A Letter from Bishop Benfield
When this pandemic began and we closed our churches, many of us were looking forward to the Sunday when we would all return to church and it would feel like Easter at last. That sense of anticipation is probably more palpable now that Arkansas's governor will allow certain businesses to start operations again on May 4.
What we now understand is that the reopening of our churches will take place in a much more measured, careful way than as a grand reopening event. My staff and I working on the best strategy to do so, and thus are working with the help of other church leaders across the Episcopal Church. We will look not only at the governor's directives, but also at guidelines from the Centers of Disease Control and other public health entities. The last thing we want to do is take unnecessary health risks.
In the coming days I will work with our clergy and lay leaders on a set of focused steps for reopening churches. We will, for example, find social distancing as an ongoing reality for some time. It may be that our smaller, more rural congregations will be operating more normally sooner than our larger, urban congregations. It is likely that such events as small Bible study groups will be meeting in church buildings before Sunday worship recommences. And in the first phase of church re-openings, Morning Prayer is likely to be the Sunday morning liturgy rather than participation in the Eucharist.
What I miss most right now is making visits to congregations, confirming people, and sharing the Eucharist with them. Naturally, I have set aside my schedule as I wait to see when it will again be safe to visit congregations and what those visits will look like. In the meantime, while I cannot visit, I am presiding each Sunday at Trinity Cathedral's liturgy.
We have been through a challenging spring, but we have learned how to care of one another in new ways, and that is something that we will build on in the future. We are finding resurrection stories in our own lives, and in that sense every day is Easter Day; every week is still part and parcel of Easter season. I wish you continued joy in this season as we look into the future and the opportunities it will bring us.
A Letter from Bishop Benfield
The Christian Church across the world is preparing for a Holy Week and Easter unlike any we have known. We will not be gathering in person, either to observe the Passion or to celebrate the Resurrection. It does not mean, however, that we will not find ways to gather.
On Monday I had a Zoom meeting with members of the clergy to discuss the varied ways that we are going to lead our congregations this next week. Some of us are going to lead online worship, some will record worship, and some will encourage parishioners to virtually join other congregations.
We will not have “drive-by” or “in the parking lot outdoors” services. The health risk is simply too great. Neither will we attempt what some people call “long distance” consecration of bread and wine. We want to respect the essential traditions of the church that have seen us through other plagues throughout our 2,000-year history.
I encourage you to join in services online as you can, and also spend your own time in prayer in your homes. I also encourage you to find your own acts of compassion in the coming week, be it watching out for a neighbor, calling an isolated person, or donating to help others who are fearfully struggling with finances. The Holy Week and Easter messages after all, are about dying to one way of existence and being raised to a new way of life. This is the life we can live whether we are able to gather in church or not.
Bishop of Arkansas