Bishop Fitzpatrick’s Message on the status of corporate worship May 11, 2020

Robert Fitzpatrick, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawai‘i
Click on this link to see a video of this message.

The Bishop’s Message for Monday, May 11, 2020
The Monday after the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Life in the Islands is beginning to open up. Starting tomorrow, Tuesday, May 12th, the Diocesan Support Center will be opening. Canon Sandy, Rae, Denise and I will be returning to the office. Peter and Danny will continue to work from home. The Cathedral office is also opening on Tuesday.

While, I don’t expect gatherings of more than ten people or church services to be allowed by May 15th, I do think we will be physically gathering again in new ways very soon, but not yet.

There will not be public worship in any congregation of the Diocese of Hawai‘i on Sunday, May 17th even if allowed this week by a County. There just isn’t time to prepare and review together preparations. I will want to know what each congregation is doing before we engage in public worship again after we receive the guidelines from the State and Counties.

I will soon be receiving, reviewing and sharing the report on returning to worship that is being prepared by Canon Sandy and the Worship Task Group.

  • We know there will likely be a limit on the size of gathering – especially in building.
  • We know that social distancing and masks will likely be required.
  • We will likely be worshipping without singing – or perhaps singing with masks and no choirs.
  • We will likely not be exchanging the peace.
  • I’m not sure what it means about receiving Holy Communion.

Right now in Hawai‘i, the COVID-19 virus seems to be on the wane. In much of the North American United States, the infection and death rate are on the rise. We are preparing for the impact of opening the State again. Remember, our plans are for the months – and perhaps, years – ahead.

We need not be afraid, but we need to be realistic, and listen to the directions of civil authorities and health officials. I think our plans need to consider two things:

First, we must plan that the Virus is going to be with us for months if not several years ahead. Yes, we all pray for a vaccine and effective treatments, but as a Diocese we have to plan for something else. We are still the Body of Christ: we must as Jesus said, “be wise as snakes and innocent as doves.” Our plans have to keep folk as safe as possible, while still engaging in ministry. That will mean the most vulnerable and sick cannot join us in worship. We need to continue have virtual worship and formation opportunities in most of our churches even after we can meet again. That means we need to update technology and become more comfortable with it.

For example, I have to send out a notice before June 1st about the annual meeting of Diocesan Convention scheduled for Saturday, October 24th at Iolani School. I am setting the meeting for that day and place. I am noting that Education Day on Friday, October 23rd, will be entirely online. I am also warning clergy and delegates that the meeting may be modified or entirely virtual depending up the situation at the time. That means clergy and delegates need to be comfortable engaging information and meeting online. This year, we have to be comfortable doing the business of the Diocese online and/or in small virtual groups. Please consider carefully who will delegates from your congregation.

Second, we don’t know yet the full financial impact of the pandemic on congregations and therefore on the Diocese. In many of our congregations, the giving of parishioners is actually up – especially in those congregations with online giving. God’s people have stepped up.   Mahalo! We don’t know the full impact on rental income and investment income. Some congregations depend on the giving of tourists. Diocesan Council and each congregation will have to plan for 2021 and the years ahead very carefully. Being the People of God, we will have enough for the ministry needed. I am reminded of Proverbs 19:21: “Many plans are in a person’s mind, but the Lord’s purpose will succeed.”

Practically, for example, I have asked the Compensation Review Committee making a recommendation to Convention that no change be made in Diocesan clergy compensation guidelines for 2021 and that all clergy compensation remain as it is established in 2020 for next year regardless of years of service. I have asked Standing Committee to make the same recommendation for the staff of the Diocesan Support Center. Might other actions be needed? We don’t know right now and, as recommendations will soon be needed, for now we can hold the status quo.

As I have been sharing, I think the watch word for the Episcopal Church in Hawaiʻi in the days ahead will be “Mercy”.   Mercy: the unmerited and unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ.

As the First Letter of Peter reminds us: “Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Remember, for us to share God’s Mercy requires Compassion, Patience, Humility and Joy.

As God’s people, we are more than equipped and able to face the days ahead. Things will be different, but we have no need to be concerned: we are “God’s people”

Almighty and eternal God, so fill the hearts of all the people of the Episcopal Church in Hawaiʻi with your mercy, so guide our minds, so enliven our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then empower us, we pray, to serve one another, others in these Islands and your whole creation with joy, and always to your glory and the welfare of all people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.