October 15, 2020

A pastoral reflection from Bishop Gates

Beyond Our Surge Capacity


September came and went. October is well underway.  Autumn is a time when congregational life – like much of the world around us – is normally marked by renewed energy and fresh beginnings: familiar worship schedules resume; choirs end their summer hiatus; church schools regather; parish events and groups of all sorts reappear on the calendar. 

This year, instead, September found us hitting what’s been termed “The Six-Month Wall.” We are anxious, fatigued, frustrated, plagued by feelings of helplessness. Of course we are. The coronavirus continues to take its toll, passing horrific statistical milestones and dominating our lives with limitations never imagined. Parents with school-aged children face unbearable pressures and no-win decisions. The devastatingly fractious and nonfunctional state of our national leadership continues. Anxiety about the stability of our electoral process is unprecedented. Vulnerable members of society feel ever more vulnerable.

Meanwhile, we are engaged with what has been termed the second pandemic in our midst – that of racism in America. The coronavirus has underscored realities of inequality in virtually every sector of our society. Our searing national reckoning on race – essential, and sinfully overdue – demands our hearts and urgent energy. As we deal with the coronavirus, it has been suggested that we do not have the individual or collective energy to engage the work of antiracism at this moment. Yet we may not postpone this urgent engagement. We have delayed and satisfied ourselves with good intentions for far too long. The work is at hand. 

Six months into the confluence of these two pandemics, we find our “surge capacity” depleted. Describing the adaptive ways we humans cope with stress and anxiety, one psychologist says, “the pandemic has demonstrated both what we can do with surge capacity and the limits of surge capacity. When it’s depleted, it has to be renewed. But what happens when you struggle to renew it because the emergency phase has now become chronic?” (i)

In the church, as in the wider world, the coronavirus has challenged us to adapt, to find new ways to do important things, to protect ourselves and one another, to create processes and methodologies, to maintain relationships, to keep on keeping on. “It’s important to recognize that it’s normal in a situation of great uncertainty and chronic stress to get exhausted,” comments the psychologist, “to feel like you’re depleted or experience periods of burnout.”(ii) 

This exhaustion is showing up in our physical health and in our mental health. “The more accustomed you are to solving problems, to getting things done, to having a routine,” says another mental health professional, “the harder it will be on you because none of that is possible right now. You get feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.” (iii) 

In the face of these realities, here are three ways I am trying to find strength for each day.

1.         Have compassionate expectations. We expect so much of one another. We expect so much of ourselves. We expect so much of our churches. It’s right and good that we do – that we have high standards and aspirations. But right now, let’s also be patient with one another. Let’s not expect or demand more than we can individually or collectively manage. Even in our most vital endeavors, while striving for our best selves and highest ideals, let’s calibrate our expectations with the compassion demanded by the times.

2. Maintain our most important relationships. Lean on one another, and be there to be leaned upon. A popular cliché suggests that “God never gives us more than we can bear.” This is simply not born out by our experience of life, is it? Life’s burdens often become more than any of us can bear on our own. It is only by relying upon one another – those we love, and those who love us; our communities of faith and friendship; and even the kindness of strangers – these are the ways that we endure. God never gives us more than we can bear together: with this addition, the aphorism becomes true. 

3.         Live as people of hope. We cannot, of course, summon up faith by sheer dint of will. The “On Demand” button on my Comcast remote does not have access to the reservoir of hope for which I yearn. Yet I am convinced that there are times when I can and must exercise an element of choice in the posture with which I approach life. I choose to hope. For, to paraphrase Saint Paul, if we are only people of hope in hopeful times, what credit is that to us? But we are people of Resurrection faith precisely when resurrection is not what seems to appear before us. For “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

In the coming weeks we will face into further anxiety, further important work, and further adaptive challenges. Bishop Gayle Harris and I will be offering thoughts on the election, on our Diocesan Convention, on the essential work of antiracism before us, and more. Meanwhile, we live in the holy hope so well expressed by a sometime priest of our diocese:

“Perhaps … this prolonged period of unfulfilled desire will widen our hearts, increasing our empathy for those who live in a perpetual state of longing for what is denied them – peace, justice, equality, safety – all those whose deepest needs remain unmet. And perhaps now, having been deprived of people and connection and community for so long, we will appreciate anew how much we depend upon one another for our own flourishing.” (iv) 

May this holy hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit, carry us through and beyond the limits of our surge capacity.

Faithfully and fondly,


The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates


Dear Friends,

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August 19, 2020

Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord:
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps
I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Amos 5:16a, 23-24; New Revised Standard Version

This passage from the prophet Amos was the scriptural warrant that girded the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century. In his time of relative prosperity and stability, Amos was a clarion voice, strongly denouncing corruption, hypocrisy, the enormous gap between wealthy and poor, and systemic injustice. He warned people that for God, religious traditions and worship were unacceptable in light of their continuing participation in oppression, whether direct or indirect, caused by their apathy to the plight of others. God demands justice be provided for all and by all, so that justice is like a river, sustaining life, flowing in and around the people. Justice requires turning around, doing mercy and striving to provide basic needs, access to opportunity and giving respect for all.

God still demands justice flow as a river today; in our present cultural climate, our political climate and our environmental climate. Unfortunately, due to human greed, manipulation of the truth, exploitation for profit and security, and the desire to subjugate and conquer rather than steward and shepherd, the river of justice does not flow freely. It is impeded by our collective pollution of arrogance, injustice and apathy.

From the beginning of European arrival in this hemisphere, warfare on people and the environment has been engaged. The Pilgrims developed a strategy of genocide in purposely introducing small pox and other diseases by presenting blankets laced with infection as gifts to Indigenous People. Thus the first biological weapons unleashed here in Massachusetts were employed in the Caribbean, bringing near extinction of the native populations there also. Disease, pollution and exploitation of land, sea, air and people continued unabated by the exploration, colonization and slavery of the Third World by the First World. Technological advances and methods such as strip mining and fracking have made exploitation more massive, grounded in the lack of care for the planet, for those living now and those coming in the future.

Cleveland, Ohio, is my place of birth and formative years. I remember the major river of the region, the Cuyahoga, catching on fire several times from the industrial pollution dumped in it. Great Lake Erie was closed to fishing and swimming because of pollution; in the 1980’s it was deemed as “dead.” Moving to Chicago, we lived through the pungent yearly Alewife die-off in Lake Michigan from invasive species being introduced by opening the St. Lawrence Seaway. Ground-level ozone events, burning eyes, throat and lungs, were common in the summer before the Clean Air Act. In several coastal areas where I have been and lived, there is the annual explosion of red algae. Discarded plastic has become a small continent in the ocean; an open coffin taking life from the sea.

Environmental crises due to inaction on pollution, and attacks on wildlife and Earth’s resources, such as the Amazon, continue to affect us. Too many refuse to care about personal decisions or policies of business and government that degrade the planet. Blood of Black and Brown people is spilled and their homes destroyed for the extraction of minerals and precious stones. Too many do not want to tie stewardship of this planet to justice demanded by God. Some would rather care only for today, or regard this planet and all life on it only as something to dominate for their benefit.

Environmental justice calls us to reckon with our past, present and future. People of color and their home areas are regarded as toxic and nuclear waste dumping grounds. Infrastructures of resources are not provided equally. In the majority Black city, Flint, Michigan, the crisis of lead in the water has yet to be fully addressed. Hurricanes have increased in number and strength because of global warming. In the aftermath of hurricanes news coverage has exposed how little of resources and relief are distributed to neighborhoods and areas where people of color are the majority within the United States and its territories.

Changing the courses of rivers and elimination of wetlands have increased the effects of hurricanes, such as Katrina. We have seen at Standing Rock, North Dakota, that White entitlement and economic expediency trumps the care of environment and the rights of Native Peoples; the construction an oil pipeline has leeched oil on sacred land and water. Here in Massachusetts the lack of maintenance and monitoring led to the gas pipeline explosions and fires in Lawrence and Andover in 2018. The health, culture and survival of the G’wich’in and other Alaskan Indigenous People are now being threatened by the opening of the ANWAR area to oil/gas extraction and by the increasing of commercial and tourist fishing and gaming which decreases their food supply.

As Christians, we stand on the shoulders of our forebears; on their faith and their doubts, on their good and their evil, on their compassion and their cruelty. We live benefiting from and having to deal with all that they did and did not do. We cannot escape this heritage, nor separate ourselves from the past. We are also the ones that those who come after us will look to for inspiration and, I hope, thanksgiving for our efforts toward justice in all its forms.

We are Easter people, resurrection people. We are God’s people, called to justice, who can and must turn our attention and efforts for today and tomorrow. We have already done much: the air in some areas and many lakes and rivers are cleaner than 20 years ago. But there is much more to be done. Justice, for people and this planet in which all life is interdependent, requires vigilance, accountability and commitment. Let it be said by the next generations that we strove for justice, removing the pollution of greed and indifference that destroys life, that justice can flow freely now and in the future, as a pristine river, replenishing all life on this beautiful and awesome planet, created by, as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry proclaims, a “loving, liberating and life-giving God.”

Holding onto the Resilience of People of Justice Seeking Justice for 500+ Years in the Americas,
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris



June 15, 2020

Dear People of the Diocese of Massachusetts,

For the past three months we have been affected in previously unimagined ways by the coronavirus pandemic.  Every congregation has found new ways of being Church – in worship, fellowship and serving our neighbors.  We continue to be deeply impressed and profoundly grateful to you – the leaders and people of our churches – for your creativity, faithfulness, patience and commitment.

Since mid-May Episcopal congregations in Massachusetts have been operating under the bishops’ directive for no in-person public worship until July 1.  As we approach that date, we want to communicate our expectations of churches after that date.

At this time, based upon epidemiological recommendations, we strongly encourage congregations to refrain from in-person public worship, and to continue virtual opportunities for all aspects of church life until a move to less restrictive policies is indicated by public health considerations. However, congregations whose leaders upon careful consideration and planning believe that local conditions will allow for limited, safe in-person regathering may begin to move from Stage One to Stage Two, functioning within guidelines described in the May 18 document A Journey By Stages” (in English here and Spanish here).  Certification that conditions have been met for such in-person regathering will be required. The certification procedure is described below and in the online “A Journey By Stages: Stage Two Checklist” available here.

In moving towards more localized decision-making, a congregation’s leaders should observe prayerfully and scrupulously the following principles for consideration:

  1. Local Context: Consideration must be given to local coronavirus outbreak data; advisories by local community public health officials; architectural capacity and design of the church building; the ability of your staff and congregation to implement and maintain safety requirements; the prevalence of risk factors among your membership and your clergy and lay staff; and other factors particular to your situation.
  2. Care for the Most Vulnerable:  Many congregants and staff members with various risk factors will be advised or required to remain at home in order to stay safe.  Others have unequal levels of access, both physically and technologically.  Congregations should make inclusion and support of these members a key factor in all decisions about the timing and implementation of regathering.
  3. Mutual Support and Accountability: As we work through this in our local contexts, we are not alone in this challenge.

A diocesan team of “regathering shepherds” will be available for consultation in working through an online Stage Two Checklist, enabling a congregation to implement the “Journey By Stages” guidelines.  Congregations with a completed plan for regathering should submit their checklist, endorsed by a regathering shepherd, to certify that all due care has been exercised.

Of course, in addition to being accountable to one another within our diocesan community, we remain accountable also to all state and local guidelines, and ultimately to honesty with ourselves!  Neither faithful prayer nor wishful thinking allow us to risk the well-being of self and neighbor.

  1. Non-linear Trajectory:  Every congregation should be prepared to return to the restrictions of previous stages should public health conditions worsen with new spikes or surges during the continuing months of this pandemic.  In addition, houses of worship have been documented as places of virus transmission.  A local congregation must be ready to respond to information based on the positive test of a congregant or staff member, or contact tracing by a local board of health.
  2. Being our Best Possible Church:  The limitations of Stage Two may simply be too challenging for some congregations.  No congregation or leaders should feel pressure to regather prematurely. Continuing with practices of Stage One may be a fuller expression of Church than attempting something which is “permissible” but not helpful or sustainable.  Give careful thought to what has worked well and what you have learned about being Church in Stage One before giving it up.

Leaders in congregations preparing to move to Stage Two should contact the canon to the ordinary, the Rev. Canon Bill Parnell, bparnell@diomass.org, who will in turn connect your clergy or local team leadership with a regathering shepherd. The Stage Two Checklist does not replace but rather complements the “Journey By Stages” document.  All such materials are intended to help us be sure that our plans are comprehensive and safe.

The work ahead is daunting, but we are certain that taking the time for careful planning is essential. It is rooted in the covenant we make with one another at baptism to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.”  Our deepest hope is that our efforts to support one another in these decisions and preparations will indeed be manifestations of our love of God and one another.

Finally, in times of anxiety, frustration and grief, may we live gently with ourselves and one another.  Mistakes will be made.  Decision fatigue will be inevitable.  Disappointment will be around the corner, again and again.  So too will there be grace and discovery, as we continue to claim our identity as a people of hope and new beginnings.  May we do so with patience, forgiveness and good will!

Faithfully and gratefully,

The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris

June, 2020

The Current Status of Re-Opening St Andrew’s Church, Edgartown

To the members and friends of our St Andrew’s Church family:

Today, Governor Charlie Baker issued an Order concerning the re-opening of certain businesses and other concerns as part of a four-part process for reopening businesses and other establishments in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.   Places of Worship are now authorized to open to the public, including for public worship, and to employees, provided they abide by certain requirements for safe-distancing, sanitization, and other rules, listed in the Order. 

Last week, our Bishop Diocesan, The Right Reverend Alan Gates, informed all congregations that the previous restrictions and prohibitions on conducting public worship, issued by the Diocese, shall be extended until July 1, 2020. 

Simply stated, that means there will be no public worship at St Andrew’s Church until we receive further direction from Bishop Gates on or about July 1, 2020.

This morning I’d received a request from The Martha’s Vineyard Times asking me to comment on Governor Baker’s Order, namely, how St Andrew’s might now arrange to offer public worship, to which I responded:

“As an Episcopal church (the word “Episcopal” itself suggests “Bishop”), we look to the Diocesan Bishop’s directives regarding this issue.  Last week, The Right Reverend Alan Gates (together with the Right Reverend Douglas Fisher of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts), decreed that all Episcopal congregations in the Diocese of Massachusetts, which includes St Andrew’s Church here in Edgartown, would not be permitted to open for public worship at least until July 1–at which time, the Bishop would issue further instruction.

“The leadership of St Andrew’s Church fully supports that decision, agreeing with a recent comment by the Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Colorado, who recently wrote that ‘The number of acceptable deaths as a result of our [Diocesan] actions is ZERO.’  

“Since we view the notion of “church” as the community of faith borne by the people who follow Christ, and such community exists by and among the people, not confined to physical space, the current public health crisis has challenged our Episcopal congregations to find new and exciting ways to “be church” and to remain connected with the members of our faith community largely by using the gifts our newer technologies have provided us:  through Zoom meetings, Facebook posts, on-line Bible Studies, weekly worship on our YouTube Channels, phone calls, and the like. In most all cases, we are finding excellent, positive, encouraging–and even exhilarating–results among our respective congregations!

“So, unless and until we are certain our actions in maintaining public worship will not jeopardize the health of any of our beloved members, we will be happy to wait until we can all meet (physically) again.  Until that time, we are delighted with how the Holy Spirit continues to bind us in love and affection for each other.”

I feel strongly that the Holy Spirit continues to abide, and continues to guide, us here at St Andrew’s Church, as evidenced by the caring work of our members to keep in touch with each other and find ways to share joys as part of our wonderful faith community. 

As we continue to watch and wait for more guidance in our prayerful discernment, together with the capable reflection of our fine Vestry and Wardens, I am confident we will know how best to proceed in light of our current challenge.

And as I’ve recently taken to say:

I always thank God for you.

Your brother in Christ Jesus,