Letter from the Rector on COVID-19 Church Closures (Updated April 1, 2020)
Author's Note: The national and local responses to the COVID-19 outbreak are rapidly changing. I updated the letter on April 1, 2020, to include new instructions from the Bishop and new changes to our Holy Week and Easter Worship Schedule.
March 17, 2020
The Tuesday after the Third Sunday in Lent
Feast of St. Patrick of Ireland
"[God] alone is my rock and my salvation, *
My stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.
In God is my safety and my honor, *
God is my strong rock and my refuge"
- Psalm 62:7-8 (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 669)
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Psalm 62 is an expression of King David's faith in God during times of hardship, duress, anxiety, and uncertainty. David called God his rock and refuge while he and his army were on the run from many enemies. Today, we face a different sort of enemy: not an opposing army, but a public health crisis in COVID-19 (a.k.a. the novel coronavirus).
The World Health Organization (WHO) has now declared that the COVID-19 outbreak is a pandemic. On Friday, March 13, the President of the United States declared the pandemic a national emergency, and the Governor of Georgia declared it a public health emergency. WHO officials say, “Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.” Even though many young, seemingly healthy people may display no symptoms, they can still be carriers of COVID-19. Because we do not know how many people carry the virus, large gatherings of people put the most vulnerable among us at serious health risk.
In light of all this information, the Right Rev. Scott A. Benhase, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, issued the following statement on Tuesday, March 31: “With the new physical distancing/shelter-in-place guidelines coming out of the federal government (extension through at least April 30), let me just say that until further notice from the Bishop’s Office there will be no in-person, public worship in the Diocese of Georgia.”
In response to the Bishop's directive, I am taking the following actions as Rector of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church:
1. All of the church's public worship services, events, in-person meetings, and office hours are now canceled from March 14, 2020, until further notice. This includes all Sunday and midweek services, including our Wednesday Lenten Study.
2. I will provide online worship resources to help our parishioners to worship from home:
a. I will post a written service of Sunday Morning Prayer to our church blog on Saturday nights or early Sunday mornings, including my sermon for the week: www.StMattSav.org/blog
b. I will Livestream worship using Facebook Live at www.FaceBook.com/StMattSav. I’ll start by broadcasting Evening Prayer on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at about 5:00 p.m., and then I will broadcast the Sunday Eucharist (without Communion) at about 9:30 a.m. In other words, we’ll try to maintain something like our normal worship schedule. After the services conclude, you can re-watch them any time on-demand.
c. Holy Week Worship will be available via Facebook Live at the following times: - Palm Sunday (4/5): Holy Eucharist (no Communion) @ 9:30 a.m. - Holy Monday (4/6): Evening Prayer @ 4:00 p.m. - Holy Tuesday (4/7): Evening Prayer @ 4:00 p.m. - Holy Wednesday (4/8): Evening Prayer @ 4:00 p.m. - Maundy Thursday (4/9): Evening Prayer @ 4:00 p.m.; Maundy Thursday Liturgy @ 5:00 p.m. - Good Friday (4/10): Stations of the Cross @ 12:00 noon; Fr. Arboleda available for Private Confession (in-person or over video call) from 1:00-4:00; Evening Prayer @ 4:00 p.m.; Good Friday Liturgy and Emptying of the Tabernacle @ 5:00 p.m. - Holy Saturday (4/11): Morning Prayer & Holy Saturday Liturgy @ 9:30 a.m. - Easter Day (4/12): Sunrise Easter Vigil with Holy Communion @ 6:00 a.m. Then, from 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon, I invite church members to come in small groups of 10 or fewer to receive their Easter Communion on the front steps of the church.
c. I will share the Lenten Study videos by email to anyone who directly requests them. Send me an email message asking for these videos at FrGAA@StMattSav.org.
3. The Day Care & Learning Center will close from at least March 21 - 31. The Director and I agreed to follow the protocol of Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools, which will close from March 18 - 31 by the executive order of Gov. Kemp (issued late on March 16, 2020). In order to give our Day Care families time to adapt to this change, the Learning Center will remain open through the end of this week (until Friday, March 20, 2020).
In the meantime, here are some steps you can take to support the church during this voluntary quarantine:
1. Stay home; please take this quarantine seriously. If you are in an at-risk population (over age 60 and/or with underlying health conditions), please take every precaution to avoid unnecessary social contact. And if you seem well and healthy, please do the same to protect those who are more vulnerable than you are. These measures may seem drastic, but they are necessary to protect our wider society.
2. Continue sending pledges and tithes to the church. Even though public worship is closed, the church still has bills and must continue paying the staff. You may mail checks or money orders to the church, or make a secure donation online at www.StMattSav.org by clicking on the “Give” tab, or clicking here: https://onrealm.org/StMattSav/-/give/now
3. Check on each other. Even during this time of anxiety and fear, we must remember the words of Jesus: love your neighbors as yourself (Mark 12:29-31). Do not neglect to reach out to your elderly neighbors who may need groceries or medicine. Support your friends and neighbors who may be out of work or have trouble paying bills due to job and school closings. Make sure that if you or someone you know feels sick, they seek medical attention. And let me know if you or someone else has become sick so I can provide pastoral care.
4. Keep praying. Use the online resources I mention above. Use this time of voluntary quarantine to deepen your own habits of prayer. Remember to pray for all those already affected, not just by the virus, but with all these social ripple effects. And keep relying on our gracious and merciful God, who is our "stronghold, so that [we] shall not be shaken" (Psalm 62:7).
With Christ's Love,
The Rev. Guillermo A. Arboleda
Chappell, Bill. "Coronavirus: COVID-19 Is Now Official A Pandemic, WHO Says." NPR.org. Published 11 March 2020. Accessed 13 March 2020. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/03/11/814474930/coronavirus-covid-19-is-now-officially-a-pandemic-who-says.
Curley, Molly. "Gov. Kemp Declares Public Health Emergency, a First for Georgia." WSAV.com. Published 13 March 2020. Accessed 13 March 2020. https://www.wsav.com/news/local-news/georgia-news/gov-kemp-declares-public-health-emergency-a-first-for-georgia/.
Kumar, Anita. "Trump Declares National Emergency in Latest Bid to Combat Coronavirus." Politico.com. Published 13 March 2020. Accessed 13 March 2020. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/13/coronavirus-emergency-declaration-trump-128530.
World Health Organization. "Q&A on Coronaviruses (COVID-19)." WHO.int. Published 9 March 2020. Accessed 13 March 2020. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses.
WSAV Staff. "Gov. Kemp orders public schools to close; USG moves online." WSAV.com. Published 16 March 2020. Accessed 17 March 2020. https://www.wsav.com/news/local-news/georgia-news/georgia-reporting-121-confirmed-cases-of-covid-19-monday/.