31 March 2020
The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Please take your time to read this excellent article on Social Distancing(aka Physical Distancing) written by Venerable Dr Cleo Kukeya who is our Diocesan Canon for Ethics. He is the Rector of Epiphany Anglican Church, the San Antonio Regional Archdeacon as well as a College professor in San Antonio.
Below Dr Kukeya’s article is our Primate’s call on us to fast tomorrow. Coincidentally, tomorrow is the cutest Wednesday of the month which is our Diocesan day of fasting as well. So I ask you to join in this fast and pray for our diocese as well. I have added a short guidance on effectual and ineffectual fasting based on Isaiah 58. It will be helpful if you read the whole chapter as you begin your fast tomorrow. Blessings. +Orji.
“Social Distancing Distance and the Church in the wake of COVID-19” by Venerable Dr. Cleo Kukeya.
COVID-19 has brought challenges and uncertainty within all systems of our society, including religious communities. Throughout the month of March, we have heard the healthcare and medical communities from around the world stress out the danger presented by this pandemic. Many congregations have been following local, state and federal governments recommendations to help slow the spread of the COVID-19. One of those recommendations has been the call to practice Social Distancing. To avoid any obfuscation and ambiguation, it is important to point out that “Social Distancing” is referring to ‘Physical Distancing” and does not entail cutting yourself off from human interaction (via phone, sky, e-mails, and all other social media at our disposal).
While many churches have complied by designing and implementing plans for social distancing as a means to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus and have positioned themselves to respond to the continual changes that we will face in the coming days or weeks, we have also seen other faith communities that have or are still defying the recommendations of the healthcare professionals as well as those of our civil leaders by refusing to cancel in-person worship services (and other in-person meetings) in their sanctuaries or campuses. Even as I write this reflection, many news outlets are reporting the arrest of a Tampa (Florida) pastor for defying social distancing ordinance and disregarding official guidelines on protecting members of his congregation since the start of this pandemic. Another Pastor in Louisiana is also being defiant, and there are more likely many others that have not received the news coverage but are still in the same category. They are claiming that these mandates are violating their religious liberty rights. I am certain that many of you, more likely, have heard about or talked directly to someone who has given you a similar line of reasoning.
I am glad that our Diocese, under the leadership of Bishop Orji, has made the call to suspend in-person worship and has encouraged us to move to virtual services for the time being until further assessment is done on the situation. While I believe that one of the goals of communal worship is to nurture the bonds of fellowship and trust among members of the congregation , I also believe that our Bishop’s directive on requiring us to suspend in-person worship (and all other meetings) – and adopt social distancing measures – is motivated by our care and concern for others. If we care about the risks of this growing pandemic and the threat it poses to the most vulnerable, cancelling in-person church services and meetings is the right call. In fact, full practice and participation in social distancing in the context of a global pandemic is an act of Christian love. It is one of the best way to respond to Christ’s call to protect the “least of these” (Mathew 25: 31-46) in our society.
I deeply believe that in God’s power to protect against the chaos of the world. But when it comes to the most vulnerable, the weak, the young, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, and “the least of all these”, the “love thy neighbor as you love yourself” should lead us to take steps that would protect these most vulnerable from the danger of becoming infected. In this regard, Social Distancing becomes necessary as it aims to mitigate the threat and serious danger presented by the new virus. As we are hearing from the Experts in public health, viruses tend to spread exponentially in human populations. This exponential growth has two real possible consequences: a great loss of life and a paralyzed medical infrastructure. In the first case, a large number of vulnerable people will more likely die. As for the second consequence, healthcare systems may become overwhelmed and thus lose the ability to treat not only those who have the virus but also those with other types of illness or injury. Given that a pandemic cannot be stopped and healthcare professionals do not have warnings before a pandemic starts and when it will end, social distancing is one of the steps that buys crucial time to keep the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed. Thus, for the common good, Christians are to play their role in the efforts to “flatten the curve”. It is a Christian duty to encourage people not to attend public gatherings of people where they might pose a risk to themselves or others.
The mandate from our Bishop and diocesan leadership to suspend all public or in-person worship and meetings for the time being is not out of fear or out of an irrational caution. It is more in fidelity to Christ’s charge to love our neighbors and care for “the least of these”. Loving God and loving your neighbor at this time does not look like worshipping in a building or continuing to gather in-person with the belief that God will keep you safe. Loving God right now might very well look like doing everything we can to love the most vulnerable among us, taking every precaution to slow the spread of CAVID-19.
It is also our duty, as leaders in our respective congregations to make sure that the mandate from the diocese are being implemented. We have an obligation to instruct, with patience, the members of our congregations that God’s posture toward us is neither stiffen nor relaxed according to our Church attendance. Rather, we can see God as a presence in the midst of our suffering. Disregarding the diocesan guidelines (regardless of what your local civil authorities say) would more likely create a vicarious liability for your church and the diocese. While in the short term we might not see the consequences of our actions, your church and/or the diocese may end up having to defend itself because of your disregard to an escalating social risk. If you are still trying to figure out why the Bishop is making these decisions to be binding to all members of this diocese, and if you feel that your “religious liberty’s rights” are being violated, you also have to understand the in the face of potential harm to yourself or others, your individual autonomy can be curtailed rightfully to prevent harm or injury to others.
I am thankful to our diocesan leadership for all their decisions taken for the common good of all of us and our neighbors (no matter who they are). When a system is in peril, it touches all the sectors/parts, and Church is no exception to this. From the advice we are getting from public health professionals, there is not enough precautions that a church can make in order to protect its members while meeting in-person at this time. Practicing social-distancing is the best way we can be good neighbors to the larger community we love and serve.
As we all consent to the diocesan mandate to suspend all in-person gatherings in our churches, we can help in mitigating this pandemic while practicing the love of God and love of thy name.
Venerable Dr Cleo Kukeya
Rector- Epiphany Anglican Church
San Antonio Regional Archdeacon
Diocesan Canon for Ethics.
SOLEMN DAY OF PRAYER AND FASTING by the Primate of the Church of Nigeria(Anglican Communion)- The Most Rev’d Henry Ndukuba.
The LORD be with you.
His Grace, the Primate of All Nigeria and the Bishop of Abuja has directed that tomorrow Wednesday April 1, 2020 be observed as a special *Solemn Day of Prayer and Fasting* . The Primate encourages everyone to seek the face of God through prayer and fasting that God will deliver us from COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the Primate noted that prayers should be offered in these prayer hours: *12:00 noon; 3:00pm and 6:00pm.*
God’s word assures us that when we pray He will answer us. “2 Chronicles 7:14 says “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
“From lightning, fire, and tempest; from earthquake, drought, and flood; from famine, plague, and pestilence. Good Lord, deliver us” (BCP).
The Ven. Gershinen Paul Dajur, PhD* ,
General Secretary Church of Nigeria
“Ineffectual & Effectual Fasting” by By Bishop Felix Orji
Fasting is good and commended in Scripture. But according to the Bible a person’s fast may not be acceptable to God while another’s is acceptable and effectual. When one fasts in love and godliness the fast is effectual but when the fast is done in a life marked by arrogance, hatred, fault-finding, and wickedness amongst other vices such a fast is a religious waste of time. SO LET US JOIN IN THIS FAST WITH A GODLY HEART. Here is what Isaiah the prophet wrote about fasting approximately 2800 years ago:
Ineffectual Fasting-Isaiah 58:3-4
“Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.”
Effectual Fasting- Isaiah 58:6-9
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness”
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Felix Orji, OSB.
Diocesan Bishop | Anglican Diocese of the West
Missionary Bishop | USA & Canada
Church of Nigeria(Anglican Communion)
Holy Trinity Cathedral Church
15150 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, Texas, 77083
“We are justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. True faith always yields the fruit of obedience to one degree or another.” – Dr. R. C. Sproul