The church’s COVID-19 news digest

[Episcopal News Service] In addition to its continuing news coverage of major developments in The Episcopal Church’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to contain the virus, Episcopal News Service is compiling various updates from congregations and ministries across the church. If you have a news item, email it to Updates will be added to the top of this page. Full ENS coverage of the church’s response to the new coronavirus can be found here.

Wednesday, April 1

The Rev. Janet Broderick shares her near-death COVID-19 experience

The Rev. Janet Broderick, the rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, California, shared her near-death COVID-19 experience with New York Magazine on March 31.

“I was close to death. I kind of had gone off the cliff — my lungs had to make a decision. I had pneumonia and water in my lungs. I remember thinking, Calm down and go to sleep. I spoke to Jesus, I planned my funeral. I FaceTimed with my children. They say how I looked and sounded like Darth Vader. I was gasping for air,” she said of her first night in ICU.

Broderick was one of at least six people who attended the mid-February CEEP Network conference in Kentucky to contract the new coronavirus. She formerly served as rector of historic Grace Church Van Vorst in Jersey City, New Jersey. She is the sister of actor Matthew Broderick.

Monday, March 30

Washington Post profiles rector who had D.C.’s first COVID-19 case

The Rev. Timothy Cole

The Rev. Timothy Cole

The Rev. Timothy Cole, the rector of a Washington, D.C., church who had the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the city, is the subject of an in-depth Washington Post article that tells the story of his infection, hospitalization and recovery.

Cole, 59, is the rector of Christ Church Georgetown, one of the largest parishes in The Episcopal Church. The parish’s organist, Thomas Smith, and four parishioners also tested positive.

“However hard the cost may be, we know there will come a point where we can see the end, and we know there will come a point we will be at the end and be able to start again,” Cole told the Post.

Sunday Sermon in a Pandemic: Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Jim Wallis in conversation

In this first episode of the Sunday Sermon in a Pandemic series, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Jim Wallis discuss making connections to faith and worship, spirituality and justice, in the digital and social media age. Click here to listen.

Presiding bishop talks about keeping the faith on ABC News

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry appeared on ABC News on March 27 to talk about how people of faith can maintain spiritual health in times of crisis. Curry’s conversation with host Amy Robach touched on the ways churches are moving communal worship online and ways that people can still help their communities while keeping their distance.

Friday, March 27

Texas priest recovering from COVID-19 returns to lead worship

The Rev. Robert Pace

The Rev. Robert Pace

The Rev. Robert Pace, one of the first Episcopal rectors to test positive for COVID-19, has recovered enough to lead his church’s livestream worship services again. The 53-year-old rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, Texas, was briefly hospitalized but has been released from quarantine after two negative tests confirmed he no longer has the virus, according to the Diocese of Fort Worth.

“I am feeling much better,” Pace said in a diocesan announcement. “I still have to rest more than my ‘normal,’ but I am so much better. My voice is finally returning, and I am planning to lead Morning Prayer and preach from Trinity this Sunday.”

Pace will lead Morning Prayer, which is available by Zoom and Facebook Live, at 9:30 a.m. on March 29. It will be the first worship service he has led since Ash Wednesday (Feb. 26).

COVID-19 Anglican Alliance resource hub
A new resource hub has been published by the Anglican Alliance to highlight the key areas of church responses to COVID-19 and provide links to useful guidelines. The hub has been developed by the alliance after its global team connected with churches in each region to learn about their experience and gather examples of effective responses.

The alliance held a series of regional and global consultations to learn from responses across the provinces and is also engaging with the World Health Organization and with other Christian and secular agencies to learn from their expertise.

More details can be found here.

Thursday, March 26

Massachusetts church helps knitters make masks for hospitals

Doctors and nurses treating COVID-19 patients face the additional challenge of a shortage of masks and other protective gear. Knitters around the United States, like Cathy Racine of Charlton, Massachusetts, are responding by making homemade masks, which — though not ideal — may provide some temporary protection until proper masks arrive.

Racine and other volunteers put together kits to make hundreds of masks for nearby hospitals and distributed them at Christ Episcopal Church in Rochdale, Massachusetts, to a larger network of volunteers, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported.

“With people staying separate, nobody knows how to love, and this was a true act of love,” said the Rev. Aileen DiBenedetto, the church’s rector.

Diocese of Central New York will hold renewal of vows for all clergy and laity

As COVID-19 limits many church ministries but presents opportunities for new ones, Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe invites all the clergy and lay people of the Diocese of Central New York to renew their baptismal and ordination vows together via Zoom. The virtual ceremony will take place from noon to 1 p.m. on March 31 and can be accessed as a videoconference or an audio call from any phone.

Episcopal Church seeks singers and musicians to perform Easter hymn as a ‘virtual choir’

The Episcopal Church is asking musically inclined people from across the church to help create a virtual choir: a group of people (sometimes dozens, hundreds or even thousands) performing the same piece of music, recording their parts remotely from wherever they are. A team of video and audio engineers will then edit the submissions and synchronize them. The result will be released on Easter Sunday, and a classic Easter hymn has been chosen: “The Strife is O’er.”

“If you’re a choir member without a choir, a musician without an orchestra, or just someone who loves to sing and be part of the group, you’re who we need!” the church wrote.

Singers and musicians can download the sheet music and an audio file of their parts, find instructions on how to record them, and then upload them here by the end of the day on March 27.

– Egan Millard

Wednesday, March 25

Presiding bishop joins worldwide prayer offering via Facebook Live

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry joined Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in calling for all Christians to pray for healing amid the COVID-19 pandemic at noon on March 25. Curry offered the prayer “In Time of Great Sickness and Mortality” from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, followed by the Lord’s Prayer.

Tuesday, March 24

Maine doctor who also serves as priest answers coronavirus questions

The Diocese of Maine is drawing on the expertise of a priest as it informs Episcopalians about COVID-19. But the Rev. Suzanne Roberts, an associate at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland, isn’t just any priest. She’s also a primary care physician.

“I’m speaking to you from both of my roles,” Roberts said in a video the diocese posted to YouTube on March 21 to answer questions about the coronavirus pandemic. In the video, she wears her white clergy collar, and “you’ll have to imagine the white coat, because I tend to not wear them at the same time,” she says.

Monday, March 23

‘Habits of Grace’: An invitation for you, from Presiding Bishop Curry

As Episcopalians adjust their everyday lives to slow the spread of the new coronavirus by practicing social distancing, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has invited them to join him on Mondays through May in taking a moment to cultivate a “habit of grace.”

Friday, March 20

‘Drive-in’ church in McAllen, Texas

St. John’s Episcopal Church in McAllen, Texas, is planning a “drive-in church” service at 10:30 a.m. Sundays starting on March 22.

The idea is similar to a drive-in movie, with congregants parking their cars in the church’s lot and tuning their radios to the frequency – 97.3 FM – on which the Morning Prayer service will be broadcast. This “new way of worshiping together” is set for at least the next three Sundays.

“We invite you to sing, pray and participate together with us from the comfort and safety of your own automobiles,” the congregation said in a Facebook announcement.

Other churches are considering or moving forward with similar worship arrangements, including the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which offered drive-through Communion on March 15.

– David Paulsen

Cross-denomination food ministry carries on in Albertville, Alabama

Christ Episcopal Church in Albertville, Alabama, participated in a cross-denominational food ministry on March 18, meeting at First Baptist Church to load cars with bagged food and then distribute the food to families around town.

“What a blessing it was to be able to help our fellow Albertians during this time of need and risk,” the Rev. Omar Reyes told Episcopal News Service in an email.

– David Paulsen

Texas rector recovers from virus

The Rev. Robert Pace, one of the first Episcopal rectors to test positive for COVID-19, has been released from quarantine after two negative tests confirmed he has cleared the virus, though he is still recovering from the pneumonia it caused.

The Rev. Robert Pace

The Rev. Robert Pace.

Pace, the 53-year-old rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, Texas, was hospitalized with the first documented case of the virus in his county on March 9. He was released from the hospital on March 17 and is at home with his wife, who has not tested positive but is still in quarantine, the Diocese of Fort Worth said. Pace was one of at least six people who attended the CEEP conference in February who have tested positive for COVID-19.

“I am significantly improved in my health, but I am still weak,” Pace said in the diocesan statement. “One of the difficult things about this coronavirus is the pneumonia and the shortness of breath. Although I am much better, it’s still a process. … We are called to be the church in new ways. We love as God loves in this particular day and age by keeping this virus from spreading. We minimize our physical contact with others. But that doesn’t mean we limit the ways we reach out to each other.”

– Egan Millard

Wedding bells ring in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Churches everywhere are taking precautions in how they handle weddings and funerals, including in many cases postponing them if possible unless they can be limited to small groups.

Allia Dhody and her fiancé, Michael Mountjoy, decided they couldn’t wait to marry, so on March 18 they spent the afternoon with the Rev. Jarrett Kerbel, rector of the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for a pandemic-style wedding in the garden in front of the church.

“Married these two on the sunny terrace during a pandemic,” Kerbel said in a Facebook post. “Their nephew below had a plague stick to keep us all six feet apart (except for the bride and groom) and a plague mask. His mother works at the Mudder Museum, so…..”

The only others in attendance: Dhody’s mother, sister and brother-in-law, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer report. Mountjoy’s parents “attended” via Facetime. There was no reception.

“We did it because we have a marriage license that is going to expire and the courts are closed and we didn’t know what to do,” Dhody told the Inquirer. “So much has changed so quickly from when we got the license.”

– David Paulsen

CARAVAN launches an open call for artwork on mending the brokenness of our global family

Recognizing the interconnectedness of today’s world, the many ailments besieging humanity — injustice, exploitation, conflict, abuse — and in response to spread and impact of the coronavirus worldwide, CARAVAN is making an open call to artists around the world to submit two- and three-dimensional works for an online expedition.

The deadline for submissions is May 16. Click here for more information. 

Can’t touch this it’s Holy Eucharist at St. James’

And a final update for Friday: File this under, “Clergy With a Sense of Humor.”

St. James’ Episcopal Church in Jackson, Mississippi, is practicing social distancing quite literally in this spoof video. It hits us so hard, makes us say, “Oh, my lord!”

Thursday, March 19

In Wisconsin, phone calls to parishioners and a freezer stocked with food

With worship services canceled at Trinity Episcopal Church in Oshkosh, the Rev. Chris Arnold, the rector, is overseeing a team of parishioners who have organized a frozen meal ministry for church members who are able or willing to leave their home. Starting March 18, the congregation is launching a weekly phone call ministry to check on every family in the church directory.

“We’re trying to find ways of not relying on email, because some of our members don’t have a computer,” Arnold said. In a city of about 66,000, Trinity is the only Episcopal congregation, and its typical Sunday attendance of a little more than 50 is much older than the general population, he said.

Arnold credits the work of a group of about a half dozen women in the congregation who previously had wanted to bring back a ministry of preparing meals for grieving families after funerals. Instead, they now are filling the church’s freezer with soups and stews – Arnold contributed his lentil soup – so the ready-made meals can be distributed to households identified as needed them during the rounds of phone calls.

Arnold also is considering ways of offering parishioners devotional experiences in the church, such as by inviting them to the church on a weekday afternoon to pray individually, since they won’t be able to gather there as a group.

“My hope that we will actually wind up learning how to take care of each other as a community better,” he said. “We may be turned upside down for a while but it’s not going to shake the eternal promises of the Gospel.”

– David Paulsen

New Jersey bishop holds virtual town-hall meetings with lay leaders

Bishop Chip Stokes of New Jersey is keeping lay leaders in his diocese in the loop with a weekly Zoom meeting.

“As we all continue to deal with our responses to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Bishop Stokes is holding weekly town-hall meetings with lay leaders,” the Diocese of New Jersey writes. “It’s a chance to ask questions, share information, or even just to vent and to pray in community with other lay leaders.”

The meetings will take place on Zoom every Thursday at 7 p.m. until further notice, starting March 19, and lay leaders can join here.

– Egan Millard

Two ukuleles, three Durfees and the Way of Love

As the coronavirus dominates headlines and social media feeds, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Napa, California, shared this video of their ukulele-playing parishioner Stephen Durfee and his sons, with an upbeat message: The Way of Love.