March 31, 2020
“Batter my heart, three-personed God; for, you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.”
–From Divine Meditations 14, by John Donne
East Tennessee Friends,
I am writing to you on the death day of John Donne, poet and Anglican priest from the 17th century. I am writing to you in a time when all of us are experiencing a kind of battering, not from the Triune God, but from the upside-down world of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shared burden all of us are taking on to limit its spread in our world.
I am writing to let you know how grateful I am for all the ways I am hearing and “seeing” the people and parishes of the Diocese stay connected to each other in common prayer and worship, though dispersed. I am grateful for the creative ways in which pastoral care and Christian formation continue to be offered by clergy and lay leaders. You all are being tested and the bonds of affection you all share with each other are being strengthened. No one would ask for this test, but you all are being the Body and bearing burdens and sharing gifts with each other.
I am also writing to let you know of an action recommended by the Diocesan Finance Committee and affirmed by Bishop & Council regarding the Diocesan Budget and Parish Assessments. Because of generous external gifts given to the Diocese in the last two weeks, along with the matching of those gifts by Diocesan funds, we are forgiving two months of parish assessments to every parish in the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee in 2020. My hope is that this decision will create space in every parish budget as we all are facing extraordinary economic uncertainty.
I am grateful for the good leadership of our Diocesan Finance Committee and Bishop & Council and their proactive approach in acting quickly and significantly. I am grateful to these generous givers who have given to support our common life now. And I am grateful for all the past leadership of our Diocese, who have stewarded our resources wisely, which allow us to offer this relief at this time.
I would ask that all of you, as you are able, continue to give of your financial resources to support the work of your parish churches as we all are being stretched—spiritually, emotionally, financially, and physically. When this COVID-19 season ends, and it will, we will need to gather again, in person, to plan and prepare for how we continue to renew the face of the Church in the aftermath.
My first days with you as bishop have included many miles in my car, traveling to be with you, to show up for each other in flesh and blood. Now, for this season, like many of you, I am not traveling. Still, my prayer is that we will continue to share in ministry together, even as we are absent from each other in the flesh.
Despite that absence, we remain a Body together. May all of us be good stewards to the Body now. It is my hope and prayer that the Body will gather once again, in flesh and blood, and celebrate and sing songs of how the Triune God in our midst is still making us new.