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
For me, Holy Week has always been more introspectively focused than communally focused. It is a time to reflect and not get so caught up in what, these days, has become a “pre-holiday frenzy” before every holiday, secular or religious. Even the church, with all its liturgies, loves getting into a frenzy.
This Holy Week, due to the pandemic, we all are going to be forced to be more introspective—more alone—than many of us want to be. No pre-holiday frenzy this year. Gaping absences instead. But in this week that is quieter than usual, we all have the chance to focus on the absences in life that can form our vision for a more abundant future. The most striking image I cannot let go of this week is an online news article that showed a young, uninsured woman ready to catch a bus to go to work as a health care provider. She is fearful of becoming sick, yet she knows that she has no other option than to catch that bus because she is living on the edge of poverty. It is a situation that embarrasses me because my own life has been so different, so abundant.
Holy Week is about directly facing the reality of a broken world. But it also gives us the chance to envision what a more abundant world can look like for everyone and the decisions we need to make—as individuals, as a church, and as a society—on how we get there. As I reflect during this Holy Week, I am hoping that resurrection is indeed just around the corner, a day when the fear will be replaced by joy, disease replaced by health, selfishness replaced by concern for one another. I hope you will as well.
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