Dear St. Mary’s Community,
As closures and other restrictions are being lifted or modified around the country, including here in the City of Memphis, we are aware that you have more questions about a specific date of return to in-person worship at St. Mary’s Cathedral. As you may have already read in previous communications, a “Committee of Return” (COR), comprised of both clergy and lay leadership from our community, has been assembled thanks to the strong leadership of our outgoing Interim Dean, Laura Gettys, to whom we are extremely grateful. This COR has been formed to thoughtfully work through the logistical and practical issues associated with a return to in-person worship. As a member of the COR I can say that we approach this task from the standpoint of trying to follow what Jesus called the greatest commandments - love of God and love of neighbor. The way that we seek to live into these commandments is by keeping YOUR health and safety as our utmost priority. To state it plainly, YOUR health, safety, and overall well-being is our highest concern in our decision making process.
We understand that for so many of us, the Cathedral has served as a source of inspiration and great hope. It has been the place that we turn to, especially during the most troubling times in our lives. That is, at least in part, why being away from the Cathedral has been so painful. We long for the beauty of the building and even more for the warmth of the fellowship that exists within, during what is undoubtedly one of the most challenging times that any of us have ever had to face.
Therefore, the task of planning for a return is not one that I nor anyone on the COR takes lightly. As such, we have discerned that the best course of action at present is for St. Mary’s to NOT begin in-person worship in June but rather to continue our online, virtual worship for the near term. Our decision has been made as a result of thoughtful discussion from the COR about our particular context as a faith community, ongoing conversations with other area faith leaders, attention to guidance and research from the healthcare community, and in consultation with the Bishop and her staff. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to monitor the trends and overall impact of COVID-19 on our city and region. We will also continue our conversations with the broader faith community about what is being learned about the virus, how we might best mitigate its impact upon us, and when it is actually as safe as it can be for us to make an in-person return. Again, your health and safety is our highest priority.
While this decision may be deeply disappointing for some, you have our word that we will continue to work diligently on developing as safe and as effective of a plan as we possibly can, for that future date when we joyously return to our beloved Cathedral and can see one another face to face again. Even still, we expect that those gatherings will begin with very limited capacity. In the meantime, we hope that you will continue to join us online for virtual Sunday worship and daily musical offerings and continue to read our Thursday e-news for more information about parish life and beyond.
St. Mary’s, despite the challenges that we are facing, it is because of your sustained prayers and devotion to this community and by God’s grace that we continue as the body of Christ, now scattered yet also gathered online, via telephone, or even old-fashioned hand written letter communication. In all of these ways and more we are reminded that the Spirit of God lives on between us and will carry us until it is safe for all of us to meet together again in-person.
Finally, stay tuned for an update from us by early July about our timing and process for return and know that whatever decisions we can make will necessarily be subject to revision based upon what happens with the pandemic. Should you have questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or any of the clergy team, including the Rev. Eyleen Farmer, who officially joins us on June 1.
As we continue to pray for one another and for the world, I offer this prayer - A Prayer For These Uncertain Times, written by the Rev. Canon Dr. Ellen Clark-King.
Holy God, who created us for and from love, in this time of social distancing, hold us close in your arms. Comfort those who are afraid, enliven those who are bored, give courage to those who are distressed, and warm those who feel the cold touch of loneliness. Breathe in, with and through us as we walk through uncertainty into a new future knowing that you are with us now and await us there. In the name of Christ the Beloved we pray. Amen.
Wishing you God’s Peace,
The Rev. Canon Patrick J. Williams