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A Message from Bishop Dietsche Regarding COVID and Its Effect on Our Lives

Published in the issue.

My Brother’s and Sisters,

As this issue of the Episcopal New Yorker comes to you, six and a half months have passed since the rapid escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York required of us that we temporarily suspend the public worship of our churches. Over the next two months and more, we in this diocese lived through the horrific surge of infections and deaths. For those of us who lived in the city, our day and night life was lived against the unceasing background noise of multiple and overlapping sirens. Each day we were presented with the new numbers of infections over the preceding day, and of the losses of our brothers and sisters in the same period.

Our parishes responded at once, and with all but no notice clergy and people immediately moved to virtual and remote worship and fellowship offerings. We found ways to be safe while continuing our essential ministries, and together we rode out the storm. With the extraordinary leadership of our governor, we discovered how to live with COVID, how to protect one another, and how to “flatten the curve.”

Since July 1, parishes have had permission to resume public worship. Some did that at once, and others followed in July and August. However, it is clear that a majority of our churches waited until the fall, and a lot of our parishes are only now taking the first steps into in-person worship. I have made it clear that I will fully support the decisions by parish priests and wardens to move forward on their own schedules, appropriate to local circumstances and always for the safety of the people of the church.

Infections in New York have been low now since mid-summer, which has been a profound blessing. We are all too aware, however, that these last six months have been painfully, tragically costly, and that we have lived through extraordinary loss of life—in our cities, in our communities, but also in our homes and parishes. Most of our churches have had some of their people infected with COVID. Too many have lost beloved parishioners to this disease. And as we have seen across our country, so also in the Diocese of New York: The costs were much higher and the losses greater in congregations of Black people than in White parishes. We have confronted a painful and ugly truth, that one consequence of racism is that Black people will be made to die of pandemic disease in higher numbers. Which covers us fully in shame.

The struggle to survive pandemic and to attend to the daily requirements of our lives under dangerous and threatening conditions has occupied our minds and spirits at levels which are all-consuming and which have imposed upon us extreme stress. But as we move into and through the fall, the obligation and privilege to remember those we have lost, and commend them to God, and to celebrate who they were to us and how they mattered to us, has a renewed urgency. At our diocesan convention we will say the names, and call to mind the lost, and give our thanks to God.

For those who mourn their beloved departed we ask God’s grace and blessing, and God’s peace. For all who were taken by COVID, for the well-loved we see no more, we ask God’s eternal presence and the gift of life in the eternal habitations. May their souls, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

The Right Reverend Andrew ML Dietsche
Bishop of New York