Frequently Asked Questions in the Time of COVID-19

What does our parish need permission for?

We are asking churches to request permission for any re-gathering for worship. In this way, if we need to make a quick pivot, we can see at glance who is gathering in what way and communicate with those congregations directly. All requests should be made to bishopsoffice@thediocese.net.

What about our day school/preschool/daycare reopening?

Guidance is here.

What about distribution of Communion? 

Bishop Goff has offered new guidance on that topic here. If you have not yet received permission for outdoor worship, that’s your first step, since this is permitted for outdoor worship only until you have received permission for indoor, Phase II worship.  Directions for the simple process of obtaining such permission can be found here. Please review all the details before proceeding.

What about weddings, funerals and baptisms?

Guidance on how to conduct pastoral offices, as well as ways to approach pastoral care, can be found here.

May we allow outside groups to meet inside our buildings?

There is no easy answer to this question. Consider the nature of the outside group’s work. Here are some question to help your discernment:

  • Is the work necessary for the good of the community?
  • Is it a particular ministry to the community (such as Twelve-Step meetings or a food pantry)?
  • Is what’s prompting the request a real felt need, rather than simply something people miss?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is yes, then it seems right and good to support the outside group’s continued work, under these conditions:

  • Masks and social distancing are required.
  • Numbers are kept low.
  • Cleaning protocols are followed after the gathering.

Note than any worshipping communities that use your space must adhere to the guidelines for Phase II regathering. If the public health markers in your area are still not meeting the threshold for your parish to regather, another worshipping community cannot regather there either.

What about having small group activities outdoors?

There are a couple of congregations that are doing this now; we’re using them as testing grounds. It seems to be working. Here is some guidance:

  • Think carefully about who, how and where you gather. Can you keep everyone safe? For example, younger children are difficult to keep apart from one another, so Sunday school activities might not work.
  • Masks and social distancing are required at all times.

We recommend that you begin slowly. Try one thing and see how it works. We trust your understanding of your own congregational context in this matter. Know, too, that if you choose not to do this, we will support you 100%.

What about formation activities?

For now, with the exception of small group adult formation activities (see above), they should be online. You know your flock: if you think a small teen group can follow the guidelines about distancing, wearing masks and not touching, an outdoor meeting might be possible. If you worry that they cannot, come up with online alternatives.

How do we figure out if it is safe to regather indoors vis-à-vis public health markers?

You want to consider the risk in your locality, and possibly those of nearby localities from which some of your parishioners may come. We’ve simplified this process by giving you a new tool, a map of public health conditions in counties and cities around the diocese, which can be found here. Although it looks a little overwhelming at first, it’s actually simpler, because each locality is assigned a color code based on data like 7-day rolling average of new cases per 100,000 persons. Here are instructions on using this tool.

What about episcopal visits and confirmations?

The Rite of Confirmation, which has its context in the life of the faith community gathered together, cannot be done appropriately or well in these pandemic worship settings. The laying on of hands, in fact, cannot be accomplished at all while maintaining physical distance. Neither can the sacraments of the Church be provided virtually. Therefore, we in the Diocese of Virginia will continue to defer Confirmations until the time when congregations may gather in their church buildings safely.  

From time to time a congregation will elect to the vestry a person, age 16 or older, who has not yet been confirmed as the canons require. In this situation, the rector, vicar or priest-in-charge should be in touch with a bishop to request permission for the newly elected person to serve with full rights and responsibilities of a vestry member until Confirmation is possible. In the meantime, the priest may invite the newly elected vestry member to renew his/her Baptismal Vows or to participate in A Form of Commitment to Christ Service on page 420 of The Book of Common Prayer. 

If you were scheduled for a Bishop Visitation in the fall and would like to invite the bishop to attend or bring a greeting to your virtual worship on the day of the scheduled visitation, please extend that invitation directly to the appropriate bishop. 

When may our staff return to the office?

As with the diocesan staff at Mayo House, our guidance is this: those who have tasks that can only be done in the office should do them there and stay only long enough to do those tasks. Follow all distancing/masking/sanitation and hygiene protocols. Our primary aim is safety.

What’s the latest on singing?

We are still awaiting final results from the very large study commissioned by a number of music organizations. That study is being carried out by the University of Maryland and the University of Colorado, Boulder. Their preliminary data, shared on August 10, suggests that singing might be possible with masks and proper distancing, but those masks must fit firmly enough around the face that they would leave a mark or fold on the skin after removal. These could not be N95 masks, some of which have an “escape valve” for breathing out, nor could they be the surgical grade masks, which don’t allow for enough air exchange. They would have to be the cloth type, snugly fit on the face. They would also recommend that there be no more than a 30 minute period where singing occurs, and that after the 30 minutes, the space in which the singing has occurred would need to be without anyone present for another 30 minutes for proper air exchange. They note that if there were a choir director, the singers (even if spaced) would be singing at the director, which would increase the level of risk for that choir director. Parishioners would be unlikely to have (or want to have) the type of masks required, so congregational singing would be too risky. Distance, air exchange in a given area, and shielding of our own potential virus particles from others is key to safety. By the way, they haven’t tested for humming.

Can we do online Congregational Meetings? The canons seem to imply they have to be in-person.

Diocesan Chancellor JP Causey gives guidance on this topic here.

We’ve been asked if our rooms/parish hall can be used for students to do “pod learning” or their online classes. (Perhaps the family doesn’t have good internet access or the usual facility that might do such a thing is closed.) Is this allowed?

It is ultimately a decision of the Vestry and the Rector. As long as you follow the best current guidance from the CDC and the local health authorities, it’s something you could consider. We’d note, though, that to the extent that the use of your space will touch upon areas that your people would use when you regather, it impacts the challenge and cost of keeping everyone safe. Further, it increases your risk from a liability standpoint. Note, too, that if there are groups regularly using the facility it will definitely raise questions among a few of your folks about why parishioners are not allowed to re-gather for worship if this program is going on.