Things are changing daily, if not hourly. On Monday, I participated in a conference call of faith leaders with Michigan Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II. As of Monday, there are 53 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Michigan. One case is in Traverse City and another is in Gaylord. The lieutenant governor implored (his word) us to suspend in-person worship for the foreseeable future. He implored (his word) Michiganders to work remotely, if possible, and limit leaving our homes to essential travel: the grocery store, the pharmacy, the doctor’s office. He implored (his word) Michiganders to wash our hands, avoid touch, including fist and elbow bumping, and stay home if sick. The lieutenant governor spoke of people who may exhibit no symptoms and still be carriers.
The governor issued an executive order Monday evening temporarily prohibiting assemblies and events over 50 people. On Monday afternoon, President Trump urged Americans to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people. The Center for Disease Control issued guidelines that groups over 50 should not gather for eight weeks; some believe CDC guidelines will lower from 50 to 10 to align with the president’s urging. The state established a public health hotline (888-535–6136) to answer questions about public health; we should address questions about our personal health to our doctor. Also, if you are interested in lending a helping hand, call 211.
I do not have the authority to suspend in-person worship in our congregations; I implore you to do so. I am so proud and inspired by the online worship that I have seen this weekend. I can tell you from personal experience that fasting from the Eucharist for a while leads to a deepening of faith and appreciation of God’s grace. If we cannot come together on Easter, we will celebrate our Lord’s resurrection on the Sunday we can come back together. We will gather again as church around Word and Sacrament.
I am considering the possibility that we may not be able to gather on Easter because of the CDC guideline that we maintain social distance for eight weeks. Moreover, we received the very strong recommendation from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and the Office of the Secretary that synod assemblies be postponed until fall or, if possible, until 2021. Even as we investigate what this would mean for our Synod, I am not inclined to disregard the Presiding Bishop’s recommendation. In the meantime, I am suspending synod travel and in-person meetings for the foreseeable future. Staff will work remotely as much as possible. We are available to you by telephone, zoom, and, Lord save me, email. I will continue to update you as things change.
In a letter to the Southeast Iowa Synod, Bishop Michael Burk offered a prayer and a suggestion that I found most helpful. Bishop Burk suggested that we set a set a specific time each day to turn off all media and pray. Then he offered this prayer:
Eternal God, amid all the turmoil and changes of the world your love is steadfast and your strength never fails. In this time of fear, danger, and trouble, be to us a sure guardian and rock of defense. Guide the leaders of our nation and nations around the world with your wisdom, comfort those in distress, and grant us courage and hope to face the future; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. –-A Prayer Book for the Armed Services
I’m praying for and with you.
The Rev. Craig A. Satterlee, Ph.D., Bishop