12 Mar Update on COVID-19 from Bishop Sutton
March 11, 2020
From Father Steve: “This latest update from Bishop Sutton on Wednesday afternoon, and it echoes the Special Announcement of practices I made for the congregation at St. Andrew’s earlier in the day on Wednesday.”
From: The Right Reverend Eugene T. Sutton, Bishop of Maryland.
March 11, 2020
As you know, the coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading globally and the situation changes daily. I am aware that our neighbor dioceses have issued directives on church worship that are a proper response to their particular circumstances but are not the best fit for our context. In my February 28 statement on liturgical practices during this epidemic, I promised to revisit those directives as needed. Thus, the following is an update to that statement.
Please remember that The Episcopal Church is largely a Eucharistically-centered Christian community. To deny the Holy Eucharist to people on a regular basis in worship would present a serious theological challenge to a sacramentally formed community. Thus, I encourage the regular celebration of the holy communion, remembering that receiving the Eucharist in one kind (just the bread) makes a full communion.
I am issuing a ban on the distribution of wine for the next few months or until further notice. If circumstances allow, I anticipate lifting the ban on Pentecost Day. Banning the use of wine and the cup until then will get us through Easter, a time where we want to be most welcoming to visitors and ensure that all feel as safe as possible in worship.
At the Eucharist, the priest shall consecrate both kinds (the bread and the wine):
- Wine: In keeping with tradition, and at their discretion, priests and attending clergy alone may consume the consecrated wine on behalf of the congregation.
- Bread:Use wafers only — no baked bread at this time! Paten bearers must be sure to wash their hands and take care not to have their fingers touch the outstretched hand of the communicant.
- Blessings: Worshippers may come forward to receive a blessing rather than receive communion. Blessings are to be offered visually but with no touching of the head.
A word about coffee hour receptions before and after worship: as a Lenten discipline, I call on all congregations to “fast” from serving food at church receptions at this time – serve only coffee and other beverages, using recyclable or reusable containers. This congregational fast will greatly decrease the chances of transferring an illness.
In summary, the aim for churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is to regularly celebrate “no-touch or low-touch” Eucharists. The principle of eliminating hand-to-hand contact, and significantly limiting hand-to-object contact, applies to the clergy, altar guild, ushers, acolytes, oblation bearers, offering basket handlers, and all who are expected to hand something to worshippers as part of the service. I direct each congregation to review all its practices with this principle in mind. Some practices we’re using and that other churches have put in place are as follows:
- Pass the Peace with eye contact, a bow and a word – no touching.
- Consider what practices you might institute around the offering. Instead of passing the plate from person to person, some churches are placing baskets at the ends of aisles or at a station on the path to the altar. A practice that I especially encourage is to make the offering “the funnest part of the service” (as I so frequently say in my humorous and deliberately ungrammatical way) by having worshippers get up and joyfully present their offerings together to the offering stations while singing! This is the practice of many Anglican churches in Africa and Latin America, where the clergy, lay worshippers, and bishops literally dance down the aisles with their offerings. We could all use some joy in this challenging time.
- Consider having an acolyte wipe down the altar rail after each round of worshippers has been communicated, or have communicants receive standing up.
- Holy water basins and baptismal fonts should be emptied during this period.
- In addition to making hand sanitizers widely available, churches are urged to obtain wipes and wipe down all doorknobs and handles before and after church services and regularly during the week.
Cancelations: Diocesan event cancelations will generally follow the local school systems. For instance, if an event is taking place on a Saturday in Howard County and the school system cancels Saturday activities, our event will be canceled. Currently the diocesan staff is only considering canceling events that are less than a month away, and we will be monitoring local school systems as a guide. Events more than a month away (such as Diocesan Convention) will be considered closer to the time of the event.
Please continue to check on each other, stay home from church if you are ill, continue best hygiene practices and use technology, as needed, to hold meetings, to offer worship, and to check on parishioners who are staying home.
Blessings and Peace,
The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton
Bishop of Maryland