COVID-19 and Worship Communities - an Update

Dear Friends in Christ in the Diocese of Virginia,

I write this message to follow up on the notes that I sent to clergy on Wednesday, March 4 and Saturday evening, March 7. As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, and as uncertainty and fear spread with it, we are called as people of faith to safeguard one another, particularly the most vulnerable among us. While epidemiologists suggest that most of us who become infected by the virus will be just fine, those with compromised health are at risk. We therefore act on behalf of the entire community.

Specific suggestions and instructions are below. We will send updates every time new information suggests we ought to.

In addition to these practices for worship and community life, please join me in devoting yourself to prayer, particularly for all who are ill and all who are afraid. Pray for all who are giving sacrificially to develop test kits and treatments for this illness, and all who work for the sake of global health. Pray also for our elected leaders and all who hold the public trust, asking God's gift of wisdom and compassion for them and for all of us.

We invite you to let us know what you are doing in your congregation so that we can share your stories, experiences and practices with others. We are better together and our best practices improve through faithful communication.

We are in this together. What affects one of us affects us all. We are indeed our brother's keeper, our sister's keeper, our sibling's keeper.

Let us pray.

Almighty God, we entrust all who have been affected by the outbreak of COVID-19, all who will be affected, all who care for them, and all who are dear to us to your never-failing care and love, for this life and for the life to come, knowing that you are already doing for all of us more than we could ever imagine or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Coronavirus Guidance and Resources

Those who are ill or suspect they might be ill should refrain from participation in public activities, including worship in community with others. Many congregations livestream their worship, allowing those who are homebound to participate. If your congregation does not have the capacity to do this, worshippers may join in services of the following congregations, using the links included:

Practice good personal health habits. Cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of your elbow. Hands should be washed often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

Clergy, if you are not feeling well on a Sunday morning, do not go to church. If it is not possible to find a supply priest on short notice, the congregation may worship using Morning Prayer. A link to a service that can be downloaded and printed out is here.

During this season of Lent, it will be wise to distribute communion in one kind only. The bread may be distributed by licensed Lay Eucharistic Ministers in the absence of a sufficient number of ordained persons. Communion in one kind is full and complete communion. Those distributing the bread should sanitize their hands before touching the bread, and many times during the distribution.

If you choose to distribute the wine, do so only in a silver chalice. Pottery or glass do not afford the protection against microbes that silver does. Do not under any circumstances allow intinction by any one, in any manner, for any reason. Do not distribute wine in small individual cups. Preparation and clean up of such cups leaves many gaps in sanitation, and is not consistent with our theology of shared Eucharist.

Pay particular attention to communion rails, which are touched over and over again during worship. Either have people stand to receive communion, thereby limiting the number of times the rail is touched, or wipe down the rail with a disinfectant wipe after every row is served.

Safeguard one another during the passing of the Peace. The safest practice is not to hug or touch one another at all, but offer hand signals like a peace sign or the American Sign Language sign for I Love You. Elbow bumps are safe, fist bumps are not. Remember that the peace is about reconciling with each other before going to the altar, and the work of reconciliation can be done in ways that won't spread illness.

Greeters at all worship services should be especially sensitive. They should not offer handshakes and not accept them if others do. Greeters can model hospitality with their words and their smile.

Pay special attention to nursery and child care at church.

We are all aware of the growing economic impact of this epidemic. Our congregations are as affected as every other organization. Please continue to honor your pledge to your congregation during this time. If you haven't made a pledge, please put double in the plate the next week if you miss a Sunday.

Between now and Easter, consider conducting larger meetings by electronic means. Some groups can be well served by electronic meetings. While such meetings are not completely satisfying and we miss a lot of cues when we are not in the same room, the challenges are worth it if we protect even one of our siblings in Christ.

Episcopal Relief and Development is providing information relevant to COVID-19 on its website

For more information on the coronavirus, visit the CDC website