6 March 2020
Dear Clergy and People of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania,
With two presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 reported in Pennsylvania in Delaware and Wayne Counties (as of Friday, March 6), I wanted to check in to offer continued support and recommendations for best practices as we gather together this weekend and in the future for worship.
As of today, there are no restrictions issued by the county, state or national government about gathering in groups. Common sense and best practices encourage continued good hygiene and, for those who are of a vulnerable population- the aged and those already living with chronic respiratory illness- personal discernment is urged about whether or not to participate in large group activities. For those congregations who have people in these vulnerable categories, it is encouraged that a plan be developed in each congregation to check in on members who choose to separate themselves. A phone call to members who have been out of community and an offer to assist with shopping and other errands would be most appreciated.
I expect that church in our diocese will continue on apace, and I would encourage these practices:
* Place hand sanitizer in several locations throughout the church. Offer Kleenex in the pews and places to discard used Kleenex. (Coughing into one’s elbow is no longer considered a safe practice. Coughing into a tissue and immediately discarding it is regarded as a best practice.)
* The Peace and greetings following service are to be conducted with a gentle bow, or an elbow “bump.” Please avoid shaking hands to prevent the spread of illness.
* Clergy and eucharistic ministers, acolytes and others handling communion elements should use hand sanitizer before the service begins, at the Offertory and after communion has been distributed.
* Intinction (dipping the host) by congregational members is not safe. If intinction is preferred, the clergy person will instinct for the person and place the host in their mouth. The safest way to receive communion is by receiving the bread in one kind only. This is theologically sound. Communion is considered efficacious in “one kind.” (bread or wine alone). If the communicant chooses to receive bread alone, they can gently raise their hand to the chalice without touching it (like a “stop” signal) to indicate to the chalice minister that they are only receiving bread. If the common cup is used, silver rather than ceramic chalices are encouraged as they allow for greater sanitary practice.
* Coffee hours can and should continue. Please follow good safety and hygiene practices in the kitchen and in food preparation.
* Congregations should consider alternate methods for pledge collection, especially for those whom, because of vulnerability, choose to stay away. Online giving is an option for ensuring ongoing continuity of operations. Canon Alexis Guszick or Canon Chad Linder can offer assistance in getting these practices set up.
* Regular hand-washing performed several times per day with hot, soapy water is the best way to prevent the spread of illness. At least 20 seconds is recommended for this to be effective. It is a wonderful time to take a moment to breathe, to offer prayers for the sick, to offer prayers of thanksgiving, and to center ourselves.
Please keep the faith, friends. We have a mighty God who has imbued us with “memory, reason and skill,” (BCP pg. 370) and these gifts will help to see us through. A public health situation raises the anxiety in our households, our schools, our congregations, and our communities. God desires our wholeness, God calls on us to use our gifts to make sensible choices and to problem solve, but let us not forget, “God is a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1). Keep saying your prayers, reach out to your neighbors to check in and know that “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6:19)
I will be in touch again if greater measures for our safety are required.
Here’s a prayer for peace of mind:
Merciful Jesus, you are my guide, the joy of my heart, the author of my hope, and the object of my love. I come seeking refreshment and peace. Show me your mercy, relieve my fears and anxieties, and grant me a quiet mind and an expectant heart, that by the assurance of your presence I may learn to abide in you, who is my Lord and my God. Amen. (www.gracecathedral.org)
In the Way of Love,
The Rt. Rev. Audrey C. Scanlan