All Congregations Urged Not to Meet

13 March 2020
An Update from Bishop Benfield

Each day public health authorities are either mandating or urging additional steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In many jurisdictions, large gatherings, including church services, have now been prohibited. So far that sort of prohibition is not the case in Arkansas. It is apparent, though, that people want appropriate actions taken to ensure that as many people as possible remain healthy.

On Thursday I strongly urged Episcopal congregations in central Arkansas to institute virtual worship until March 31 rather than gathering physically in church buildings. After reports from other parts of the state, I am now strongly encouraging ALL Episcopal congregations in Arkansas to participate in virtual worship until March 31 rather than physically gathering.

One way to worship is for anyone with internet access to join one of the congregations that offer live streaming. (By the way, St. Andrew’s in Marianna has been offering a digitally focused liturgy for years). A list of the congregations that I know of that offer some sort of digital worship is at the end of this message. A second way to worship could be for the clergy or lay leaders to offer prayers (such as Morning Prayer) in church at the regularly scheduled time, while encouraging parishioners to say their prayers in their homes at the same time. Or you may think of another creative response. These are all ways that we can still be a part of supportive Christian communities in this challenging time in which we need one another more than ever, but may not able to be with one another physically.

As I go about my daily life this week, I see much fear: fear of illness, fear of others, fear that there will not be enough of whatever it is that we think we need. In response, I am reminded of what we read in the first letter of John: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). What the writer is telling us is that where there is fear, we will act lovingly so that fear can be overcome. I encourage you to take loving, thoughtful actions in the coming days and weeks that recognize the needs of others; doing so will help overcome the fear that so many people now have. It is an important way to live out our Christian lives.

Larry Benfield
Bishop of Arkansas