVID-19 Health and Wellness Screening Certification.

The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts is no less rigorous. In fact, although our governor and our mayor have given approval to reopen under guidelines, our Bishops “strongly encourage congregations to refrain from in-person public worship, and to continue virtual opportunities for all aspects of church life (bold in original document) until a move to less restrictive policies is indicated by public health considerations.” Our Bishop, ecognizing the uniqueness of individual parishes and congregations, continues to allow 1 July as a provisional date to reopen. However,

  • Parishes must follow the guidelines outlined in A Journey By Stages: Stage Two Checklist
  • Parishes must petition the Bishop to reopen. To assist in that process, our bishop has established a diocesan committee, Regathering Shepherds.
After conversation with our senior warden, I have this week contacted the Rev. Bill Parnell, Ordinary to the Bishop, in order to initiate this process, which must be approved by the vestry and submitted to the Bishop for his final approval before reopening may be implemented.

As a medievalist by training, I am keenly aware (not because of medical training, which I do not have, but from my research and teaching of medieval history and literature) of [the] potential ramifications of premature and inadequate preparation in [re]opening. [Of greater importance], though, I also have a personal vested interest in securing, as much as possible, the safety and wellbeing of everyone in our parish. Although healthy, I belong by age to that group of individuals whom the CDC cautions currently against gathering in crowds. I assure you that I shall proceed with all due and greater caution than perhaps others. Our decision will be determined by science and local conditions. I encourage us to remain prayerful and patient.

And then, there is one final thing that I bring to your attention. As a citizen of the United States, a resident of [ Watertown], as a human being and Christian, I am compelled to stand weekly in silent solidarity with my fellow denizens of Watertown in order to signify my displeasure with decisions and actions across our nation [that] diminish the humanity of targeted groups because of ethnic or racial heritage. (We observe physical distancing and avail ourselves of face coverings.) My late German father-in-law, both an attorney and a philosopher by training, who had to leave his land of birth because of Nazism, spoke often with me of “accident of birth.” Accident of birth does not and should not allow unearned privilege to be bestowed on any human being.

As always, I bid you pray for peace and for those who care for the ill.

O merciful God, giver of life and health, whose will is made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord: Send Your Blessing upon all who are engaged in healing. Grant that they may be compassionate in their care and fearless in their efforts to promote the health and well-being of the people of this and other lands, and be strengthened by Your grace, for the sake of Your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. AMEN

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you and those whom you love, this day and for evermore. AMEN