From a message sent on March 11, 2020.
As we continue to learn more about the COVID-19 virus, I offer a few more words about our practices as a people of faith in the midst of a health crisis.
Click here to read my original guidance, sent on February 28th.
As faith communities, we are called to be calm and compassionate voices in the midst of fear. We are also called to seek and serve all persons and are charged with loving one another by taking seriously situations that may put one another in harm’s way.
We know and understand that this outbreak will escalate and we will continue to be generous to one another and adaptive in our practices to slow the spread and keep folks healthy and safe. While, for many, the illness may be low-risk, for the elderly and immunocompromised it may be deadly. Out of compassion for one another, I urge you to take precautious to protect the vulnerable among us.
The following are some new and reiterated guidances for practice in your parish. Please use your best judgement to make the appropriate decisions for your community. These decisions should be made by the priest in consultation with the appropriate lay leaders, or, in the case of no long-term clergy presence, by the wardens of the congregation.
- Regarding the Clergy – clergy should wash their hands with soap and water before services and use hand sanitizer visibly before distributing communion. If you feel sick or have any symptoms, please remain at home.
- Regarding Communion – Use of the common cup with proper purificator is low risk. Some research suggests that metal chalices may be less conducive to the spread of germs than ceramic. Though it may seem counterintuitive, intinction is not a safer choice. Please remember that receiving in one kind (bread or wafer only) is full participation in the Eucharist.I understand the canons to require both bread and wine to be available to the congregation. You may choose to offer only a small portion of wine and offer it only to those who seek it rather than pass it along the altar rail.
- Regarding the Peace – please avoid direct contact. A wave, elbow bump, bow, peace sign, or other greeting is recommended. Please also refrain from holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer or at any other time during the service.
- Regarding the Offering – please avoid passing a plate from one person to the other. Ushers may walk plates up and down the aisle, or plates may be located in a central place for people to leave their contributions.
- Regarding Baptismal Fonts – when possible, water in baptismal fonts should be drained and the practice of dipping hands in the water should be discontinued.
- Regarding Morning Prayer – our tradition offers more than one way to come together in worship and several of our congregations are already familiar with this expression of our life of worship. This may be a season to practice sharing in Morning Prayer. Please consider this office as an alternative to the Eucharist for a season or some portion of upcoming Sundays.
- Regarding cancellations – For us, gathering for worship and prayer is central to our life as Christians. Unless strong recommendations are made by health authorities, I believe we should still gather. Consider using your local school district as a metric – if schools are closed due to health concerns, congregations might close as well.If you need to make that decision, please consider how to make a remote gathering possible amongst your community using Zoom or Facebook Live. You may choose to explore live-streaming your services now to include individuals that, due to personal decision, may need to remain home while others gather.
- Regarding coffee hour or other served meals – if you need to serve food, please remind your volunteers to wash their hands and handle food with plastic gloves or utensils. Self-service buffets are not recommended. You may choose to serve in individual containers or by food servers wearing gloves.
- Regarding Eucharistic Visitors and pastoral visits – please ensure that visitors wash their hands and throughly sanitize all vessels. Consider restricting home visits to ordained persons for a time and moving all non-essential visits to a phone call or video chat. Please find ways to check in with your most vulnerable members of your community as this crisis unfolds.
- Regarding meetings – please consider how you might utilize telephone or online meeting tools, like Zoom, for regular meetings such as bible studies, vestry, and more. Non-essential in-person meetings should be avoided.
- Regarding outreach programs – consider how you might be called to respond to those experiencing the economic impact of this crisis. If your ministry requires feeding or close contact with others, please be careful to sanitize, wash hands, and use plastic gloves in food preparation both to protect yourself and the people you serve.
- Regarding the church building – please institute rigorous regular or daily cleaning of all common surfaces, including altar rails, door knobs, etc. Additionally, please make sure you have sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content available throughout your building and at every entrance.
- Regarding parish staff – please remain flexible regarding sick leave. Anyone caring for a family member or feeling sick should remain at home without penalty. Consider allowing any staff who can work remotely to do so.
Again, at this time, these are recommendations and not directives. I trust our parish leaders to exercise their agency in making the best decisions for their community and individuals to make the best decisions for themselves. We will continue to evaluate, act, and adapt as we come to more concrete understanding of the magnitude of the crisis.
You may find the following resources helpful as you make your decisions:
- Faith-Based Response to Epidemics, including COVID-19 from Episcopal Relief and Development
- Interim Guidance for Community and Faith Leaders from the CDC
- March 13th Webinar on a Ministerial Response to COVID-19 from Episcopal Relief and Development
- The Presiding Bishop’s Statement on Coronavirus
- Epidemic Preparedness: An Opportunity to Cultivate an Online Worship Community from Caffeinated Church
- 10 Guidelines for Pastoral Care During the Coronavirus Outbreak from Christian Century
Our offices, with the wider Church, are continuing to monitor the situation and weigh the risks of planned diocesan gatherings. At this time, next week’s clergy continuing education day and this summer’s mission trip to the Dominican Republic have both been cancelled. If other events are cancelled, registrants will be notified and details will be released via our bi-diocesan newsletter.
And, please, remember to pray – pray for all who are ill and all who care for them. Pray for those without access to consistent or quality healthcare. Pray for those for whom the economic impact of lost wages and low activity is great. Pray for the Church – that we might greet one another with generosity, care, and compassion, especially in this season in which fears are high and separation is easy. Know that I always hold you in my prayers and I hope you do the same for me.
The Rt. Rev. Whayne M. Hougland, Jr.
Bishop Provisional, Eastern Michigan
Bishop Diocesan, Western Michigan