Fear can make us feel hopeless and desperate. It can make us view our neighbors with suspicion, instead of with love. It can make us resort to blame instead of graciousness. Do not be afraid. Trust in God’s reign over all things. Educate yourself on what science has to tell us about the facts of coronavirus (what it is, exactly how it is transmitted, prophylactic measures to prevent contracting it, the symptoms of infection, and the populations who are particularly at risk).
As with our sister churches in town, the local health emergency will impact our parish. All services and programs at St. Stephen’s are suspended for the next two weeks. This includes Sunday services, the Wednesday Lenten program, Messy Church, Friday Morning and Evening Prayer, and the St. Joseph Feast.
We do, however, encourage you to not to forget worship. Worship is essential to countering fear and cultivating faith and trust in God at this time.
To that end, the side chapel at the church will be open 24 hours/day for you to visit and pray, as you feel led. (Enter through the exterior door at the small sidewalk.) Note that the doors leading to the nave and the altar area will be locked and secured.
And, on the next two Sundays at 10am, I invite you to join me and others in our parish family in praying Morning Prayer virtually. I will be leading Morning Prayer live via our parish’s Facebook site. I’ll paste in the congregational responses and prayers, so you can pray along with me. Following Morning Prayer, I will host a virtual coffee hour with the Rector, where you can type in questions and notes in the comments section and I’ll respond to them.
If you would like to talk more personally about all this and your faith life, I also will be available to talk privately. We can arrange for a Facetime meeting, a video chat over Facebook messenger or Skype, or an old-fashioned phone conversation. Just let me know you are interested and suggest some days/times.
Lastly, we know that suspending services means that you will also miss the opportunity at Offertory to present your pledges and offerings, and the vestry is keenly aware that we entered a significant budget deficit this year. Suspending services will undoubtedly impact us financially, but you are invited to mail in your offering check to the parish office or you can contribute electronically via our tithe.ly platform: https://tithe.ly/give_new/www/#/tithely/give-one-time/56917

In closing, I ask you to join me in praying to God for those who will struggle during these next days, especially the poor and homeless, those on fixed incomes, those who are particularly susceptible to severe reactions of coronavirus infection, and the transit workers and health care workers who put themselves at risk in the service of others. Pray for our state, the nation, and the world. I have adapted the 1662 Prayer Book’s collect for a time of plague, in case you find it helpful. I will be using it when I say Morning and Evening Prayer:

O God, Heavenly Father,
by whose gracious will the rain falls,
the earth bears fruit,
and creatures are plentiful:
look mercifully, we beg you,
upon the suffering of your people,
and grant that this time of sickness
may be transformed into a time of health and plenty;
for the love of Jesus Christ,
who with you and the Holy Spirit,
lives and reigns, now and for ever. Amen.