Frequently Asked Questions in the Time of COVID-19

Quick Reference Guide 

May we have 

  • In-person worship outdoors? YES, if your locality has 25 or fewer new daily cases per 100,000 (effective 3/25/21). To check the status for your locality, please use this map of public health conditions in counties and cities around the Diocese.
  • In-person worship indoors? YES, if your locality has 25 or fewer new daily cases per 100,000  (effective 3/25/21) and your plan for regathering has already been approved.  We would recommend that you wait until you've remained at this level or less for three weeks before proceeding, but that's a decision for clergy and vestry to make. To check the status for your locality, please use this map of public health conditions in counties and cities around the Diocese.
  • Live-streaming or pre-recording of services in the sanctuary? YES, if you already have permission to do so, following the guidelines referenced below. 
  • Drive-in services in the parking lot or other location? Yes, following these guidelines. 
  • Can we share in the Eucharist?  Yes, following these guidelines.
  • What is the maximum number of people we may have for indoor worship? Outdoor worship? The number of people who may gather depends upon the size of your church’s indoor and outdoor spaces. It should be the number you submitted to the Bishop’s Office in your regathering plan. This number must allow for people/households to remain six feet apart in all directions.
  • Can people who have been vaccinated gather/meet in greater numbers? At this time, no special allowances are to be made for those who have been vaccinated. The same gathering guidelines apply to all, whether they have or have not been vaccinated. 
  • Baptisms? YES, within the guidelines for indoor or outdoor worship, and following the guidance here.
  • Funerals? YES, within the guidelines for indoor or outdoor worship, and following the guidance here.
  • Weddings? YES, within the guidelines for indoor or outdoor worship, and following the guidance here.
  • Confirmations?  YES, during a scheduled Bishop’s Visitation or our Diocesan Day of Commitment on September 18.  (Locations around the Diocese to be announced.)
  • Eucharistic visitation? Yes, if your locality has 25 or fewer new daily cases per 100,000 (effective 3/25/21), following these written guidelines and instructional video.
  • Pastoral visitation? Yes, if your locality has 25 or fewer new daily cases per 100,000 (effective 3/25/21), following the same guidelines as those for Eucharistic visitation, but not including the sharing of communion.
  • Outreach activities inside? Yes, as determined by the rector and vestry.  Food pantries, thrift shops and other in-person activities must follow all protocols for masks, distancing and cleaning. See best practices for food pantries.

 Other questions? If the answer is not listed in this FAQ, please contact Bishop Susan Goff at sgoff@thediocese.net.  

 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. Please review the written guidelines and instructional video.

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?

Episcopal Visitations resume in April, 2021.  The format of the visitation, whether via zoom, livestreaming, or in-person, will be determined by the rector and bishop and will honor the practices of the congregation.  Whether Confirmations will be included in the service will be determined by the bishop and rector. 

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. 

A Diocesan Day of Commitment, which will include group Confirmation services in a few locations across the diocese, will take place on Saturday, September 18.

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?

As of 4/1/21, the CDC continues to name singing a high risk activity.  Therefore it is still too soon to resume congregational singing.  A soloist, duet or small ensemble (three to four people) may sing during worship as long as they wear masks and are distanced from one another and from the congregation.  A period in which singing occurs should be limited to no more than 30 minutes. 

Instrumentalists may play.  Wind or brass instrument players should use the appropriate mask and instrument bell cover

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. If you choose to have an online annual meeting, click here for tech tips we learned during Annual Convention.

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.