Episcopal Diocese of Washington

To draw people to Jesus and embody his love
for the world by equipping faith communities,
promoting spiritual growth, and striving for justice

Letter from Bishop Mariann re COVID-19 update and worship guidelines

March 09, 2020

La versión en español es aquí

Dear Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington,

As we take in the news that our colleague and friend, the Rev. Tim Cole, rector of Christ Church, Georgetown has tested positive for COVID-19, and that as of this morning there are five known cases in Maryland and two in Northern Virginia, I write to share the latest recommendations we have received from public health officials. 

Please note that this letter includes:

  • Stricter, mandatory guidelines for worship practices
  • A call for self-quarantine for anyone who suspects they have had physical contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, and
  • Options for remote participation in diocesan meetings

Mandatory Guidelines for Worship Practices

Following the most recent public health guidelines, I now require all congregations and schools in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington to: 

  • Suspend the use of the common cup and the distribution of wine during Communion and use wafers instead of bread 
  • Ensure that those leading worship and administering Communion sanitize their hands 
  • Drain all water from baptismal fonts 
  • Refrain from physical contact before, during and after worship, including handshakes and hugs during the Peace

Please continue to encourage all in your communities to practice safe hygiene, including regular hand washing and sanitizing, coughing or sneezing into their sleeves, disposing of facial tissues immediately after use, and staying home if they are ill.

In addition, please take extra sanitary precautions when serving food or beverages in social gatherings around worship and other times.

Self-Quarantine

The DC Department of Health, in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has concluded that those who attended Christ Episcopal Church on February 24th and between February 28-March 3 could have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. DC Health is recommending that all attendees to Christ Church on those dates quarantine themselves for 14 days from the last time they visited the church. Isolating at home includes not going to work or school, not attending large public gatherings, and not using public transportation or ridesharing. 

We have sought guidance for those who have come into physical contact with attendees from Christ Church through our schools and other gatherings or who also attended the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes (CEEP) conference in Kentucky. 

To date, the only firm guidance we have received from health officials is for those who have symptoms of illness, or have been exposed through close contact with someone known to have the virus, to call their doctor for guidance. 

Health authorities advise that the symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Links to relevant public health authorities’ information pages are:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

https://coronavirus.dc.gov/

https://health.maryland.gov/pages/home.aspx

Diocesan, Parish, and School Meetings

Unless advised by health authorities to do otherwise, we will continue to hold regularly scheduled diocesan meetings and recommend that parishes do the same. 

We will, however, provide the option to participate remotely in all diocesan meetings, via computer and/or telephone. Diocesan staff assigned to each meeting will contact participants with information/instructions for remote participation. Peter Turner is available to assist leaders in setting up virtual options for parish and school meetings.

Future Communications and Thanks 

Public health officials have told us to prepare for further updates from them, perhaps daily. I promise to keep you informed of all information we receive.

Let me say how proud and grateful I am for the ways you are responding and adapting to this challenging, ever-changing situation. Thank you for your thoughtful, calm leadership, concern for the most vulnerable among us, continued prayers for those who have been adversely affected by this outbreak, and willingness to make difficult adjustments for the common good. I am especially thankful for the ways members of our diocesan community are reaching out to one another for support. In times like this, I am grateful for the gift of one another.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or concerns.

Faithfully,

Bishop Mariann

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