By Kirk Petersen

The bishops of Washington and Virginia have canceled all public worship and church operations throughout the diocese until March 25, in the strongest Episcopal response to date to the coronavirus crisis.

Christ Church, Georgetown, has already been closed since March 7, after the Rev. Timothy Cole was hospitalized with a confirmed case of the virus. The church subsequently announced that organist and choirmaster Tom Smith also has tested positive. People who were in close contact with them between February 24 and March 6 have been asked to self-quarantine for two weeks.

“I am directing that all public worship services and normal parish operations be cancelled within the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and parish buildings be closed for two weeks, effective Thursday March 12,” Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde said in a message on the National Cathedral website.

“We’re in the epicenter of this” because of the infections at Christ Church, Budde told priests in a conference call.

“The Potomac River is not all that wide,” Bishop of Virginia Susan Goff told the Washington Post.  “Communication between our dioceses is close. We don’t know of any direct contacts people had, but we are interconnected, so this is to exercise caution.”

The Diocese of Washington includes 88 congregations in the District of Columbia and its Maryland suburbs. The Diocese of Virginia, the second-largest Episcopal diocese in the country, has 179 congregations in the northeast third of the state.

In a message from his hospital bed, Cole said, “This virus has left me wiped out a lot of the time, but other days I have felt somewhat better…. As things stand, the doctors have seen improvements, but I have some road to travel before I am well. I hope very much to be back at Christ Church as soon as I can and after I am told it is safe to do so.”

Budde praised the work of the Rev. Chrystal Hardin, assistant to the rector at Christ Church, for her leadership from quarantine during the crisis.

Budde also said the National Cathedral will livestream a worship service on Sunday morning beginning at 11:15, and that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will preach.

Effects of the coronavirus continued to ripple through the Church and the broader society.

  • In Forth Worth, the Rev. Dr. Robert Pace, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, has tested positive for coronavirus, and is hospitalized in isolation. Services for this coming Sunday are canceled, and parishioners have been advised to monitor their health.
  • Episcopal News Service reports: “A group of seminarians and two faculty members at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, have self-quarantined as a precaution against potential exposure to the coronavirus.” The quarantined people are not symptomatic, but had attended a worship service at Christ Church Georgetown.
  • Dioceses throughout the country have placed restrictions on communion practices and direct contact during the peace. The Diocese of San Diego suggested that churches live-stream their worship services, and offered tips for doing so.
  • The House of Bishops convened via videoconference after plans for an in-person meeting in Texas were scrapped.