To My Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
I write this letter as your chief pastor. For the past several months our news feeds have been inundated with reports regarding the coronavirus, or COVID 19. We have watched this disease spread from one country to another. Government leaders and experts in epidemiology and infectious disease have weighed in on correct practices regarding how to combat this new strain of virus. We have received good rules of hygiene and common sense directives, such as staying off cruise ships and away from large public gatherings. Our office has distributed protocols from Episcopal Relief and Development.
After listening to research professionals, medical personnel and leaders in our communities, I would now like to address the topic of worship services.
I am not cancelling services across the diocese at this time. However, I am asking parishioners in high-risk groups (older people, those with underlying illnesses, anyone who is experiencing symptoms) to consider not coming to church until further notification. Social distancing at this time serves the common good. Clergy will be present and prepared for those who feel the need to know the presence of God by gathering in a place of holiness. The type of service offered, as well as how communion is shared, will be left to the discretion of the clergy.
I encourage those of you who attend services to continue to be vigilant about your hygiene. Those who decide not to attend services this Sunday can tune into Christ Church Cathedral’s live radio broadcast of their 10 a.m. service on WGSO 990AM or online here: https://wgso.com/ . This experience is a wonderful way to take part in virtual worship.
I commend our clergy for being present and non-anxious during these trying times. It takes courage to confront moments like this.
I will remain in contact with you with as circumstances continue to develop. In closing, I would like to share Psalm 46. The psalmist begins: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea; Though its waters rage and foam, and as though the mountains tremble at its tumult. The Lord of host is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.”
Indeed God is with us.
May the blessing, mercy, and grace of God Almighty,
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
Be upon you and remain with you forever. Amen.
As always, I am your servant in Christ,
The Rt. Rev’d Morris K. Thompson, Jr.
Helpful suggestions for your consideration:
- Baptismal Fonts: Wherever possible, all baptismal fonts are to be drained to discourage parishioners from dipping their hands in the water.
- Baptisms: If conducting a baptism, make certain to use new water for each individual being baptized.
- Greeters and Passing of the Peace: Encourage bowing, making a prayerful sign to the other person, looking at one another and offering peace, then moving on without touching.
- Offering: The offering plate should not be passed from hand to hand. Some alternatives include placing the plate in one spot and asking parishioners to come to the plate or having your parishioners signal to the ushers that they would like to place an offering in the plate, and having your ushers make their way to the parishioner.
- Sanitizer: Hand sanitizer should be plentifully available at all entrances. If hand sanitizer is not available, rubbing alcohol of 70% or more can be used instead.
- Cleaning: Doorknobs, push bars, push plates, light switches, pew backs, armrests, and any other flat surfaces that are regularly touched need to be cleaned and sanitized before and after each service.
- Cleaners: Cleaning needs to be done with powerful, anti-viral cleaners that contain either bleach or alcohol.
- Online Worship: As more restrictions are put in place on large gatherings, begin considering ways to shift Sunday worship services from physical gatherings to virtual, online gatherings, especially for our most vulnerable parishioners.
- Limit Non-Essential Gatherings: Outside of worship services, consider canceling or postponing your non-essential gatherings, or making these gatherings virtual.
- Hold Meetings Online: Consider holding meetings over Zoom or Skype.
- Sick Parishioners: Urge anyone who is sick to stay home.
- Vulnerable Populations: Encourage those who are at higher risk for coronavirus to not attend. People at higher risk are people over 60 years of age, those with underlying health conditions including heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes, those with weakened immune systems, and those who are pregnant.