Bishop Dietsche Sends Christmas Greetings And a Note on Omicron
Bishop Dietsche wrote Dec 23 to the people of the Diocese of New York as follows:
My Brothers and Sisters,
On these last days of Advent, it is my honor to wish you all a Merry Christmas, good health, and an abundance of hope and confidence as we approach a new year. Even with the exhaustion, the impatience, the fear, and the grief which the pandemic has visited upon us, we have much to be thankful for, much to celebrate, and much by which we may look to the future in hope. And as we come to Christmas Day, to remember that the name given by the angel for Our Lord was “Emmanuel,” God With us. And in all our travails, indeed, God is with us.
We are almost two years into the coronavirus pandemic, and it is clear that we are nowhere near done with it. As we find ourselves at the beginning uphill climb of yet another virus surge, now from the omicron variant, some have reached out to ask me if I will be publishing new protocols for public worship and our common life in parishes.
As the Spring of 2020 began to give way to Summer, and the horrible surge which was our life in New York began to wane, we established certain protocols to govern our life as we anticipated re-opening our churches. Masking. Washing hands and using hand sanitizer. Appropriate distancing. Limitations on singing. And refraining from the administration of the cup at the eucharist. In a year when so many of us were vaccinated, and then boosted, we discovered that some of these protocols could be relaxed, and others continued (e.g. the prohibition of the cup). There is nothing which in my judgment we might add to these practices to support the safety of our worship space for everyone. Except one thing.
Heightened vigilance. The omicron variant of the coronavirus is profoundly more transmissible than the original virus or its earlier variants. Admittedly, it also seems to be less virulent, which is promising, but I would note that one of the lessons we have learned over these very costly two years is that we underestimate this virus at our peril. It is likely that when you fill your church with people, vaccinated or unvaccinated, someone will have brought the omicron variant with them to church. Remembering that our parishes all have older people, immunocompromised people, and children too young to be vaccinated, I do ask you to renew your commitment to these commonsense protocols, with heightened attention. And I remind you that your churches are all subject to the protocols established by the state of New York.
So you know: I will be preaching and presiding at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on Christmas Eve, but the decision has been made, together by Dean Daniel and me, to offer that worship remotely. My offices will be closed for the week following Christmas, but when we reopen on January 3 we will, through the rest of that month, return to a hybrid model of half-time working in the office and half-time working from home.
I have thought of 2020 as the year of shock and awe. And 2021 as the year of premature hopes. 2022 will be, I think, the year of learning to manage a disease which is never going away. This virus wil continue to be a long slow slog. Please stay safe, all of you. Be healthy. And take good, loving, and protective care of the people in your charge. Have a Merry Christmas, please accept the gift of my love for you, and I look forward to seeing you all in the new year. With every blessing, I remain
The Right Reverend Andrew ML Dietsche
Bishop of New York