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Messages from Bishop Hollingsworth Regarding the Protests

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Today the Ohio Public Health Advisory System designated 7 counties in the Diocese of Ohio as Level 4, the highest health threat alert – Severe Exposure and Spread. Every other county is at Level 3, save one. Given the continuing surge in every metric – positive tests, symptomatizing patients, hospitalizations, Intensive Care Unit overcrowding, and COVID related deaths – it is time for all of us to take extreme safety measures for ourselves and others. In common deliberation with Bishop Price in the Diocese of Southern Ohio, we have come to a common understanding of what this means for Episcopal congregations in Ohio.

To that end, all congregations will suspend in-person worship by Sunday, December 13, if they have not done so already, and return to worshiping by online services only on that day. This will continue until further notice, certainly through the end of the month and very likely into the new year. As well, beginning no later than December 13, all other in-person gathering for purposes of formation, governance, and outreach will be suspended, save for feeding, clothing, and recovery ministries. It will be essential to work closely with leaders of those ministries and organizations to determine whether they can be safely continued.

Live-streamed and pre-recorded worship may be offered from churches, with a minimum number of participants, masked and at least 6 feet apart. I suggest a limit of 5 people in any room should accommodate any necessary liturgical roles and technological assistance. Holy Eucharist may continue to be celebrated, with only the Celebrant receiving the consecrated elements on behalf of all. Singing remains restricted to individuals alone in a room. “Drive-through” and “drive in” worship continue to be prohibited, as does any form of “virtual communion” (in which a minister “blesses” bread and wine through a phone or online connection or distributes pre-consecrated and packaged elements to the same effect). For any questions about the implications of these and other expectations, Canon Brad Purdom will remain the principal contact person. Be encouraged, however, to reach out to me or any other member of the Bishop’s Staff for assistance.

Every one of us will doubtless be disappointed not to be gathering in person with our parish companions as we make the Advent journey to the stable of the Incarnation and celebrate the birth of the Savior anew in our hearts, communities, and world. To help address that loss, the Diocesan and Cathedral staffs are working to provide both a diocesan-wide Christmas Eve service of Holy Eucharist and an intergenerational Christmas Day service of hymns, scripture, and prayer, available beginning at 5 p.m. Christmas Eve and 7 a.m. Christmas Day, respectively. Both services will include participants from across the diocese, and included hymns by a “virtual” choir. Every congregation has been encouraged to provide choristers, and emails went out this week to all parishes with directions and necessary resources. The hymns will be available for congregations to download and use in their own online services throughout the Christmas season.

As a religious community, we may be afforded certain exemptions by our government. As Christians, however, we are never exempt from caring for our neighbor and putting the safety of others before our own needs and desires. Taking these steps in this unprecedented emergency is, indeed, an act of faith and a witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus. I appreciate all that you continue to do in modeling and meeting the practical responsibilities demanded of us in this time of challenge, and thereby providing hope and companionship to those who are suffering illness, fear, and loss. In spite of all of this, we will hear again the angels sing and proclaim joy to the world with unfailing confidence in the incarnate love of God, who is Christ the Lord.

Please know that you are in my every prayer.

The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio

June 7, 2020
Trinity Sunday

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The protests of the last ten days across our country and around the globe have expressed and elicited the range of passion and perspective that we have come to expect in a deeply divided United States and world. In the streets, in the media, and in my email inbox, the voices reflect passionate opinion, religious conviction, righteous indignation, and partisan politics.

The presenting issues are not new. Racial inequality and injustice long precede our history as a nation. While there has been social change over the four centuries since enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia, the underlying reality of racial disparity and discrimination in our society and institutions persists. Every social metric bears that out, whether one looks at educational opportunity; wealth distribution; employment; access to healthcare, housing, and food; poverty demographics; or incarceration rates. We can allow ourselves to be distracted by details and how to interpret them, but the reality is clear. Black lives matter. And while it is true that all lives matter, proclaiming that is like asking the fire department to hose down every house on the street when one in particular is burning.

In spite of all the anti-racism and social justice trainings I have participated in beginning as a teenager, it is in moments like these, when the hurt, resentment, anger, and expectation that we can be a better society break the surface and are demonstrated in widespread protest, that I am most vulnerable to looking at myself and taking a more honest account of my own role and responsibility as a citizen and a Christian. For me, as a person of considerable privilege – racial, social, economic, intellectual, and vocational – and as the parent and foster-parent of children of color who worries endlessly for their safety and security in this unequal society, it is a soul-searching task. For all who are white, privilege means rarely if ever having to consider the color of their skin in the varied experiences of daily life.

To many and perhaps most people of privilege, the mention of racism elicits a defensive reaction. The notion that a society is racist, wherein one race possesses privileges that another does not, falls on the ear as an unwelcome self-judgement, though not necessarily unwarranted. When I share a reflection like this one, for example, I am struck by how much energy is focused, in some replies, on self-justification or defense and abdicating responsibility for change. Of course, I am at one level quite sympathetic to that, as I know how hard it is to look in the mirror, especially if the frame is gilded. For people of privilege, gilt edges become guilt edges.

The power of evil wants the privileged to be hobbled by guilt. It knows how readily guilt can result in denial and avoidance, or lead to self-defense, deflection, and projection. Jesus challenges and encourages us, however, to ask how we might use our privilege to effect change. He asks how can we employ those same things that the power of evil would use to separate us from one another, to bring us together. By his own words and the example of his life, he challenges us to use our positions of privilege, whatever they may be, to advocate for, quite literally to join voices with, those whose voices are not heard; to balance the scales of justice and even the playing field of opportunity; to equalize access to services and resources; and to make what is probable for a few to be possible for all. By the prayer that he taught us, Jesus adjures us to make on earth the kingdom of heaven. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.”

The model that Jesus gave us is that of sacrifice. In the Eucharistic Prayer we ask that we might join with Christ in his sacrifice. We offer to give ourselves back to God, over and over again, that God might receive us and do a new and more holy thing with us. That is what sacrifice means: to make holy, from the Latin sacer (holy, sacred) and facere (to make). Our self-sacrificial gift requires a willingness to change, to become new, to be made holy that, with Christ’s agency working through us, the world might be made new.

And so, we must ask God and one another how we can use all that we have been privileged with – voice and audience, resources and intellect, creativity and authority and power – to make the changes God is dreaming of for the world. Just as the power of evil will do all it can to persuade us to defend our privilege, God will relentlessly challenge us to spend it on behalf of God’s beloved, who are without exception or exclusion. God calls us to demonstrate without ceasing the love that lifts all to the same plane, and to protest, to testify publicly, by what we say and what we do, to the same love that defines everyone as God’s treasured child.

In all that you do, be encouraged by the example of Jesus and inspired by God’s own spirit of holiness to lift up your voice, roll up your sleeves, and give yourself to the new thing that God is always doing. Pray that this moment of racial awareness and responsive social change might be fertile and not futile, and that we, as agents of God’s justice and mercy, might be bold and not belligerent, peaceful and not polarizing, vital and not violent, and humbly willing to march in the other’s shoes.

With prayers for you, this nation, and the world,

The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio

May 31, 2020

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

On this Day of Pentecost, we have awoken to incidences of widespread violence and injury across the country, including numerous places in our Diocese. I pray that you are safe and will do all in your power, by prayer and presence, to bring peace and reconciliation to our deeply divided communities.

The isolation, frustration, and insecurity of this pandemic time have left a great many citizens frayed at the edges and vulnerable to reactive response. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and a disproportionate number of black victims of COVID-19 provide a mirror in which we see, face to face, the reality of continued racism and inequality in our society. Emotions are understandably and justifiably high. They are also being leveraged in irresponsible ways to escalate divisive rhetoric and political reactivity at a time that, in calling for truth, also calls for calm and de-escalation.

In providing the witness of Jesus to justice, reconciliation, and love, we must concurrently work to assure the safety of all of God’s beloved. Political and social divisions are deep, and the power of evil will employ every available means to divide us further. As Jesus did when Peter cut off the ear of Malchus in John 18, we, as the body of the same Christ, must do all we can to sheathe the swords of division and violence.

We have a dual responsibility: to draw lines of justice and circles of unity. The challenges inherent in that are great. By the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and in our Baptism, we have the power to heal. I urge us all, as we exercise our vocation to be Christian, to remain always on the side of the angels – uncompromised in our Christian values of justice, mercy, and peace and, led by love of our neighbor, to walk humbly with God.

Please know that you and all in your communities are in my every prayer.

The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio

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