Saturday, May 30, 2020




A GARDEN WALK
WITH RON CALDWELL,
MAY 30, 2020



Instead of the usual still photos of my garden, I am posting a video of my garden I made today at about 10:30 a.m. This is my first attempt at posting a video from my phone, so let's hope the quality of my garden videos will improve in time. There is not much blooming in my garden right now as we are between flowering seasons, spring and summer. However, one may get a good idea of the overall effect of this garden that I designed, planted, and have maintained myself for seventeen years. I hope you enjoy this little stroll around my garden which takes up a building lot next to my house.





U.S. SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS RESTRICTIONS ON
THE RE-OPENING OF CHURCHES



On yesterday, May 29, 2020, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling supporting local regulations on the re-opening of churches. Find the article about this here . Find the Supreme Court decision here .

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four "liberal" justices to make the 5-4 majority for this ruling. Justice Kavanaugh wrote a dissent along with Justices Thomas and Gorsuch.

The issue was the First Amendment the underlying principle of which was the separation of church and state. The plaintiff in this case was the South Bay United Pentecostal Church of Chula Vista CA. It brought this suit against the California state government arguing that the state-imposed limit of 25% occupancy, and a total of 100, for the re-opening of churches during the COVID-19 pandemic was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment and the separation of church and state. The majority of justices, led by Roberts, declared that the state action was "consistent" with the First Amendment. The dissenting justices agreed with the Plaintiff that the regulations were a violation of the First Amendment.

This decision tells us two points. One is that the concept of the separation of church and state is not absolute. The state has a certain right to regulate churches in the greater interest of society. (For instance, churches have to comply with local fire laws.) Moreover, President Trump's demand that all states allow churches to re-open regardless of any regulations is not supported by the Supreme Court.

Secondly, it tells us that as churches move to re-open in South Carolina, and elsewhere, they must abide by the local regulations for public places. They are not free to disregard state and local policies governing the re-opening of public places.


Friday, May 29, 2020




EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF SC DISCOURAGES RE-OPENING OF CHURCHES



On yesterday, May 28, 2010, the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina issued a statement basically discouraging local churches from resuming worship services in the church buildings. Find the statement at episcopalchurchsc.org/news-blog . Find it here .

In the first place, the note recommends online services "as the primary means of worship." In the second place, it implies a local church should develop "a plan" to take all the precautions appropriate and then may proceed to indoor worship. In the third place, it recommends that all services and other gatherings should be held outdoors. The message I see in this memo is to discourage local congregations from returning to worship in the church buildings for the foreseeable future. It encourages Internet services instead of in-person ones. However, it allows congregations to resume services but leans on them to hold them outside of the church buildings. At least this is my interpretation of yesterday's message. My take-away from this is that Episcopal churches in lower SC should not resume in-person worship but if they do, they should hold services outside.

The Anglican and Episcopal dioceses have issued guidelines for the re-opening of churches. Find the Anglican one here . Find the Episcopal one here . One observation I have about these two papers is that they point out the differences between the two approaches that led up to the schism of 2012. As anyone who has read my history of the schism knows, there was a difference between the two "sides" on vertical versus horizontal religion. Vertical is oriented to a posture of one person-one God (personal salvation). Horizontal is oriented to a person's relationships to the world as directed by one's faith in God (the social gospel). In the first, God is an authority figure who controls all. In the second, God is a transcendent force working in our transactional relationships with others. The Episcopal Church developed as a horizontal-oriented religion after the 1950's but there was a counter backlash led by vertically-oriented forces. The vertical forces created the five schisms in the Episcopal Church between 2007 and 2012. The Anglican diocese of SC is the result of the schism in SC. It is a vertical-oriented religion. 

We can still see that dichotomy in the two approaches to the re-opening of churches in SC. The ADSC has an authoritarian plan with "Requirements" that are absolute and "Recommendations" that are strong suggestions but not necessarily requirements. This was handed down by the authority of the bishop. It even includes a letter the local church should send out to its communicants. The EDSC has an almost entirely independent plan where local congregations essentially decide on their own how to resume services. The only "requirement" on the Episcopal side is that communion be in bread only. So, here we have the driving issue of the schism in a nutshell: vertical and horizontal.

Another observation I have is that people are very reluctant to return to their church buildings. As we have seen, the Anglican diocese allowed the reopening of churches two Sundays ago. Of the 50 or so local churches in the ADSC, I found only 2 that reopened and both of those had very sparse congregations, I would guess between 10 and 20 percent of their usual attendance. It seemed to me the services were awkward and unsatisfactory for the attendees. The congregations appeared to be more like a studio audience at the taping of a TV show than participants in a religious service.

We are in a difficult position as we want to do everything we can to stop the spread of the coronavirus and also to resume the congregational dimension of our religion. The leaders of both Anglican and Episcopal diocese are right to insist on a go-slow approach. The church will survive. It will live on in spite of the virus. What may not survive this crisis is that vulnerable person who is endangered by the easy spread of this highly contagious and deadly germ. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020




A NATIONAL DAY OF MOURNING



It is Thursday, May 28, 2020. This is a national day of mourning for the 100,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19, all within the last three months. All of us should take a moment today and say a prayer for these people and their families and friends, indeed for all of us. We are in the presence of a national disaster. This is the worst natural catastrophe to hit our country in a century and it is far from over. In fact, it is just beginning. There is more to come, much more. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are likely to die of this terrible plague before it is over. God help us.

As we reflect somberly today, I recommend this video made by a doctor on the front lines of the war against the unseen enemy. 



The address of this video is:  youtube.com/watch?v=IdeHSkDCm58

As hard as it is, we must not forget we are here for the living of this hour. As we grieve, we must go on. We must do our best. Peace.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020







27 MAY 2020, NOTES



It is Wednesday, May 27, 2020. Welcome, blog reader as we continue on together in the long, dark night of the coronavirus plague.

COVID-19 is now the fastest spreading deadly disease in American history. One hundred thousand Americans have died of it, all within three months. At the present rate of death, app. 1,000/day, there will be 200,000 Americans dead of the virus by Labor Day. Then, all indications are for a second wave, a resurgence in the autumn. In the great flu pandemic of 1918, there was a first wave in the spring, a lull in the summer, then a much greater and deadlier wave in the last few months of the year. We may expect the same for Covid-19 this year. We should get prepared for the worst.

The bad news is that the virus is spreading as wildfire throughout the world and now beginning to accelerate in Third World countries, as Brazil. According to Worldometer, there are at least 5,707,637 cases in the world, with 703,501 in just the last week, a 14% rise. As for deaths in the world: 352,746, with 27,507 in the last week, an 8% rise.

The United States is by far the hardest hit country in the world. With just 4% of the world's population, it has 30% of the world's cases and 29% of the deaths. The U.S. is now listing 1,725,808 cases and 100,625 deaths. In just the last week, there were 154,790 new cases and 7,083 deaths. From the data, we can see the virus is continuing to spread and kill people in the U.S., but at a declining rate. The government's handing of the pandemic is a national humiliation. For goodness sake, the greatest country in the history of the world is going into a civil war over whether to wear face masks! Pathetic. 

In the southeastern U.S., the numbers and the rates are rising. Both Alabama and South Carolina are now among the leading 'hot spots" in the country. In the last week, SC saw 1,360 new cases for a total of 10,416. It also saw 47 new deaths for a total of 446. AL is even worse. In the last week, it counted a whopping 2,949 new cases for a total of 15,650 and 14 new deaths for a total of 580. The accelerating rate of spread in SC and AL is cause for alarm.

Meanwhile, public places as churches are beginning to re-open. The Centers for Disease Control finally issued a guideline for the re-opening of churches. Find it here . It is so vague and general as to be of little help. Essentially, it says to follow the local guidelines for re-opening. Unfortunately, the CDC has fallen to political influence and has receded into the background of the fight against the virus. Churches are on their own, at least under local regulations. President Trump has demanded the complete re-opening of churches across the country as he campaigns for reelection and reaches out to his bedrock evangelical Christian base. 

Even so, churches have been slow to re-open and parishioners have been reluctant to return to the ones that have opened their doors. On May 17, I found only two churches in the Anglican diocese that re-opened. Old Saint Andrews had about 14 attendees while St. Luke's of Hilton Head had about 30. On last Sunday, the 24th, I counted 14 at St. Andrew's and 37 at St. Luke's. Obviously, parishioners are hesitant to return to their buildings. If any of the other 50 or so local churches of ADSC re-opened to in-person worship, I am not aware of them. The Episcopal diocese remains closed at least until June 1. Both the ADSC and the EDSC have issued guidelines for the re-opening of churches that generally follow the CDC guide that was leaked in April but killed by the White House for being too stringent.

Now, turning to the subject of the litigation, there is some thought floating around that the Texas Supreme Court ruling of May 22 will help the schismatic contingent in South Carolina. Not so. The Texas decision has nothing at all to do with South Carolina. The Texas ruling was that even though the Episcopal Church is hierarchical, the breakaway group had the legal right to leave the Church and the Dennis Canon had no validity in the state because a trust could be legally revoked if it did not explicitly state that it could not be revoked. I suspect there is a good chance the Episcopal Church diocese will petition the U.S. Supreme Court for cert of this absurdly illogical opinion. So far, SCOTUS has retreated from taking Episcopal church cases. However, we now have a federal court ruling declaring TEC to be an hierarchical institution with all the rights that may entail. The scene now is not the same as the one two years ago when SCOTUS denied ADSC's petition for cert as it tried to appeal the SCSC decision of Aug. 2, 2017.

The litigation in SC is still on two tracks. In the federal courts, we are now awaiting the EDSC brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals, in Richmond. Then, we will get an ADSC rebuttal. All of this is expected to occur by July. Then, the Court will decide whether to hold a hearing. With or without a hearing, the justices will decide whether to uphold or overturn Judge Richard Gergel's decision of last September in which he found all in favor of the Episcopal Church diocese. In my view, odds are very strong the appeals court will uphold Gergel's masterful opinion.

It is the other track that is giving trouble. On August 2, 2017, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that 1-7 local parishes are independent, 2-29 local parishes are property of the Episcopal Church, and 3-Camp St. Christopher is property of the Episcopal Church diocese. The SCSC denied a rehearing. SCOTUS denied cert. On Nov. 19, 2017, the SCSC issued a Remittitur to the circuit court to implement the decision. There is where it remains. For two and a half years, Judge Edgar Dickson has had this on his desk. In all this time, he has carried out exactly one point, the first of the three orders in the SCSC decision (independence to the 7). He had done absolutely nothing to implement the other two orders of the decision. Why he has been sitting on his hands is anyone's guess. He is not talking. The Church diocese tried twice to get the state supreme court to prod Dickson on, to no avail. So, we wait interminably as the judge marks time. We know he has to retire by Dec. 31, 2022. It is not inconceivable we will mark time along with him for the next two and a half years. Where is the justice in all of this?

Remember, friends, we are here for the living of this hour regardless of how frightening and unfair it may be. Goodness and truth will not be vanquished. We will get through this, and we will do it together. Peace.

Monday, May 25, 2020





THE CONTRADICTORY
TEXAS SUPREME COURT DECISION



On May 22, 2020, the Supreme Court of Texas handed down a decision in the Episcopal Church case. Eight justices agreed while one did not participate. Find the decision here .

First, one should recognize the nature of the Texas Supreme Court. It is made up of nine justices. Each one is elected by popular vote in a state-wide election for a six-year term. For years now, conservative Republicans have held every seat on the court. The Court's new decision is a thin, thirty page, bundle of contradictions. It supports the breakaway side that is adamantly opposed to equal rights and inclusion of women and open homosexuals in the life of the church.

This is not the first appearance of the TSC in the church case. The original lower court ruled in favor of the Episcopal Church side. Then, the TSC intervened and ordered the lower judge to reverse his decision. He did and practically called for an appeal. The Episcopal Church side did appeal to the Second Appeals Court of Texas which, after two years of work, issued a masterpiece, a voluminous tome siding with the Church. The breakaway side immediately appealed this decision to the state supreme court. Last week's ruling overturns the appeals court's magnum opus. Find the appeals court decision of April 5, 2018 here .

The hang-up in the original intervention of the TSC, as it send the case back down to the lower court, was that the local diocese could revoke its accession to the TEC Dennis Canon since the Canon did not hold a provision that it could not be revoked, something that state law required. "trusts are revocable under Texas law unless they are expressly made irrevocable." (p. 10) It is ridiculous to argue that a law can be ignored unless the law explicitly says it cannot be ignored. Absurd. Nevertheless, this is the crux of the new decision---that the Dennis Canon could not be enforced in Texas since it did not have a provision that it had to be enforced. The effectiveness of a law is in the nature of law. The idea that a law, rule, or regulation has to spell out that it cannot be ignored is inane.

The big, glaring contradiction of the TSC decision of last week is that it accepts that the Episcopal Church is hierarchical and that the Diocese of Fort Worth entered TEC in 1982 explicitly under the terms of the TEC Constitution and Canons. The Dennis Canon was part of the C and C. "At that time, the corporate bylaws also provided that 'the affairs of this nonprofit corporation shall be conducted in conformity with the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.'" (p. 5)

 Then, the justices turned around and said the local diocese was self-governing and could amend its corporate documents at will. "In 2006, the Diocesan Corporation unanimously amended its articles and bylaws to remove all references to TEC." (p. 6) In another place, they said, "Congregants, local churches, and leaders of religious entities are free to disassociate from a hierarchical church at any time." (p. 12). In fact, individuals are free to leave any church at will but local churches and entities of hierarchical institutions are not.  

It is impossible to be under the TEC C and C and independent of them at the same time. Another absurdity.

Then, the justices tried to separate hierarchical authority and property ownership. In violation of hierarchy, the justices accepted the diocese as an independent entity free to amend its corporate charters and bylaws at will. The court then accepted the breakaway diocese as an equal entity under the concept of neutral principles and found for them on the matter of the ownership of the local properties. To do so, they had to ignore their own stated principle of hierarchy. So, the decision winds up contradicting itself---that the diocese could be under the Constitution and Canons of TEC and free to govern itself at the same time. Sovereignty cannot rest in two places at the same time---the whole church or its individual parts. The nature of a hierarchical institution is that sovereignty rests in the whole, not in the separate parts.

This decision begs to be appealed to the United States Supreme Court. In the first place, it is short, weak, and poorly substantiated by only a few cases which it repeats selectively. It will not stand up for a minute in Washington D.C., especially as it reflects so badly against the masterful appeals court decision that it purported, unsuccessfully in my view, to disprove. In the second place, the fundamental issue involved here has already been settled in federal court. Last September, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled very clearly that the Episcopal Church is hierarchical and as such is entitled to govern itself. He repudiated any notion that the breakaway group had any right to the historic diocese. He recognized the continuing diocese as the only legal and legitimate Episcopal diocese and, to boot, issued a permanent injunction forbidding the breakaway association from claiming in any way to be the historic Episcopal diocese. He backed this up with a second order. Too, there is the SCSC decision of August 2, 2017, that followed neutral principles and still found in favor of TEC on both the property and the ownership of the historic diocese. So, we have two competing state supreme court decisions, one for TEC and one for the breakaways. The two decisions are not equal, far from it. SCOTUS should say which should stand.

What the TSC has just issued not only contradicts itself, it contradicts federal court ruling. SCOTUS would no doubt throw out the TX decision in favor of Gergel's ruling. At any rate, federal law takes precedent over state law. Texas' absurd law that a trust can be revoked unless it says it cannot be revoked will be trumped by federal court adherence to hierarchy. Therefore, the Episcopal Church diocese of Ft. Worth should petition SCOTUS for cert asap.

While they are at it, the Church diocese of Ft. Worth should consider entering a suit in federal court along the same lines as the SC federal case---violation of the Lanham Act. Since the federal district court in Charleston has already ruled on this, it should be a simple matter to sue the breakaways in Ft. Worth for possession of the historic diocese.


[NOTE to readers. Sorry for the delay in making this commentary. I have been away from home and my computer for several days. I had to take a break.]  

Wednesday, May 20, 2020





ONCE AGAIN, CDC IGNORES
THE RE-OPENING OF CHURCHES



The Centers for Disease Control finally released its long-awaited detailed guideline for the re-opening of public places in America. The 60-page document was issued yesterday, May 19.

One should recall that the CDC originally sent a proposed detailed guideline to the White House for approval a month ago. The WH killed it on April 30. The original document included a section on religious communities. There was speculation at the time that the WH deep-sixed the proposed guide because of what it considered too stringent restrictions on churches. Now we can be confident this was in fact the case. The new guidelines of yesterday completely ignored churches. Obviously the WH approved of the new one. Why did the WH remove churches? Keep in mind a bedrock part of President Trump's "base" is the evangelical Christian coalition.

Yesterday's document covers practically everything except churches:  child care, schools and day camps, employers, restaurants and bars, and mass transit. Find the new CDC guideline here .

Although the original CDC guideline was not approved and adopted, it was posted on the Internet. It remains the most thorough (and in my view the best) guide to the re-opening of churches. Find it here .

What all this means is that churches are on their own to decide how to re-open their buildings to public worship following, of course, the local governmental policies and procedures. Both the Anglican and Episcopal dioceses in lower South Carolina have issued guidance directives for their local parishes and missions as they plan for re-opening. Find the Anglican document here  and the Episcopal one here .

Local churches are now trying to figure out the best ways to resume public worship and still protect the health of the attendees. This is not an easy task. As we saw, on last Sunday, the first day the Anglican diocese allowed churches to re-open, only two of the eighteen churches surveyed re-opened, and they found only sparse congregations. In my view, the two churches that did re-open did not succeed in finding a happy balance between public worship and social distancing. 

It seems to me the best approach is a slow and careful one. Churches should certainly continue mainstreaming services on the Internet, something that has turned out to be successful and popular. As for re-opening, this is going to require experimentation and adaptation to find a good balance between corporate worship and safety. Surely the most sensible approach now is for vestries and councils to consider carefully the original CDC document on re-opening as well as the Anglican and Episcopal diocesan guides. 




20 MAY 2020, NOTES



Greetings, blog reader, on Wednesday, May 20, 2020, as we continue on through the long, dark night of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been tracking the statistics of the disease in four-day increments seeking a pattern of movement, always longing for an easement. Today we have the figures from Worldometer for the period of May 16-20. Let us look at today's numbers as see how they compare with the two previous four-day periods:


NEW CASES,
                          May 8-12           May 12-16          May 16-20
World               340,654, +9%    371,044, +9%     357,727, +8%

U.S.                   93,014, +7%      98,394, +7%       86,731, +6%

SC                     650, +9%           615, +8%            649, 8%

AL                     1,118, +12%      1,209, + 12%      1,492, +13%


DEATHS,

World                16,575, +6%     21,314, +7%       16,255, +5%

U.S.                    4,834, +6%       6,711, +8%         5,035, +6%

SC                      30, +9%            34, +10%            19, +5%

AL                      34, +9%            80, +20%            25, +5%


We are looking at two categories here, numbers of new cases and deaths and rates of increase in these numbers. While raw numbers continue to climb, the rate of the increase seems to be leveling off. In other words, the pandemic seems to be increasing in arithmetical and not geometrical patterns. This is good news and bad news. Nevertheless, at the present rate of increase, the U.S. will pass 100,000 deaths in the next few days. By the end of the summer, the U.S. deaths will almost certainly be well in excess of 200,000. All of the experts are saying we can expect a new, and much worse, wave to hit in the fall. Bear in mind, almost all of the cases and deaths in the U.S. have occurred in just the last twelve weeks. We are barely into what will be a long and dark night. 

325,339 people in the world have died of COVID-19, all in the last six months. 93,542 Americans have died. 399 South Carolinians and 508 Alabamians have succumbed to the dreadful disease. I have to stop here. I am overwhelmed by sadness.

Remember we are here for the living of this hour. Peace.

Sunday, May 17, 2020





ANGLICAN DIOCESE OF SC RESUMES
IN-PERSON CHURCH



Today, May 17, 2020, was the first Sunday in which in-person worship was allowed to resume in the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina. The Episcopal diocese of SC will not re-start public worship until June 7 at the earliest. So, how did the much-anticipated "re-opening" go today? I was curious to know and so checked the Internet offerings of most of the major parishes listed in the Anglican diocese.

I scanned eighteen prominent local churches for their morning services of today on Youtube and Facebook. I found only two that had in-person church. These two also offered live-streaming. I found sixteen that were not allowing in-person worship yet but were continuing live-streaming services. These were the sixteen not having public services today:

St. Philip's of Charleston, 
St. Michael's of Charleston, 
the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul, 
St. Paul's of Summerville, 
St. Helena's of Beaufort, 
the Church of the Cross of Bluffton, 
Christ/St. Paul's of Yonges Island, 
St. John's of Florence, 
Prince George Winyah of Georgetown,
Trinity of Myrtle Beach
Christ Church of Mt. Pleasant
Holy Cross of Sullicans Island
St. James of James Island
St. John's of Johns Island
Our Saviour of Johns Island
Resurrection of Surfside

The two that I found that had in-person church today were Old St. Andrew's of West Ashley and St. Luke's of Hilton Head.

At St. Andrew's, I counted fourteen people in the congregation. There were four in the choir, a choirmaster, a pianist, and several robed men around the altar. Eucharist was celebrated and only the celebrant had the wine. The others around him took only the wafer. The people in the pews did not leave the pews in the communion. They did not go to the altar and the eucharistic ministers did not go to them. If the people took the wafers, I do not know how they got them. The few people scattered about the mostly vacant pews were wearing face masks as far as I could tell. Apparently, the service was printed in the bulletin. As far as I could make out, the congregation joined in the singing while wearing masks (the ADSC guidelines say "No congregational singing" highlighted in blue letters.)

St. Luke's of Hilton Head was a bit different. I counted approximately thirty people in the pews which were mostly empty. The service was projected on a screen but books were available in the pews. There were two people in the choir, several musicians, and several robed people at the altar. Eucharist was celebrated and the celebrant alone took the wine. At communion, the laity walked to the front, stood and each took a wafer. There was no kneeling at the altar rail. As far as I could tell, everyone was wearing face masks. Those around the altar removed theirs for singing and speaking.  

There may have been other local churches that held in-person services today. I did not look up every one of the parishes and missions. However, I think the eighteen that I did check give us an entirely clear picture on this first Sunday of the return of public services. 

Here is our take-away from today. The vast majority of local churches are not ready to resume in-person worship. In the two that did, the vast majority of the people are not ready to return to the church buildings. I do not know the usual Sunday attendance at OSA and St. Luke's, but I would guess it would be ten times the number of today. Could it be that only ten percent of the laity feel comfortable returning to church? If so, churches have a lot of work to do to reassure people that going back to church is a good thing to do.

If people believe that in returning to church they will be resuming their old church experiences, they will be sorely disappointed. "Coronavirus church" by necessity has to be radically different. The two public services I scanned today seemed to me to be awkward, flat and barely alive. In my view, they just did not function well as corporate worship. The lesson I see today for all church leaders is that they will have to work very hard in the near future to strike an effective balance between resuming group worship and protecting the individuals in the group from the virus. The two services of today show churches have an enormous challenge ahead.

Saturday, May 16, 2020





EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF SC ISSUES
GUIDELINES FOR THE RE-OPENING
OF CHURCHES



On yesterday, May 15, 2020, the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina issued "Best Practices for Planning a Return to In-Person Worship," to guide parishes and missions as they plan the resumptions of public worship in their church buildings. Find the EDSC announcement, and the guide, here . Local churches of the diocese may resume services after the First of June.

There is no official, national directive for the re-opening of places of worship. However, the people in lower South Carolina now have three guides that they can, and should, consult as they plan the re-openings. In late April, the Centers for Disease Control sent out a proposed guideline that was detailed and stringent. Find it here . The second is the guideline of the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina, dated May 7, 2020. Find it here . The third is the new EDSC guideline published yesterday.

One should bear in mind that the dates for resuming public worship are only suggestions. No local church is required to re-start public worship. ADSC churches may re-open tomorrow while EDSC churches may re-start on Sunday, June 7. Of course, this means they may choose not to re-open. 

The only one of the three that actually demands compliance is the ADSC guide. In it, the bishop lists "Requirements" and "Recommendations" for resuming indoor and outdoor public worship. The requirements in the ADSC guide are more restrictive and detailed than in the CDC guide which was shelved apparently because it was too restrictive. Thus, ADSC puts the burden of decision making on the diocese.

The EDSC guide does not require or demand anything. It only suggests points local churches should consider as they make their own plans for re-opening. Its recommendations are couched in wordy reasons and explanations. Thus, EDSC, in contrast to ADSC, puts the burden of decision making on the parishes and missions.

(Note. 5-17-20. As someone rightly pointed out to me, the EDSC does require communion in one kind only so it is not quite right to say the EDSC guide does not require or demand anything. "Communion of One Kind in the Bread is to be practiced until further notice.") 

Otherwise, the ADSC and EDSC guides are quite similar in specifics for re-opening. ADSC suggests a 25% occupancy while EDSC offers 20%, not a significant difference. However, neither really provides for how this is to be administered. Exactly what is to be done with the overflow? (The Church of England is considering giving out tickets for admission.)

As for music in church, all three guides are unclear. The CDC says no choirs but ignores congregational singing. ADSC says no congregational singing but says nothing about choirs. EDSC says consider doing without a choir but skips congregational singing. At any rate, all three say attendees should wear face masks. Common sense would mean no congregational singing through masks. The guides should have been clearer on the best ways to incorporate, or not, music into the new worship formats. 

As for the grand old institution of the coffee hour, all three disagree. The CDC guide says food and beverage may be served but in individual containers. The ADSC says outright "no coffee hour." The EDSC suggests they may be a social hour but without food and beverage. Thus, ADSC churches have no choice but EDSC churches may decide to combine CDC and EDSC and have coffee hour with individual servings although consuming food and drink while wearing face masks and talking to people six feet away presents another problem.

It is no wonder that some churches are hesitant to reopen with all the confusing and complex issues at hand. My quick survey of four large ADSC parishes yesterday found that none of them will be resuming public worship this month. It remains to be seen when they will resume services and when the EDSC parishes and missions will re-open.

ADSC churches have no choice about stipulations of re-opening. They have "requirements" that must be met. EDSC churches do have choices. My advice to them is to study all three guides and make the most sensible specific provisions suitable to the local circumstances. The ADSC guide is the easiest to follow while the EDSC guide gives the better reasons for doing these things. 

Re-opening churches is serious business and should be approached with the utmost of care and caution. The coronavirus is highly infectious and we know churches are places of public interaction that can spread COVID-19. Keep St. Andrew's of Mt. Pleasant in mind. 

Churches should continue their live-streaming which has proved to be a popular alternative to in-person worship. They should also warn, perhaps discourage, vulnerable populations about attending: over 65, heart problems, lung issues, diabetes, cancer. 

This unwelcomed disruption of our old church lives will go on for a long time to come, at least until a vaccine appears. All indication is at least another year of this. Churches will have to reconfigure worship services and, no doubt, revise as they go along. There is no easy answer. There is not even agreement on exactly how to do things, as evidenced by the three guides. There will have to be a lot of experimentation ahead, but all should be done with one great thought in mind, the health and well-being of the people of the church.  

  




16 MAY 2020, NOTES



It is Saturday, May 16, 2020. Welcome blog reader. Here's a wish that all is well with you and yours. Our dark night continues as we walk together ever knowing that the dawn will come in time. We must keep the faith.

In order to try to get some sense of the trajectory of the pandemic, we have been following the data in Worldometer in four-day increments. Our new period is May 12-16. Here is what the figures show for incidence and rates of change:


NEW CASES,
                         May 4-May 8         May 8-12          May 12-16
World              351,825, +10%      340,654, +9%    371,044, +9%

U.S.                  104,053, +9%        93,014, +7%      98,394, +7%

SC                    516, +8%               650, +9%           615, +8%

AL                    1,158, +15%          1,118, +12%      1,209, +12%


DEATHS,

World               22,928, +9%         16,575, +6%      21,314, +7%

U.S.                   8,336, 12%           4,834, +6%        6,711, +8%

SC                     41, +15%              30, +9%             34, +10%

AL                     79, +27%              34, +9%             80, +20%

The raw numbers continue to be staggering. In the world there are now 4,646,409 cases and 308,984 deaths from the coronavirus. In the U.S., there are 1,484,287 cases and 88,507 deaths. At least 6,711 Americans died of the disease just in the last four days. That is a current death rate of app. 1,600/day. At this rate, there will be well over 200,000 Americans dead of the plague by the end of the summer. Indeed, there will be 100,000 dead before the end of this month. The great flu pandemic of 1918 killed some 600,000 Americans (in 1918-1919). Some experts are now predicting COVID-19 rate may exceed that before a vaccine appears. Leading scientists are now saying we will not have a vaccine in less than 12-18 months and perhaps longer. Thus, we are in for worse, much worse for at least the next year. It is best to accept this terrible reality and get prepared.

The last time we checked the numbers, for the previous four-day period, they suggested a lessening in the rates of spread and mortality of COVID-19. This is not the case this time. Rates are the same or increasing across the board except for a slight fall in new cases in SC. New cases in the world and the U.S. continue to rise at the same rates. An alarming change is the rise in the death rate. It is significantly up in the world and the U.S. in the last four days after having shown a decline. The death rates in SC and AL are cause for grave concern. 

Overall, the statistics show that the pandemic is spreading in size and intensity at the same or increasing rates. This is coming at the same time that most localities in America are re-opening public places. Many experts warn this is the wrong time to be doing this and we can expect rates to climb for the foreseeable future.

All of this is bad news. It is hard to take. We wish fervently this were not true. People are falling sick and dying all around us from a highly contagious and lethal disease that no one can stop. We feel helpless. We are frightened. We are sad. However, we need to know the truth what is happening in this crisis if we are to make good decisions about how we react to it.

As always, let us remember that no one wanted this. No one caused it. But, here we are caught in the grip of a microscopic organism. We must accept things as they are as we keep the faith that there is a higher order in the universe where light ultimately prevails over the dark. And so, we are here for the living of this hour. Peace.


Friday, May 15, 2020





NEW CDC GUIDELINES OMIT CHURCHES



On yesterday, 14 May 2020, the Centers for Disease Control officially released to the public new guidelines for the re-opening of public places in the United States. These included:  workplaces, child care centers, schools and camps, restaurants and bars, and public transportation. Find an informative article about this here . The new guidelines are brief, general, and simple. Basically they say to follow the local policies for re-opening. This reflects the abdication of national leadership in the face of the worst health crisis to hit the United States in a century.

One will recall that just a couple of weeks ago, someone(s) in the CDC leaked to the media the proposed new guidelines as they were sent to the White House for approval. They were long, detailed and quite restrictive. We know that the WH killed the proposal on 30 April. It was apparently afterwards that the the CDC personnel constructed the new and drastically watered down version which was approved by the WH and released yesterday. Find the original guidelines here .

The original version contained a lengthy section on churches. There was speculation at the time that the WH shelved the whole original version because of the what it saw as too restrictive provisions for churches. These suspicions may have been right considering the total absence of churches in yesterday's publication. The CDC may yet issue new suggestions for churches but if they do they will no doubt be as generalized and un-helpful as the others.

What all of this tells us is that the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic has become thoroughly politicized. The federal government's response to the pandemic has gone through three phases. In the first, January to mid-March, the presidential administration was in denial. It dismissed the problem as minor and temporary. It took very little action to stop the virus. By mid-March it was obvious this policy was failing. 

The second phase ran a month and a half, from mid-March to the end of April. In this, the Congress and the White House combined to produce a massive injection of money into the economy as local governments almost everywhere closed down most areas of public life. People were ordered to stay at home. Four acts were passed by Congress and signed by the president. The third was the most important. It was the $2.2 trillion "bail-out" program that included $1,200 checks to most Americans and "loans" to small businesses (and churches). This bill was passed unanimously in the Senate, an accomplishment that is all but impossible in today's political climate. Even though the administration refused to establish a unified, focused, dedicated national program to fight the pandemic, there was an overall national response, mostly from Congress. The right-wing elements in American coalesced to destroy this unity.

By the end of April, the country moved into the third and present phase of response. It is a return to the politics of polarization and deadlocked hostility which paralyzes any common national program. Conservative elements, voiced by Fox News, denounced the restrictive measures of the second phase and proclaimed the "crisis" to be fake. They verbally attacked the scientists and specialists who advocated for socially restrictive policies as the only viable alternative to the spread of the virus. The conservatives won the day and now dominate the political scene. The scientists have been sidelined. The Democrats in Congress are preparing a fifth and much larger "bail out" bill but the Republican leaders and the White House have publicly declared this to be DOA. Apparently there will be no significant fifth law. The fragile unity of common purpose in the second phase was short-lived. We are now back to pre-pandemic polarization. The CDC is a victim of this. It tried to make a meaningful directive to stop the spread of the virus but this came too late. By the time it floated the restrictive measures, near the end of April, the conservatives had already turned the presidential administration in their favor. Hence, CDC's toothless final version of yesterday. In this third period, the presidential administration and its congressional allies are turning away from the pandemic and focusing on the national election coming up in November. With this, the states and localities are on their own to fight against the worst public health crisis in a century. Meanwhile cases and deaths in America continue to skyrocket with no end in sight. With no national plan and a return to polarized political warfare, the pandemic will only take a greater and greater toll on the country. COVID-19 is highly contagious and deadly. There is no cure or even treatment for the disease. As the scientists are saying, we are in for darker days ahead. The country is facing even greater disruption of life than we have seen.

What this means for churches is that they are on their own according to the local governmental guidelines. As of this moment, there is no specific guidance from the CDC on re-opening churches, and I doubt there will be. This means, the Episcopal and Anglican dioceses of South Carolina are free to decide the conditions under which they will re-open churches as long as these do not conflict with local official policies. 

The Episcopal diocese has said there will be no in-person worship services until after 17 May. They have not announced a policy after that. The Anglican diocese has declared a re-opening of churches. Local churches may resume public worship on 17 May. However, the diocese issued a highly detailed and remarkably restrictive list of "requirements" for the re-openings. It is considerably more demanding that the proposed CDC guidelines that were killed by the White House. Find it here .

For whatever reasons, perhaps the heavy restrictions of the diocesan guidelines for re-opening, some of the ADSC churches are holding off on resuming in-person worship. I looked up several large parishes on the Internet to find their policies. According to their websites:

 St. Philip's of Charleston will not resume public worship for an indefinite time but will continue live-streaming; 

St. Michael's of Charleston will tentatively resume in-person services on June 7; 

St Helena's of Beaufort will continue only on-line church; 

Church of the Cross of Bluffton says "no in-person services will be held" as it continues live-streaming.

I did not consult all of the ADSC parishes, but it is interesting that large and important parishes are hesitant to resume in-person services.

At any rate, the point is that churches are virtually on their own to decide the best ways to resume public worship services. While this gives local church authorities a good amount of freedom, it also puts a great deal of responsibility on them for the welfare of the communicants. The officials' decisions may literally mean life or death to the people returning to their beloved church buildings. Surely, the ADSC has the right attitude about all of this--it is better to bite the bullet now than to face the bullet down the road.

As always, remember, friend, we are here for the living of this hour. Peace.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020





SHOULD CHURCHES TAKE MONEY
FROM THE GOVERNMENT?




The present crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with any number of ethical problems. The biggest, of course, is whether to re-open more and more public places even though this will mean an increase in the rate of coronavirus infections and deaths. There is another ethical issue I want to bring up now, and that is the question of whether churches should take money from the government.  

First, let us review what has happened. In response to the sudden and drastic disruption caused by the various closures and social distancing policies of state and local governments, Congress passed four massive bills to inject money into the economy. The third of these was the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), signed into law on Mar. 27, 2020. Part of this was the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) of $350 billion. The aim of the PPP was to keep employees on the payrolls of small businesses adversely affected by the closures. The fourth was an extension of the third, signed into law on April 27, 2020. It provided for an additional $320 billion for small businesses.  In all, the federal government offered $670 billion to help small businesses survive the economic disruption of the pandemic.

As the laws were crafted, the authors included, with small businesses, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, such as religious institutions. The PPP offered "loans" equaling 2.5 times the average monthly payroll costs. These would be administered by the Small Business Administration through banks. The loans would be forgiven if all employees were kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money was used for payroll, rent, mortgage, interest, and utilities. In other words, under the certain conditions, the loan would become a grant. 

The loans were offered on a first-come-first-served basis starting on April 3. Before the money was exhausted 13 days later, the SBA had issued several million loans, averaging $206,000. There were 30,000,000 small businesses in America. One survey showed that 75% of them applied for PPP loans but only 20% obtained them. Hotels and restaurants, among the hardest hit businesses, received only 9% of the money. The second round of grants started on April 27. In the first five days, $176 billion was allocated. As of this writing, its funds have not been exhausted.

Many churches could not resist the offers of free money from the federal government. The closures of churches, starting in March, had caused a significant decline in church income. One report said more than half of churches reported 25% decline and 18% reported 50% fall. One survey showed that 40% of Protestant churches applied for the PPP loans and 59% of those were approved. Of the 17,000 Roman Catholic parishes in the U.S., 12,000 applied and 9,000 obtained loans. One survey showed that 573 Jewish organizations won loans totaling $276 million.

The national Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in North America did not take positions on the PPP loans. However, many dioceses and local parishes did rush to claim the loans. The ACNA did a survey and found of 85 respondents, 36 had applied, 23 had been approved and 12 were pending. It also found that 3 ACNA dioceses and 2 ministry partners had applied. Of these 4 had been approved and 1 was pending.

The Diocese of South Carolina was one of the numerous Episcopal dioceses that sought the PPP loans. Early on, either in late March or early April, the EDSC posted a document on its website entitled, "The CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program: Important Information for Churches." Find it here . It proclaimed in bold face, "The Diocese of SC is applying for a PPP loan, and we encourage our congregations to use this resource as well. Your diocesan leadership encourages all eligible congregations to take advantage of this program." It gave detailed instructions on how to apply. The EDSC applied and received a loan (I do not know the amount).

Two days ago, I contacted the Anglican and Episcopal diocesan headquarters in Charleston to inquire about diocesan and parish applications for PPP loans. How much did EDSC receive in its loan? Did the ADSC apply? If it succeeded, what was the amount of the loan? Which parishes applied? Which won loans? What were the amounts? One responded to my email. Neither diocese would provide any of the information I requested. Under the Freedom of Information Act, federal agencies are required to provide non-classified information to the public. Under the FOIA, I have requested the information from the Small Business Administration on the PPP loans to the Episcopal and Anglican churches in South Carolina. I am awaiting a reply and will relay the information when I get it.

While many churches rushed to get the virtually free money from the federal government, not everyone thought it was the right thing to do. Jon Costas, a pastor and former mayor of Valpariso, Indiana, wrote an eye-catching article in Christianity Today discouraging churches from pursuing the PPP money. Find the article here . To Costas, the issue was much more complicated than it may have first appeared. He urged churches to consider carefully five questions before applying:

1-What Scriptural principles should inform our discussion?

2-Is our church truly experiencing financial hardship to the same degree as small businesses?

3-Will accepting a large governmental subsidy rob our members of an opportunity to give sacrificially and experience the Lord's provision?

4-Is the decision to accept the PPP grant a decision made in faith or fear?

5-What message will accepting PPP funds send to an unbelieving world?

Costas concluded, "I believe the decision to apply for and receive PPP funds is one of the most important issues the church will face in this decade. It will set a precedent for the future and may, in time, hinder the mission of the church when the strings attached to government funds are not consistent with Scripture. It will impact how the unchurched view us, and how our own members respond to our spiritual leadership."

Costas' article gives us much to ponder about the issue of churches taking government handouts. In the first place, a great deal of money is involved here. For a parish with a million dollar annual budget, the PPP "loan" would be roughly $200,000. In the second place, the demand far exceeded the supply and the vast majority of small businesses did not receive loans under the PPP. Of the ones that failed to obtain the loans, those owned by African Americans and women were disproportionately represented. Churches soaked up money that might have gone to truly needy "mom and pop" shops. No one knows now how many of them went out of business or will go out of business soon.

Costas did not bring this up, but I, a life-long student of history, will---separation of church and state. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids the Congress from making any law respecting the establishment of a religion. While PPP does not exactly establish a government religion, one could argue it comes close by funneling public, tax-payers' money into religious institutions. This is a dangerous precedent that could lead to harmful relations down the road. Separation of church and state has worked very well throughout American history. One could make a good case that this has greatly benefited the churches. At least the empirical evidence shows a much stronger attachment of Americans to religious institutions than in the old countries of Europe. Americans like the idea of the separation of church and state.

After the first round of loans ended, on April 13, there was a public outcry about rich corporations, big businesses, universities, and even sports teams that had received the loans meant only for needy small businesses. The clamor was so loud and the spotlight so strong, that many of these well-heeled places were embarrassed enough to return the money.

So, back to our question, Should churches take money from the government, at least the PPP? This is a complicated and difficult issue that, as Costas said, is more nuanced that we might have thought at first glance. Church officials should carefully consider whether it is right to take government handouts. 

The best argument that can be made for churches to pursue the PPP grants is that the money may preserve the jobs of church employees who would have been fired or furloughed. After all, this was the original motivation of the PPP. It was meant to keep employees on the payroll for the duration of the closures. On the other hand, churches taking PPP loans may be depriving needier small businesses of the money they must have in order to stay afloat and to preserve the employment of their limited numbers of workers. Too, this may hit hardest the little businesses owned by people of color and by women. How can the churches justify taking the money under these conditions? Finally, there is the principle of the separation of church and state. As tempting as it may be at any one moment to "fudge" on this, it is a dangerous game that ought to be avoided in the best interests of both state and church.

As I see it, churches should reconsider their participation in the PPP loans. If they are to be the respected oracles of ethics and morality, they must behave accordingly. What they do speaks much louder than what they say. For a church that got a PPP loan, unless it can make a compelling case that it should keep it, the church should seriously consider returning it so that others may have the money. This would be in the spirit of a servant religion.

At the very least, church leaders and people should think about the ethical and moral dimensions of reacting to the highly disruptive conditions of life as we struggle through what will be a long night. The pandemic will continue until a vaccine appears and God only knows when that will be. The darkness of the hour must not, indeed cannot, extinguish the light of our faith. Peace.

____________________________________

Sources:

Wikipedia, "Paycheck Protection Program" .

NPR, "Not-So-Small Businesses Continue to Benefit from PPP Loans." 

CBS. "More than 12,000 Catholic churches in the U.S. applied for PPP loans and 9,000 got them."

ACNA. "Navigating the Financial Realities of COVID-19."


Tuesday, May 12, 2020





12 MAY 2020, NOTES



Greetings, blog reader, as we continue our travel together through the awful night of the coronavirus pandemic. We have been following the data in Worldometer trying to get an understanding of the course of the pandemic. We have a new four-day period, May 8-12, to add. So, is there a discernible pattern emerging? Here are the last three four-day periods:


NEW CASES,
                  Apr. 30-May 4         May 4-May 8         May 8-May 12
World        349,035, +11%        351,825, +10%      340, 654, +9%

U.S.            124,254, +12%        104,053, +9%         93,014, +7%

SC               745, +13%               516, +8%               650, +9%

AL               963, 14%                 369, +27                 1,118, +12


DEATHS,

World         20,041, +9%           22,928, +9%          16,575, +6%

U.S.             6,937, 11%              8,336, +12%          4,834, +6%

SC               43, +19%                41, +15%               30, +9%

AL               28, +11%                79, +27%                34, +9%


Overall, these number suggest a general pattern of slight lessening in the rate of spread and mortality. In the world, there is a noticeable decline in the rate of the increase of new cases and of deaths. The same is true for America. However, in the U.S. there has been a decline in cases in NYC but increases in many other parts of the country. In SC, overall there is a lessening in the rate of increase. Even so, 7,792 cases have been reported in SC along with 346 deaths. Alabama, on the other hand, continues to show increases in spread and deaths, now with 10,164 cases and 403 deaths. 

One has to bear in mind that the county has been in semi-quarantine for nearly two months now. This may be paying off in the declines of the rates of increase. As of yesterday, most of the U.S. is ending the closures. It remains to be seen how the re-openings will influence the numbers of new cases and deaths. The scientists seem to believe numbers will go up. 

Georgia was the first state in the southeast to lift its stay at home orders, on May 1. Since then, the state has seen 7,000 new cases, a 25% rise.

Although the rate in the increase of new cases and of deaths in the U.S. may be declining, the disease continues to run rampant in most of the country. The U.S. has 4% of the world's population and a third of all cases in the world. It is about the same for deaths. In fact, the U.S. has one of the highest death rates per 1m population in the world. As for testing, there are 38 countries that test more per 1m population. Meanwhile, there is no national program to lead the country out of this public health crisis. The presidential administration is incompetent at handling the problem. The president is preoccupied with his bid for reelection. So far, the governmental response to the pandemic in the U.S. has been poor even though some localities have handled it well. As they say, the proof is in the pudding. Just look at the numbers.

Over 81,000 Americans have died of this disease, all within the past three and a half months. In the last four days, the death rate has been app. 1,000/day. If this rate continues, by the end of the summer, over 200,000 of our fellow citizens will have died of COVID-19. The scientists are predicting a "second" and deadlier wave of the virus in the fall. God help us.

Whatever happens, bear in mind, we are here for the living of this hour. Meanwhile, we are commanded to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. Peace.