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Idaho Episcopal Bishop On Keeping The Faith During Pandemic: 'We've Never Been Alone'

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As Christians around the world prepare to mark the holiest day on the Christian calendar, many will be worshiping under a shelter-in-place edict. As a result, faith leaders are planning to share an Easter message unlike any other, in the shadow of COVID-19.

"I'm hesitant to say that it's all going to be okay because it might not be for some people; but it can be holy," said Rev. Brian Thom, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Idaho. "It's a time when God may not be more accessible, but we can more aware."

Thom visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to share stories of sorrow, sacrifice and hope.

“In life, we’ve never been alone. We might have been by ourselves, but we've never been alone.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. This is Holy Week in the Christian Church, but it is a Lenten season unlike any other. People across the globe are sheltered at home. Churches and cathedrals the world over are silent and on this Good Friday we spend some time this morning with the right Reverend Brian Thom, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Idaho and he joins us live via Zoom this morning. Bishop Thom, good morning.

BISHOP BRIAN THOM: Morning, George.

PRENTICE: I'm curious maybe if you could talk to us a little bit about how you and your colleagues are preaching right now.

THOM: My folks are using all the styles of media. Some are pre-recording services themselves, some are getting in their pulpits where they have a great sound system and recording those for audio only. And one parish has live streaming. Someone tried in the last few Sundays tried Facebook. So they're getting the word out and in ways across the spectrum between audio visual and how people receive information. So I think they're adapting to the local congregations.

PRENTICE: Can we talk a little bit though about the infirmed, the shut-ins? I'm interested in visits that you would normally make to a hospital. How was that done?

THOM: If it's being done at all, it's being done by phone. Folks were pretty quick to respond to their own shut in the parishes and to be in touch with them and while they could drop something off and do those kinds of neighborly things but we've advised our clergy as we've been required to, not to enter in hospitals. And so we're using all kinds of means, some texting. I have first a parishioner who's in Hospice care, but alert enough that she can receive texts. I can stay connected with her in that way.

George, we have an Episcopal chaplain at St. Luke's downtown and he told us the story two Sundays ago, that he attended a COVID death, and he had the wife of the person on his phone talking to her while the patient was extubated and while he took 30 minutes to die. So these devices that plague us sometimes was the means by which this wife could be in the room and share stories for those 30 minutes with this young chaplain. So we're getting unique opportunities to attend to each other.

PRENTICE: Well, the world is in a very long shadow right.

THOM: Quite so.

PRENTICE: Too many innocents are hurting or have died. And so my question is: Where do we find God now?

THOM: Hm. Well, the first quick answer would be is in the midst of all of those things. I have another parishioner who's in her final days in Idaho Falls and her daughter called me from Spokane, lamenting in the midst of her great faith that she learned from her mother, but knowing that she cannot go to be with her and concerned that her mother was going to die alone, and we were able to talk that she actually knew better than that. And that while we may not have other people with us, we are certainly not dying alone because our God and God's spirit attends those moments, ready to accept someone into the next reality. We have to count on that. In life, we’ve never been alone. We might have been by ourselves, but we've never been alone.

PRENTICE: There is so much ritual associated with Holy Week, communion, washing of feet, anything but social distance.

THOM: Right. Now the Maundy Thursday rite of the foot washing is half of that Maundy Thursday liturgy. The other half is the institution of the Eucharist, communion, Jesus's last meal with his disciples. And I would point folks towards how can you share a special meal perhaps within your family. The school principal and the accountant who are home with her two daughters, what can they do at their kitchen table? What kind of selfless service could be accomplished? I would mimic in a sense the humbleness of the foot washing.

PRENTICE: And indeed there's the washing of the hands.

THOM: There you go. There's so many ... I was going to say parallels, but really they are with much of the Lenten intentions and the actions of Holy Week.

PRENTICE: How might we make the most of every moment including this particular moment?

THOM: I think the first thing, George, is to acknowledge that we are in such an incredibly different space and also that the pandemic or the stay at home requirements and the distancing I think really embellish in a positive way the themes of Holy Week and Easter. Lent was all about self-examination and then someone could say the guilt of separation from my others and separation from God, what do I need to correct? What do I need to give up in the traditional ways? But things I've been reading and listening to are about the reality of grief and that's what really is hitting at our hearts right now is that our grief over loss of control or grief over we thought United States we could do this and that, that we'd have economic security, that our retirement funds would stay where they are, that I'd always have a job, that they're being inconveniences for some, but there's some real drama for others. I'm thinking mostly the economically challenged folks, the waitress at home with her two kids.

So it begins with acknowledging we have to acknowledge where we are and that we're sad, that there's a grief about all these losses. And then that for me as a Christian, in Paul or Jesus sets itself up perfectly for the experience of Holy Week, the experience of Maundy Thursday last night, Good Friday today and on into Sunday morning, that approaching God, acknowledging that we're hurting. The quickest, clearest path to God, God knows that's really about all of us opening ourselves up to God's presence and knowing that ... I'm hesitant to say it's all going to be okay because it might not be for some people, but it can all be Holy. It can all be spiritual, and that's kind of where I'm working for myself is the spirituality of Lent for me translates into the spirituality of staying home, the spirituality of not being able to do, the spirituality of feeling anxious. It's a time when God may not be more accessible, but we can be more aware.

PRENTICE: He is the Right Reverend Brian Thom, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Idaho, and thank you.

THOM: My pleasure.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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