|28 December 2020|
Dear Members of the Episcopal Church in Central PA,
In my last pastoral letter addressing the Covid-19 vaccine on 14 November, I indicated that we would be ceasing in-person, indoor worship beginning on 21 November and extending through the Christmas season. I know that this was heartbreak for so many of you, and I appreciate the faithfulness with which you adjusted to a “Christmas like none other,” holding services outdoors and online and developing new ways to continue the choral and pageant traditions of the season. I continue to be in awe of the creativity that abounds in our diocese!
The Task Force on Operations and my staff have continued their vigilance, watching the incidence of the virus in our diocese and Commonwealth. A weekly spreadsheet is reviewed at our staff meeting as we wait and watch for numbers to be in decline and to approach a safer level. The spreadsheet is now posted on our diocesan website for your review, as well.
The threshold that many agencies are using to determine if a region is safe enough to allow re-gathering is a 5% or less positivity rate. We are also using this threshold in our diocese as a guide, and when a 5% or less positivity rate is sustained in a county for at least two weeks, and other factors seem to be in control (new case count, rate of incidence per 10,000) we will look to consider re-gathering by region. Currently, only one county in our diocese has had a 5% positivity rate (for just one week) – and the church there – St. John’s, Eaglesmere)- is a summer chapel.
I made a provision for Holy Communion to be available to our diocese for Advent and the Christmas season through a service called “Communion Under Special Circumstances.” This provision was for the reception of pre-consecrated elements in a home service, not in conjunction with an online “broadcast.” In light of the tenacity of the coronavirus in our diocese, I will extend the provision for “Communion Under Special Circumstances” for the season of Epiphany, as well. A service with the appropriate Epiphany materials will be sent out later this week to our parishes. Not every parish may choose to use this option; it is up to the parish priest to decide.
Thank you for your care of each other in time, for your understanding, and for your resilience. I remain confident that God is with us in this, serving as our great Shepherd, leading us beside still waters, and calming our troubled souls. Please pray for all those who are sick or have died, pray for their families and loved ones, and know that God is our “refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
In the Way of Love,
The Rt. Rev. Audrey C. Scanlan