I was recently reminded by a colleague about the Italian origins of the word quarantine. Literally meaning, “the span of forty days,” the word was used in the Middle Ages to describe the keeping of ships waiting off port for 40 days to prevent latent cases of plague coming on shore.
Of course, the number of forty is familiar to readers of the Bible. The number forty is always used to describe a time of exile, wandering, loneliness, and testing. We recall the story of Noah, when the rain fell for forty days and nights, forcing Noah and his family to be at sea until the storms calmed and new life began to spring forth; and, the story of the Israelite sojourn in the wilderness for forty years, between escape from Egyptian captivity and entrance into the Promised Land; and, of course, the forty days and nights after his baptism that Jesus stayed alone in the wilderness, tempted and tested, before starting his public ministry.
In these biblical stories of quarantine, time is spent apart: a time of consecrating self and community to God and God’s purposes in the world.
As we’ve said since first beginning to stay apart as church, at the initial rise of the coronavirus pandemic, we are doing so out of love and not out of fear. Have we been afraid? Of course. But as a Christian community, our commitment to the way of love, embodied in Jesus, is at the heart of who we are and what we do. We made an early decision to stay apart—not for a literal 40 days, but for a quarantine—with the guidance of our Bishop. We did this for love of neighbor, staying at home to limit the spread of a deadly virus to others.
Near the conclusion of those biblical narratives of “40 days,” God’s people always experience some new blessing or sense of God’s presence with them – a rainbow, the report of spies about milk and honey, the appearance of angels to attend to Jesus. But the line isn’t always clear to mark the edge of the desert and the beginning of home. There is often ambiguity that requires a new level of discernment, collaboration, and faith.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will recognize the landscape becoming more ambiguous around us, between official orders of government to stay at home, and increasing societal movement back toward work and activity in public spaces. This will be frightening to some of us, especially those who are of vulnerable age or physical health. And, it will be a relief to others, especially those who have suffered in their mental health from the extreme isolation and loneliness during these highly anxious times.
Bishop Doyle has asked the leaders of each congregation to begin making a plan unique to the specific context of the local community. He has advised that in our decision-making related to the coronavirus pandemic we will be moving away from fixed universal timelines and toward a phased approach. For now, we are in “Phase 1” –focused on mitigating viral spread—and will remain here for at least the Month of May. This means that throughout the month of May, we know that we will continue to worship and connect virtually and make service opportunities available on a very limited basis and in responses to specific needs in the community.
During May, members of our Bishop’s Committee, School Board, and other congregational leaders will work together to create a plan for moving into “Phase 2.” (Phase 2 will involve some gatherings and public worship, limited in size and space; incorporating new distancing and sanitizing procedures, maintaining stay-at-home for vulnerable people groups, continuing online connection and worship opportunities, and approval of our plan by Bishop Monterroso.)
A brief summary of the Bishop’s “Phased Plan” in 4 phases is included with this note.
In all of this, we will move forward in ways that are inspired by our core values of Communion, Compassion, Collaboration, Creativity, and Commission. We will remain committed to breaking down walls of division, and making a space in our community for anyone and everyone who want to be a part.
Love – not Fear – will be our rule and our way on this journey into God’s grace.
With you on the way,
The Rev. Scott Painter
I serve as the Vicar of Grace. A word from our English heritage in the Episcopal Church, "Vicar" means that I serve as the priest and pastor of this congregation.