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Updates on COVID-19

Please refer to this page for updates on COVID-19, coronavirus, for the Diocese of East Tennessee.

The Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee Announces a Two Month Forgiveness of Parish Assessments

March 31, 2020


“Batter my heart, three-personed God; for, you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.”

–From Divine Meditations 14, by John Donne


East Tennessee Friends,

I am writing to you on the death day of John Donne, poet and Anglican priest from the 17th century. I am writing to you in a time when all of us are experiencing a kind of battering, not from the Triune God, but from the upside-down world of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shared burden all of us are taking on to limit its spread in our world.

I am writing to let you know how grateful I am for all the ways I am hearing and “seeing” the people and parishes of the Diocese stay connected to each other in common prayer and worship, though dispersed. I am grateful for the creative ways in which pastoral care and Christian formation continue to be offered by clergy and lay leaders. You all are being tested and the bonds of affection you all share with each other are being strengthened. No one would ask for this test, but you all are being the Body and bearing burdens and sharing gifts with each other.

I am also writing to let you know of an action recommended by the Diocesan Finance Committee and affirmed by Bishop & Council regarding the Diocesan Budget and Parish Assessments. Because of generous external gifts given to the Diocese in the last two weeks, along with the matching of those gifts by Diocesan funds, we are forgiving two months of parish assessments to every parish in the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee in 2020. My hope is that this decision will create space in every parish budget as we all are facing extraordinary economic uncertainty.

I am grateful for the good leadership of our Diocesan Finance Committee and Bishop & Council and their proactive approach in acting quickly and significantly. I am grateful to these generous givers who have given to support our common life now. And I am grateful for all the past leadership of our Diocese, who have stewarded our resources wisely, which allow us to offer this relief at this time.

I would ask that all of you, as you are able, continue to give of your financial resources to support the work of your parish churches as we all are being stretched—spiritually, emotionally, financially, and physically. When this COVID-19 season ends, and it will, we will need to gather again, in person, to plan and prepare for how we continue to renew the face of the Church in the aftermath.

My first days with you as bishop have included many miles in my car, traveling to be with you, to show up for each other in flesh and blood. Now, for this season, like many of you, I am not traveling. Still, my prayer is that we will continue to share in ministry together, even as we are absent from each other in the flesh.

Despite that absence, we remain a Body together. May all of us be good stewards to the Body now. It is my hope and prayer that the Body will gather once again, in flesh and blood, and celebrate and sing songs of how the Triune God in our midst is still making us new.


+ Brian

Annunciation Day Letter: A Pastoral Update from Bishop Brian

March 25, 2020

The Annunciation of the Lord


Dear East Tennessee Friends,

I am writing to you on a most holy day, the Annunciation of the Lord. This is the day in the Church calendar when we celebrate the announcing angel declaring to Mary that she is most favored by God and will conceive and bear a son, who will be named Jesus.

In the Middle Ages, this story from St. Luke’s Gospel was depicted in sacred art with images of Mary, in her home, with a prayer book in her lap, as the Angel Gabriel enters her home with surprising, world-changing news. The Holy has entered her home. In the daily and the mundane, the most sacred and Divine has come to find a resting place. The first declaration of the Good News is at home.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has upended our world. Our daily and weekly rhythms have been scrambled. For those who have not lost jobs, most work is happening at home. Children are learning from home and many parents are taking on new roles as instructors. Our health care workers and our public health officials are facing unprecedented challenges. Volunteers and local non-profit staff are continuing to care for the elderly, the vulnerable, and the least of these. In support of requests from public health officials and medical experts combating COVID-19, Episcopal parish churches in the Diocese of East Tennessee are learning new ways to worship and share in ministry together while we are dispersed, not gathering in any traditional corporate ways that we have known.

At this time, the facts on the ground regarding COVID-19 still necessitate our need to do all we can to combat community spread. I would ask that you continue to engage in worship, pastoral care, and Christian formation as a dispersed body, still refraining from gathering in person.

Over the last few days, I have had five opportunities to join in zoom conference calls with the clergy of the Diocese of East Tennessee. These calls have been opportunities for prayer, to hear from each other, and to learn from each other how worship and pastoral care and ministry continues in a season of pandemic. Your clergy and lay leaders are creative, imaginative, and faithful people. I am thankful for their presence and their leadership in this moment.

This COVID-19 season is pushing all of us out of our comfort zones. However, like the announcing angel who enters Mary’s home, I do believe the Holy and the Divine are showing up and revealing to us again and again that God is present with us wherever we are. The home I share with Susan has become a little monastery.

I invite you to go to the Diocesan website,, for additional updates and resources. The Diocesan website includes resources for worship from home which can be found by clicking through the link on COVID-19 updates and scrolling to the bottom of that page.

Along with occasional video meditations and messages which I will keep sharing with you, I plan to write you again on Wednesday, April 8th and will continue to write you every other Wednesday until the COVID-19 pandemic season concludes. I do not know when the COVID-19 pandemic season will conclude. I do know that during this season we need to continue to function as a community, although a dispersed one, finding new ways of being “with” one another without gathering in person.

“Practice resurrection.” That is how one of Wendell Berry’s most famous poem concludes. These two words capture the kind of Easter season that you and I are about to enter together. The Resurrection is the event upon which we place our faith in Christ Jesus. That event is certain.

What is now asked of us is to practice living out the Resurrection in a new time. Together, we will inhabit and embody our faith, in our hearts and in our homes.

Together, we will discover how in this time of isolation and fear, we may be renewed as persons beloved of God.

Together, among the swift and varied changes of this world, we will find new ways to fix hearts where true joys are to be found.

Together, we will lay down our individual anxieties and fears and renew our acquaintance with God’s love and how we reveal it.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


+ Brian

A Message from Bishop Brian, March 21, 2020

A Message from Bishop Brian Cole

A Statement from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee

A Statement from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee
Friday, March 13, 2020

Father Brad Whitaker, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, has this afternoon been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Last week, Fr. Brad sent a letter to the members of the church sharing that he began to feel ill shortly after returning from the annual conference of the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes in Louisville in February. He was diagnosed and treated for pneumonia, which included a long period of recovery at home. Since that time, it has been reported that an attendee of the conference was diagnosed with the COVID-19 coronavirus. Upon receiving this news, Brad elected to be tested as well. Shortly after his email to our parish this morning, Fr. Brad received word from the health department that he, too, has tested positive for the virus.

Earlier this week, St. Pauls had already begun taking steps to respond to concerns related to COVID-19: Our parish has suspended in-person Sunday worship and other gatherings, groups, and meetings for at least the next two weeks. We will be continuing to sanitize the church facility during this time, and fully cooperating with the recommendations of the health department who will begin a full investigation.

As this continues to unfold, please continue to follow the recommendations of the health department and the CDC. Hamilton County Coronavirus Hotline may be reached at (423) 209-8383. If the health department gives us more detailed information, we will pass it along to you.

The Rt. Rev. Brian Cole, Bishop of East Tennessee offers:
“Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28) The news that the Rev. Brad Whitaker has tested positive for the coronavirus is a burden that Brad, his family, St. Paul’s, and the people of Chattanooga do not carry alone. We are committed to bearing one another’s burdens.”

Please pray for Fr. Brad’s continued recovery, for the health of our community, and for peace and courage in our faithfulness as disciples of Jesus.

Statement from The Rt. Rev. Brian L. Cole

March 12, 2020


Dear East Tennessee Friends,

When St. Paul wrote to the Christian community in Philippi, he did so with thanks even as he was imprisoned. I write to you today with thanks even in the midst of the storm of the COVID-19 outbreak in our country and across the globe. As the facts on the ground have changed daily and hourly, I write to you now, hoping that this letter will remain helpful to you in uncertain days ahead.

As Christians, we are a body and we cannot say we have no need of each other. As the Body of Christ, we are called to care for the least of these, to help those who have no help, to look out for the most vulnerable, to bear each other’s burdens, to be for each other. It is not enough to know that I am currently healthy and whole. I also am touched by anyone in my community who is suffering and broken.

With the current facts on the ground as we know them from public health officials and medical experts working to combat the worst impacts from COVID-19, I humbly ask you to forego gathering for large public worship, meetings, and social events in our churches for the next two weeks as an act of keeping faith with those friends and neighbors in East Tennessee who are most vulnerable to this virus. I realize you may choose to gather this Sunday and then begin a two week suspension after the 15th.  It would be my hope and prayer that large public worship would resume on Sunday, April 5th for Palm Sunday.

As Episcopalians, our common life together in prayer is vital to who we understand ourselves to be. The Diocesan website has a variety of ways for us to maintain connections of prayer. I would commend those resources to you, which are attached to this letter.

This also is a time to pray for a renewed sense of creativity and imagination. In the days ahead, how the Church offers pastoral care may change for some time in order to protect against the spread of the virus. So, we may bring back older ways of maintaining connection, such as phone trees and handwritten letters mailed to the most vulnerable and elderly. In maintaining social distance in order to limit the spread of COVID-19, we do not want to create gaps in care and concern for each other.

I understand that this potential outbreak will have impacts upon our parish communities in ways that we have not yet anticipated. Our Diocesan leadership is now making plans to stay connected to every parish and worshipping community to hear how our communities bear this and how we can best be present and for each other in this time. At the end of this outbreak, we will want to be able to say that during this Lent we did not give up on each other even as our common life required us to stretch together in new and potentially painful ways.

If you discern that it remains appropriate for to hold services in your particular parish setting, I urge you to follow the guidelines attached to this letter.

On Ash Wednesday, we were all invited to keep a season of a holy Lent, which included “prayer, fasting, and self-denial…” Today, what it means to pray and fast and practice self-denial has a new and more profound meaning for me.


+ Brian


Information from Prominent Sources

For information on the status of COVID-19 and statements from The Episcopal Church, please see below.
image of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Resources from the Diocese of East Tennessee

Below are a few resources for community members on virtual worship, online Christian formation offerings, and other topics.