December 21, 2020
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness,
on them light has shined.
Not for a long time, have these words of Isaiah fallen on our ears as significantly as they do this Christmas. Particularly, perhaps, for those of us who live in a culture of privilege and comparative security, the darkness of fear and uncertainty has been as novel as the coronavirus, itself. For months, we have strained our eyes in search of even a glimmer of hope. The combined pandemics of COVID-19, racial injustice, and political animosity have conspired to obscure our vision of a safe, stable, and just future. They have made us starkly aware of what Isaiah called this world’s yokes of burden – illness, poverty, inequality, and oppression – the bars on our shoulders and, more significantly, the shoulders of others, and the countless forms that the rod of their oppressors takes. This year has presented us with an absence of light that, ironically, has itself illuminated the physical, emotional, and spiritual healing necessary for the wholeness and holiness of the world.
The “Great Conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn this week, that vicennial astrological event dubbed the Christmas Star, feels an apt metaphor of the light for which we yearn: something brighter than usual in this year when we have walked through unexpected darkness of many sorts. The star of the Nativity, which some imagine to have been a similar conjunction of two planets, was not the true light of the world, rather it pointed to it. In the words of Reginald Heber’s beautiful hymn, the “star of the East, its horizon adorning, guide[s] where our infant Redeemer is laid.”
In the story of the Incarnation of God in Christ Jesus, there are innumerable lights. The two most obvious are the light of the Star of Bethlehem and the Light of the World to which it led shepherds and kings alike. At the same time, the shepherds and kings themselves were lights, their adoration and devotion guiding generations of seekers to the Christ child, including our own.
In turn, of course, you, too, are a Christmas Star. Each of you. It is your vocation as a Christian to shine brighter than the usual, especially in times of extraordinary darkness, to illumine the divine love born in all of God’s children and brighten their lives with a hope whose source is God alone. Because you are beloved of God, you have an inner light that cannot be contained by any fear or shame or conviction of inadequacy. As fragile and dim as you may feel it is, by the spirit of holiness it can pierce even the deepest darkness, because that is the very nature of both light and love.
In this season of new light, I give thanks for each of you and for all that you do to illuminate the love of God, incarnated in the birth of Jesus. In him, you, too, are the light of the world, and the darkness can and will never overcome you.
With every Christmas blessing,
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio
shining from before time and beyond place,
focused like the sun’s rays through a magnifying glass
on the lowly stable of divine birth,
there ignites in humankind
the perfect love of God.
In the softly beating heart
of the humble and sacrificial Savior,
begins to burn a flame of justice and peace,
safeguarded by the humility and sacrifice
of generations through whom will shine its
Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
December 4, 2020
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Today the Ohio Public Health Advisory System designated 7 counties in the Diocese of Ohio as Level 4, the highest health threat alert - Severe Exposure and Spread. Every other county is at Level 3, save one.
Given the continuing surge in every metric - positive tests, symptomatizing patients, hospitalizations, Intensive Care Unit overcrowding, and COVID related deaths - it is time for all of us to take extreme safety measures for ourselves and others.
In common deliberation with Bishop Price in the Diocese of Southern Ohio, we have come to a common understanding of what this means for Episcopal congregations in Ohio.
To that end, all congregations will suspend in-person worship by Sunday, December 13, if they have not done so already, and return to worshiping by online services only on that day. This will continue until further notice, certainly through the end of the month and very likely into the new year.
As well, beginning no later than December 13, all other in-person gathering for purposes of formation, governance, and outreach will be suspended, save for feeding, clothing, and recovery ministries. It will be essential to work closely with leaders of those ministries and organizations to determine whether they can be safely continued.
Live-streamed and pre-recorded worship may be offered from churches, with a minimum number of participants, masked and at least 6 feet apart. I suggest a limit of 5 people in any room should accommodate any necessary liturgical roles and technological assistance. Holy Eucharist may continue to be celebrated, with only the Celebrant receiving the consecrated elements on behalf of all. Singing remains restricted to individuals alone in a room. "Drive-through" and "drive in" worship continue to be prohibited, as does any form of "virtual communion" (in which a minister "blesses" bread and wine through a phone or online connection or distributes pre-consecrated and packaged elements to the same effect). For any questions about the implications of these and other expectations, Canon Brad Purdom will remain the principal contact person.
Be encouraged, however, to reach out to me or any other member of the Bishop's Staff for assistance.
Every one of us will doubtless be disappointed not to be gathering in person with our parish companions as we make the Advent journey to the stable of the Incarnation and celebrate the birth of the Savior anew in our hearts, communities, and world.
To help address that loss, the Diocesan and Cathedral staffs are working to provide both a diocesan-wide Christmas Eve service of Holy Eucharist and an intergenerational Christmas Day service of hymns, scripture, and prayer, available beginning at 5 p.m. Christmas Eve and 7 a.m. Christmas Day, respectively. Both services will include participants from across the diocese, and included hymns by a "virtual" choir. Every congregation has been encouraged to provide choristers, and emails went out this week to all parishes with directions and necessary resources. The hymns will be available for congregations to download and use in their own online services throughout the Christmas season.
As a religious community, we may be afforded certain exemptions by our government. As Christians, however, we are never exempt from caring for our neighbor and putting the safety of others before our own needs and desires.
Taking these steps in this unprecedented emergency is, indeed, an act of faith and a witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus. I appreciate all that you continue to do in modeling and meeting the practical responsibilities demanded of us in this time of challenge, and thereby providing hope and companionship to those who are suffering illness, fear, and loss.
In spite of all of this, we will hear again the angels sing and proclaim joy to the world with unfailing confidence in the incarnate love of God, who is Christ the Lord.
Please know that you are in my every prayer.
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr. Bishop of Ohio