COVID-19: Episcopal Diocese of Texas Supports Masks for All and Discusses Their Response to COVID-19

Bishop Andy Doyle with the Episcopal Diocese of Texas discusses how each of their congregations is responding to COVID-19 and the commitment they have made to their communities with the Masks for All campaign.

"And I think that at times like this, it's important. . .we can come together as a community and do something like Masks for All that is a way in which we make a witness of Christ to the wider community, both by doing that together and then also we have the opportunity to really serve people."

Mentioned Resource:

Episcopal Diocese of Texas

Masks for All

Houston Responds COVID-19 Resources


Tommy Rosson:

It's Tommy Rosson with Houston Responds. And today I'm joined by Bishop Andy Doyle with the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. Thank you so much for joining me today. It's great to be with you. Absolutely. I love the record collection that's going on behind you. I wish I was there to go digging through it.

Bishop Andy Doyle:

A big vinyl collector and I love it. So it's just a little bit of a hobby where I can kind of lose myself and sorting and flipping records and yeah, it's great. Mostly classic rock and blues.

Tommy Rosson:

That's great. Yeah. Especially in this season. We need some escapes like that. Tell us a little bit about how the Episcopal Diocese here have responded, and your churches, and how you help guide your churches through the season.

Bishop Andy Doyle:

Yeah, well, the Diocese of Texas is a judicatory that spread out over 57 counties, about 46,000 square miles in Southeast Texas. So we go all the way up to Tyler, Waco, Killeen, inclued Austin and back again. And so one of the things of course, is that as you can imagine, each County, each town, each city has a very different experience of charting its course, both into staying at home work safe measures, but then also out of, and so, we have tried to provide some guidelines to allow people to move at pace, looking at how community spreads going. And so as we think about Houston in particular where we have a lot of crossover with a large bubble of churches, as you can well imagine, because of the size of the city and the surrounding areas. People were really eager to join with other congregations through your network actually, and the work that you and Steve Wells did to bring churches together.

We're eager to say, let's do this together. So one of the characteristics I think is a sense of wanting to do well, keep our people safe, get back to worship, but also to do that as a community with other pastors across the area. So we're in the process right now of imagining how we're going to do this work, which is as many of your folks who might be watching this as you all all know, it takes a lot. It's going to take a lot more people. It takes a lot more thinking. How do you get into the building is as important as where you're going to sit once you're in the building. And it's not as simple as one person per six feet. You actually are thinking family groups and overflow and what happens when people show up and how do you continue to do virtual worship when maybe you've been doing that at your home, but now you're going to do that from the church. And so the layers of complex solutions, our folks are just sorting through those and are grateful I think for the time. People are, are ready to be back at church and I hope that's a Holy longing that maybe we've learned a little bit about ourselves as we go through it. But I think we're slowly making our plans to begin to gather and are eager to do so. I know that

Tommy Rosson:

I can only imagine what it would be like to help guide churches like you said, you know, from greater Houston, a very suburban area, metropolitan area, to wake up to Tyler. But between Waco and Tyler, there's a lot of small communities, right? Some of these counties might not even have one case of COVID-19. I think I last heard that like 50 of the 250 didn't have any. You have, you know, massive counties like ours that have lots of deaths from this. So, how do you juggle that as you have kind of worked on this and you've talked to these pastors across your region, how have you handled dealing with the differences?

Bishop Andy Doyle:

Right. Well, one of the things is I have three other bishops that work with me. But in this, they really are working for me and working for the pastors in that, there are rectors in that. They are providing with some staffing help and guidelines to support one another. So that Tyler, Texas can figure out how Smith County, which has actually had a decrease for well over a week now it's heading towards, it's 14 days of decreased may well be back at worship before Houston for instance. While at the same time you have a smaller County like where our church and center is. Well, but there's a chicken plant there that just had a blossoming of Coronavirus within the worker community. And so, they'll be slower even though they're close, you know, they're not that far from Tyler and Marshall and Longview.

And so it's really been trying to provide some basic guidelines that help people make good decisions on their own, and ensuring that there's some backup. I feel like that's one of the biggest things for judicatory leaders. Or maybe you're the pastor that has several satellite congregations, you know, giving some backup to the pastors that are on the front lines, the priests that are on the front lines, because they're getting the push and pull, right? I mean, they get both. We want to go back and no, it's not time to go back. And so they get both of those. They get the civic leader, the economic leader, and the health leader, all telling them different messages. And so one of the key pieces, I think this was the brilliancy of having your group and what Bishop Scott Jones did to pull us all the, all of that really enabled us to have each other's backs.

And so I think part of whether or not you're sorting this out for yourself and you're looking at a few people, maybe you're at a large church and you've got some staff members that are going to be on the front lines or your adjudicatory leader like myself. Or maybe you're just a pastor with several smaller congregations as satellites. You know, what we can do is really provide a study, a way in which we can move through this, making the very best decisions from, do you have enough stations for hand sanitizer and wipes and, you know, even providing some structures for finding those things. I mean, I think one of the biggest surprises for most of our pastors has been like everybody listening, this is, okay, so we're going back and we know we need these things and where are we going to get those things?

And just the basic kind of pieces, especially when you get a bathroom that's normally meant to house, maybe a couple of people, even a large bathroom, I'd only be able to do 10 people at a time and yet you're going to turn that into a handwashing station, which is going to see a lot more traffic. And so all of those complications are out there for us to try and navigate and figure out. And I think any place where a leader can provide that. And I'm just fortunate to have three great bishops working with me doing that work. You know, so because I couldn't do it all on my own and to have them, each one of them oversees about 60 congregations.

Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. I've been working in or working with a consulting with churches for over 30 years now, and it's safe to say this week alone, I have been at more conversations about how to sanitize a room that I have been at all 30 years combined.

Bishop Andy Doyle:

Yeah. Right. Exactly, exactly. We just don't think about it at all. And yet it's a deep part of who we are. Right. I mean, think about it, when we do a funeral for one of our members, and how, I'll never forget a priest did this beautiful funeral sermon for a friend of mine's mom and talked about her, how her role as, getting ready for worship meant that she had been in every Pew. She had been, she touched the alter. She'd set all of these kinds of things in places. And so part of what we began to realize, and we shouldn't be surprised because for us, Christians, we're incarnational people. We believe in Jesus Christ, the son of God. And so, as incarnational people, we shouldn't be surprised to find out that our communities themselves are incarnational places where we touch everything and we hug each other and we shake hands and we hand things out and we have bulletins and prayer books and hymnals and whatever the, even if you're projecting, there's still this constant relational integration of life together in our communities.