May 8, 2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
For the sake of those who are our church family, and for the sake of our communities, I have decided to extend the closure of church facilities for in-person worship and other gatherings through Sunday, May 24.
This new starting date for a phased and gradual reopening of our churches replaces the May 15th date I announced on April 24th. After Sunday, May 24th, “Phase Two – a Modified Return to Public Worship” will begin. During Phase Two, church offices may open and in-person worship services held, provided that their Covenant Agreement is returned to Archdeacon Mike Besson and that a congregation specific plan for modified worship, responsible social distancing, and increased cleaning practices has been developed and communicated to the congregation. During Phase Two, gathering in-person for Christian formation, fellowship, or other meetings is still off limits. This new date does not assume or require that all churches begin in-person worship at that point. And, we must all keep in mind that increased rates of community spread may require churches to delay reopening further or close again in the future.
As with all other diocesan decisions made concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, I have sought to be prayerful, fully informed and collaborative, and have consulted widely. Following the release of the diocesan Guidelines for Phased Reopening on Friday, May 1st, and the webinar held for clergy on Tuesday, May 5th, about the Guidelines, diocesan staff and I have spent much time considering questions, recommendations, and responses to the Guidelines from clergy and lay leaders throughout the Diocese. I’ve sought out the widest possible perspective, specifically regarding the date for beginning to reopen, including the Standing Committee and a large group of clergy representing all parts of the Diocese and all sizes of our congregations.
Though not unanimous, a large consensus formed around May 24th. While just nine days longer, it includes two more Sundays, giving local church leadership more time to address the requirements of the Guidelines, develop their plans, and communicate clearly with their parishioners. It also allows more time for public health officials to assess and communicate the possible impact of our Governor’s orders to relax government restrictions related to the pandemic. Please note that while Governor Abbott authorized the gradual reopening of businesses and other arenas of public life, he continues to strongly recommend social distancing and wearing masks in public – measures that have proven very effective in “flattening the curve.”
I fully understand the ongoing frustration and weariness you feel. I know that pushing back the start of the phased reopening once more will disappoint some, even as it will be a great relief to others. Please trust that we are all trying to work together, so that when we come joyfully to the other side of this, we will see that we have arrived together – one in Christ. I am blessed to have so many people working and praying with me toward that goal. And they are doing that for all of us. I ask that you continue to practice patience and loving-kindness with one another as your church’s leaders work hard to develop plans that will allow you to gather together again, in person, in your church.
Keep in mind that it is still Easter. Christ is risen, and the challenges of this present time will not outlast the power of his love.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
David M. Reed,
Bishop of West Texas