The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

March 13, 2020

Dear Emmanuel family,

Peace and blessings. I participated in a video-conference with Bishop Greg Rickel yesterday afternoon. Our Bishop then wrote a letter to all his clergy, letting us know that he is requiring the cancellation of all services and gatherings at all the churches of the diocese for the next two weeks, including Sunday worship,through Sunday March 22nd.A decision will be made on or before March 22nd on what comes next. This means we will not have any meetings or gatherings at Emmanuel during this time. Although difficult, I totally support our Bishop.

Bishop Rickel mentioned that one of the main reasons that guided him to make this very difficult decision was listening to healthcare providers who report admitting many people into already saturated facilities. They are concerned that if we do not slow the spread of Covid-19, they will be overwhelmed and unable to respond to all people affected by this illness. It is indeed a critical situation and we need to respond decisively to mitigate this outbreak.  I find this graphic instructive:

I also believe that for us on Orcas, there are additional reasons that make this decision necessary: The demographics of our church and island make for a higher risk population: older adults, as well as people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease.We live in an isolated place and everything can get more complicated in a crisis. Our medical care on Orcas has limitations. I know some of you will be disappointed or even upset by this decision. Please know that it is with a heavy heart that we come to it. In my 28 years as a priest I have never cancelled services. I believe nonetheless this is the right decision to make at this time for the wellbeing of all. King county officials have said: we understand that cancelling religious services in particular have a significant impact on communities, congregations and organizations – religiously, spiritually, morally, emotionally and more. But this is our best chance to save lives. It supports the most vulnerable in our community and protects everyone. The more united we can be in preventing the spread, the greater the benefit for the whole community, and the sooner we can end the restrictive measures.

We are not alone in making this decision. The Northwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has cancelled services, the Roman Catholic Church has also cancelled all services in the Archdiocese of Seattle. Pastor Brian Moss from Orcas Island Community Church and Pastor Beth Purdum from the Lutheran congregation have been in contact with me so that we can make decisions together. I have communicated this decision to the Lutherans, the Quakers, and the Unitarian Universalists who worship at Emmanuel.

As someone told me recently, “wow, we are giving up church for Lent.” Indeed, this will be an unusual Lent for all of us. Even though we will not be seeing each other in church on Sunday, I hope that we will all feel connected by our common prayer life. I want to encourage you to deepen your prayer at this time; it can become a time of renewed spiritual living, of a re-calibration of our priorities and values, of solidarity and concern for those affected and hurting.

Being a “church” means being a community, the assembly of God’s people. At this time we are challenged to be this divine community without physical proximity. How can we sustain our communion in this walk through the desert? I have several invitations: This Sunday, a very small worship leadership team will gather behind the closed doors of our beloved church, and we will celebrate the Eucharist. We will be recording the service and broadcasting it so that you can watch it from home. I will send out a link to the video after we record it.  Before this service, we will send the regular bulletin in PDF format so you can follow along with it and pray and sing with us. You may even be able to make comments and share your words in a chat. More information will be coming soon.Some may wonder: what would be the meaning of watching someone else taking Communion if I can’t partake? I believe Holy Communion is central to our worship experience; that is why we have it every Sunday. Communion is the sacramental enactment of our faith that we are one in Christ and one with each other. There is an ancient tradition of people who, unable to take Communion, make a spiritual Communion. The great mystic Teresa of Ávila wrote to her nuns before 1567: When you hear Mass, but do not go to Holy Communion, you may make an act of Spiritual Communion, which is exceedingly profitable. Recollect yourselves in the same manner: this impresses a deep love for our Lord on our minds; for if we prepare our souls to receive Him, He never fails, in many ways unknown to us, to give us His grace. (Way of Perfection, chapter 35). We will be adding a spiritual Communion prayer, taken from the Episcopal Church’s liturgy for the sick, in our bulletin. I will be inviting us to pray it together with the faith and certainty that we will be communing at that time in Christ and with each other.During this time, we will try to organize virtual groups. Our Spiritual Formation Group would like to create a virtual group to continue our discussion of the book Revolutionary Love. Please let me know if you would like to join us and stay tuned for instructions on how to join these groups.During this time of isolation, Hugh and I are very committed to finding ways for members of our community to support each other and to connect.  Email is one way, but the telephone is more personal and conversational.  We want to reach out to all of you during this time, and we also encourage you to call your fellow parishioners and check on them. The Agape Team will also be reaching out in an organized way through a calling tree. We don’t want anyone to feel alone or isolated from community. As we connect and hear one another’s voices, we can pray for one another, we can offer to help one another with errands, we can listen to each other’s hearts.During this desert time of having our church closed, let’s reinforce our daily prayer. You might consider praying one of the prayers of the Daily Office, Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer. You can go here and click on the icon to follow easily this ancient prayer of the church.The labyrinth is a tool that can reduce stress and anxiety, help us focus, and bring calm to ourselves. Walking a labyrinth affords us an opportunity to let go of outside distractions and health concerns as we focus on putting one foot in front of the other.  As we navigate through a labyrinth, we find ourselves in a safe place, a place where we can experiment letting go of fears and thoughts of the past or the imagined future. Our buildings are closed, but the labyrinth is always open.  If you can’t come to walk a physical labyrinth at the church, you can click here to use a virtual labyrinth.  This time will also be a difficult time for those who might not have income because of business closures or our homeless neighbors who might be in even more need. I will be using the rector’s discretionary fund for this and will appreciate any donations to assist our community in its outreach to those affected the most by this crisis. I would like to end with the prayer of abandonment from Charles de Foucauld, written in 1896 (I have adapted the language to make it gender inclusive), which I hope can bring some strength and consolation in these unsettling times:
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O God.

Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, the Holy One, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my God.

In faith and love,

Fr. Berto