Dear ones, By now you may have seen Vermont has its first confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) as well as two school closures related to the virus. You may also have heard that the Rev. Timothy Cole, rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Georgetown in Washington, D.C., has been hospitalized with the virus. D.C. officials are asking anyone who attended Christ Church in the time since the Rev. Cole fell ill to self-quarantine for fourteen days. This is a sobering reminder that clergy can serve as particularly efficient conduits for illness in our congregations and communities. With this in mind, I urge you—first and foremost—to take good care of yourselves. If you do not feel well, please stay home and rest. Not only will this prevent you from spreading illness, it will help you to get well faster. Additionally, it will serve as a model to your congregation that minimizing contact with other people during an illness is the right thing to do. Because our worship together is so important, I am not recommending that healthy clergy cancel services at this time. If, however, any rector, priest-in-partnership or vicar has health-related concerns, or if your schools or other local institutions close due to confirmed cases in your community, you may cancel with my blessing. Given recent developments in our local context and with the most vulnerable among us in mind, I am now directing all clergy to cease offering communion wine, either for sipping or by intinction, until we learn more about how COVID-19 is transmitted and are assured the practice is safe for our most vulnerable members. I appreciate that many Episcopalians have convictions about the importance of sharing the common cup, and that, indeed, our liturgical rubrics speak to this issue. But new coronavirus infections pose an extraordinary threat to public health systems, and precautions are necessary. Please be assured that this is a temporary change and that our gathering as the body of Christ remains real and valid. I also ask that all clergy, lay Eucharistic ministers and altar guild members continue to wash their hands thoroughly before handling communion bread or wafers and use hand sanitizer visibly during liturgy. Finally, rather than passing the offering plates, I ask that offering plates be placed in a fixed location in the sanctuary where congregants may drop their offering. I also highly recommend parishes consider setting up online giving. To do so email Rich Sagui or call 802.863.3431 ext. 103. If it is not already an existing practice, this may be a good time for your congregation to refamiliarize itself with Morning Prayer – a perfectly acceptable way for us to gather on Sunday mornings. You may also want to familiarize yourself with tools for offering online worship. A summary of these updated guidelines is provided below. Please know that as the situation develops and we learn more, these may change. I am consulting with healthcare experts and together we will actively monitor the situation, following the guidance of government experts, health agencies and peer institutions about any potential changes to our operations. For more information about COVID-19 – including symptoms – visit the Vermont Department of Health website. It is times like these that the importance of our life in Christ together comes into focus. This is the time to think about the most vulnerable in your parish and indeed, in your community. Are there people who you might make sure receive a daily phone call to make sure they are okay? Are there places where you might be able to provide assistance or supplies and agencies with which you might partner? While we find ourselves adjusting liturgical practice, our commitment to God’s mission remains unchanged. That work does not stop. As your bishop, I know this is a difficult time to be a pastor in the community. Please know that you and all the people of this diocese are in my prayers. I invite you to email me or call Pamela Van de Graaf at 802.863.3431 ext. 101 if you have particular questions or concerns. Prayers Through these anxious times, let us pray for this diocesan household and for the world: For the Sick Heavenly Father, giver of life and health: Comfort and relieve those who are sick, and give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs. May they be strengthened in their weakness and have confidence in your loving care; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (modified BCP 260) For Doctors and Nurses Sanctify, O Lord, those whom you have called to the study and practice of the arts of healing, and to the prevention of disease and pain. Strengthen them by your life-giving Spirit, that by their ministries the health of the community may be promoted and your creation glorified; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 460) For People Facing Uncertainty God of the present moment, God who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart; bring hope and courage to us all as we wait in uncertainty. Bring hope that you will make us the equal of whatever lies ahead. Bring us courage to endure what cannot be avoided, for your will is health and wholeness; you are God, and we need you.” (excerpt From: “A New Zealand Prayer Book.") Peace and blessings, +Shannon Updated Guidelines:
Clergy should not offer communion wine, either for sipping or by intinction, until we learn more about the way COVID-19 is transmitted and are assured the practice is safe for our most vulnerable members.
All clergy, lay Eucharistic ministers and altar guild members wash their hands thoroughly before handling communion bread or wafers and use hand sanitizer visibly during liturgy.
Encourage worshippers to greet one another during the peace with waves, bows, or peace signs rather than handshakes or hugs.Encourage people (clergy and lay) who are ill to stay home and assure them that the congregation will pray for them.
Remind coffee hour volunteers to wash their hands and handle food with plastic gloves or utensils.