A Letter from Bishop Benfield
This year continues to present us with a combination of challenges that are unprecedented. There is the confluence of a long-overdue awareness of racism as an ongoing evil, a toxic political climate, and a frightening virus. The church, as always, is called to respond with compassion. Compassion in 2020 means that we must find new ways to relate to one another. We must work to heal the communities in which we live by responding creatively to old prejudices and ways of thinking.
In its own way, how we respond to the Covid pandemic as worshipping communities is going to rely on creativity as well, and it may serve as practice in how to think creatively about other, larger issues. Currently, only a handful of churches are meeting in-person for worship; most congregations continue to gather virtually. I continue to work with individual congregations whose leaders call me to discuss how best to worship and how to conduct special services such as funerals, weddings, and baptisms, even in areas where the infection rate remains high.
Given the likelihood that the virus will continue to be active for some time, we need to think about how congregations can meet safely in-person, and what such worship might look like. What we are coming to understand is that the primary way the virus is apparently transmitted is through the air when people are close to one another but not masked. The chance of transmission is far lower outdoors than indoors, and lower in shorter gatherings than in longer ones.
Even in counties where the active number of Covid cases is higher than ten per 10,000 residents, congregational leaders can consider how worship outdoors might be possible. For example, during these hot summer months, is it possible to meet early in the morning, very late in the evening, or under a covered outdoor area even if it is a location other than the church building? Could Communion be distributed on the front steps of the church? Could people sit in chairs under trees or in their cars?
No matter what each congregation decides, here in the diocesan office we want to continue to offer support to congregations in suggesting activities and ministries that can take place virtually, to advise congregations on what types of worship have an acceptable level of risk, and to plan for 2021 as both the diocese and congregations work on budgets and programs that will support the important work that our church is called to do to meet the serious challenges that face us as a society.
Bishop of Arkansas