The Next Right Step: Diocesan Council to Convene Virtually February 25 - 26, 2022
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I pray this Epiphany season finds you walking in the Way of Christ, who is our Light and our Salvation.
With great disappointment, I am announcing that the 118th Council of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas, scheduled to take place in-person February 24 - 26 at the San Marcos Convention Center, will change to an online event due to the continuing surge of the COVID-19 omicron variant. Council 2022 will convene virtually on Friday and Saturday, February 25 - 26, 2022.
Due to this change, the certification and registration deadline is extended to Tuesday, January 25. The diocesan office will publish updated registration fees and new Council event information next week. Our four online Pre-Council meetings will take place as scheduled: January 26 and 27, and February 1 and 2.
While deeply saddened by this change, I am confident that it is the best possible decision for our diocesan family, given the current pandemic landscape. As I considered our next right step, I have been in consultation with diocesan staff, the Standing Committee, the Council host team from St. Mark’s, San Antonio, and also sought input from numerous public health and medical professionals. This decision has been a regular topic in my prayers for two months, as we have all waited and watched for this highly contagious variant to decline since early December. Regretfully, projections made by the Mayo Clinic and others indicate the situation in Texas will continue to worsen at least until early February.
The current status of the pandemic is reflected in Council registrations. With the original certification deadline one day away, we have barely reached our diocesan Canons’ minimum requirement, that 51% of our churches be represented at Council. And most congregations are not bringing full delegations. The essential volunteers, on whom Council depends, are hesitant to commit at this time, knowing how quickly their availability or the situation may change in these uncertain times.
I am mindful as well that our clergy promise to take part in the Councils of the Church as part of their ordination vows and that they take their vows seriously. More than thirty of our active clergy members have personal health concerns, young children who cannot be vaccinated, or serve as caregivers for family members who are especially vulnerable. I cannot in good conscience expect them to be present.
While the omicron variant can leave infected individuals less sick or asymptomatic, these milder cases range from “the sniffles” to “didn’t quite have to go to the ER” and can still cause long-term health issues. Anecdotally, we can assume that the majority of Council participants would be fully vaccinated, but vaccinated individuals can become infected and spread the virus to others, even without displaying symptoms. I cannot in good conscience contribute to the heavy burden already falling on medical personnel and hospitals in our communities.
I am so thankful for the diocesan staff Council planning group and the host committee at St. Mark’s, San Antonio. They have spent months planning, preparing, and praying for Council 2022, knowing we might need to transition to an online event. I know they are keenly disappointed, but we are all of one mind regarding this decision.
As much as I long for Council to be in-person, the diocesan family would not be well represented if I called us to gather in San Marcos next month. While we have all learned to be thankful for the “less” that we are able to do, the precautions necessary to move forward in-person would not provide the renewal, community, and encouragement that are such important parts of Council. We could do Council in person, just barely, but the absence of all those not present and the awareness of every reduced, limited, or eliminated thing would permeate our gathering.
As I’ve traveled to churches around the Diocese this winter, I encountered a lot of enthusiasm for an in-person Council gathering this year. It matched my own. I also encountered a lot of nervousness and hesitation, which I know comes from love for families, self, and neighbors. I made this decision only after much deliberation, consultation and prayer, waiting as long as possible in hopes that the pandemic surge would begin its decline. I hope that nobody is happy with this decision, because we all know and feel the need to be together, for our own sakes and for the sake of the mission and ministries of the whole Church.
I will miss being with you in San Marcos this year, but look forward to joining with staff and the team from St. Mark’s, San Antonio in offering hope, encouragement, and renewal as we gather virtually as the Church in West Texas.
God bless you. Stay well.
Love in Christ,
Bishop of West Texas