March 22 Coronavirus Update

No Services, Activities, or Other Gatherings
until at least May 17th

Dear Friends,

Last week I wrote you that all public gatherings at the church, including worship, were cancelled until March 29th. In light of the developing situation with the coronavirus, our bishops have extended the moratorium on church gatherings until at least May 17th. (You can read the bishops’ latest statement here.)

I remember that on September 16th, 2001, the first Sunday after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the church I was attending was packed. I suspect the same was true here at Good Shepherd, as it was at churches and other houses of worship throughout the country. Although average church attendance has been declining in the western world, when tragedy strikes, many still look to the church to help make sense of the unimaginable. There’s a poignant scene in Thirteen Days, a movie about the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, that shows people lined up around the block trying to get into a church. When there’s tragedy in our personal lives or in the world, we go to church.

But what do we do when tragedy strikes and we can’t gather with others to pray? As I wrote the vestry earlier today, during the COVID-19 crisis we can’t rely on our usual tools. We can’t visit with one another, we can’t offer special liturgies of healing for those who suffer or of remembrance for those who have died, we can’t even rely on the unbroken rhythm of Sunday worship in the sanctuary. When I became a priest I could have never imagined that the church would face a situation like this, that one day I’d be told “Matt, there’s to be no public worship for at least two months. By the way, these two months include Holy Week and Easter, the most import time in the church’s communal life.” 

Although we can’t rely on our usual ways of responding to crises, God has been guiding the church towards a discovery of how we can still manifest the love of God in a hurting world. For a time we won’t be able to worship with one another in our beautiful church building, but we are still the church, the Body of Christ in the world.

Exactly what the Church of the Good Shepherd and Day School will look like during this pandemic will be require ongoing discernment and development. But after conversation with the wardens, staff, diocesan officials, and others, I’m excited to share our initial plans for the next several weeks:

  • This Sunday, March 22nd, at 8:00 or 10:30 a.m. (whenever you would usually go to church), all of Good Shepherd is invited to join from home in the liturgy of Morning Prayer (click here for the 8:00 a.m. Rite I service leaflet, and here for 10:30 a.m. Rite II — for the Children’s “Sunday Paper Junior” click here; for the Children’s “Sunday Paper” click here).  You can also watch a video of my short reflection about the gospel passage for the day.
  • Beginning March 29th we will live stream our 10:30 a.m. service each Sunday. We will also live stream our services on Maundy Thursday (April 9th) at 6:30 p.m., Good Friday (April 10th) at 6:30 p.m., and Easter Sunday (April 12th) at 6:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. I will include information in next Friday’s eShepherd on how to access the live stream.
  • Beginning this Monday, March 23rd, I will send out an email each day that includes your prayer requests and the scripture readings assigned for the day. (Please contact me via email or phone — (252) 406-0619 — to share your prayer requests. Please also call me anytime 24/7 for pastoral care.)
  • The vestry will call all parishioners during the week of March 23rd through 27th to check-in and find out what you hope for from the church during this time. The vestry will then hold a virtual meeting on March 31st to discuss the calls, along with how the pandemic is affecting the church’s financial outlook (as you’re able, I ask that you keep up with your pledge payments either through automatic draft or by mailing a check to Ernest Jones, Good Shepherd’s bookkeeper, at 231 N Church St., Rocky Mount, NC 27804. Ernest is still coming to the office most mornings, and you can reach him at (252) 442-1134.

Although there is a moratorium on church gatherings, the bishops have allowed childcare centers and schools in the diocese to remain open when necessary for community welfare. Since the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education has asked us to provide childcare for children of those who are required to leave home for their work, the Day School will continue to operate weekdays from 7:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. In addition, because of the quality of Good Shepherd’s program and our reputation for maintaining a safe environment, we’ve been asked to care for the children of first responders during the COVID-19 crisis. On average, 35 of Good Shepherd’s 53 students have been able to stay home this past week, so there’s the possibility that we could accept 25-30 children of first responders (the maximum number of children allowed with our current number of staff is 55) until their regular childcare facilities reopen. We’re still evaluating the best ways Good Shepherd, especially the Day School, can respond to the community’s needs, and I’ll provide updates in the eShepherd each Friday and more often when necessary.

Lastly, several of our parishioners do not have internet access. Tom Parker, our parish administrator, is mailing a print-out of this and future eShepherds to those we know of who don’t use email – if you know anyone who does not receive the eShepherd, please email or call Tom (442-1134) with his/her name so we can be sure not to miss anyone. 

As our bishops said, we’re in this together. Know that you remain in my prayers, and I ask that you keep me and the rest of Good Shepherd’s staff and parishioners in yours.

In Christ,