April 2, 2020 Dear Heavenly Rest Family, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Several weeks ago, we sent a letter notifying you that, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Heavenly Rest would be suspending in-person worship services until the end of March. When we made that announcement, physical distancing measures had not yet been put into place in Taylor County. The State of Texas had not yet implemented any policies related to the pandemic. Moreover, there were not yet any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in this area. Much has changed since that letter was sent. On March 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) counseled that physical distancing measures might be necessary for at least eight weeks. Locally, the City of Abilene has put a “Limited Shelter in Place” order into effect until April 14. At the federal level, the White House has recommended that physical distancing measures remain in effect until the end of April. Finally, as of this writing, there have been 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Taylor County. In light of this information, we will continue to suspend in-person worship services and other activities at Heavenly Rest. To paraphrase the Head of School at St. John’s Episcopal School, however, the campus may be closed, but the church is open! Here is what that means on a practical level:
We will continue to offer a service of Holy Eucharist on Sundays at 10:30 via Facebook Live. We are also offering Morning Prayer every weekday morning at 8:30. The livestream can be accessed via the Heavenly Rest Facebook page or at heavenlyrestabilene.org/live.
Children’s Sunday School, New Member Formation, and the Youth Group continue to meet via ZOOM on a regular basis. Please be in touch with Blaine Beyer (email@example.com) if you would like to learn how to participate in these gatherings.
We are not able to make in-person pastoral visits at this time, partially for the safety of our parishioners and pastoral volunteers, and partially because of institutional restrictions at hospitals and nursing homes. We are making an effort to be in touch by phone, email, and text message as regularly as possible.
Hands-On Outreach is closed during this time. We are, however, distributing sacks of groceries to those in need on Friday mornings from 9:30 to 11:30. If you would like to contribute to the food pantry or volunteer to distribute, please contact Sue McWilliams (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We know that several people in our community are particularly vulnerable to the Coronavirus and unable to leave the house. If you need someone to run a few errands for you (grocery shopping, trips to the pharmacy, etc.), please contact Robyn Taylor (email@example.com).
The Heavenly Rest staff continues to work from home and meet remotely. Those who do come into the office have been asked to do so on a limited basis and sterilize whatever they come in contact with during their time on the church grounds.
In the midst of this crisis, we hope that you will continue to help the Church of the Heavenly Rest fulfill its mission by honoring your pledge commitment and by contributing financially to the life of this community. You may make your gift by mailing in your contribution or by visiting heavenlyrestabilene.org/give.
It is important to emphasize the purpose of closing our campus: we are trying to limit people’s potential exposure to pathogens. Indeed, we are part of a global effort to limit the spread of this virus. With that said, I am concerned that some parishioners have been visiting the church campus to do the church-related work they would be doing under normal circumstances. While I understand and appreciate this impulse, we need to ensure that the church is as safe and clean as possible for those who need to be there. To be clear: parishioners should NOT come to the church unless specifically authorized. I know that it is difficult to be away from this place that we all love, but it is vital for us to know who is here in the event someone from our community contracts Coronavirus. Those who are authorized should keep track of when they are at church and where they go on the campus.
Obviously, the continued suspension of activities at Heavenly Rest means that we will not be able to gather on campus for Holy Week observances. I have personally been struggling with the idea that I will not have the chance to see you during my first Holy Week as your rector. Nevertheless, I am genuinely excited about what we have planned for this important moment of the church year. Not only will we be live streaming some of the usual Holy Week liturgies, we have also designed a “Maundy Thursday at Home” service that will allow you to experience our Lord’s final night with his friends with your families or on your own. (For a complete listing of our Holy Week services, please click here). Moreover, the way we are observing Holy Week this year is, in a way, consistent with the way we always observe this time in the liturgical calendar. At the beginning of the Great Vigil of Easter, the Celebrant reminds the congregation, “On this most holy night...the Church invites her members dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil in prayer.” We will experience this dispersion more acutely this year. Yet, the words of the Easter Vigil affirm that, even in our separation, we are united with the whole Church, bearing witness to the deathless love of God made known in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I am looking forward to the time we can be together again with great hope and anticipation. In the meantime, know that you are in my constant prayers. May God grant you the blessing of peace during this holy season.
The Reverend David F. Romanik