March 25, 2020
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
Dear Clergy Colleagues of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington,
Grace to you and peace in your faithful efforts to lead our people in prayer within the new constraints placed upon us all. I give thanks for your desire to offer spiritual solace to your people in this disorienting time.
I write with a few guidelines for worship in our new reality. My intention is to allow for as much breadth as possible, for the Holy Spirit is inspiring tremendous creativity among you and throughout the Body of Christ. Your ministries are evidence that our churches are not closed, but open to serving God and our communities in new ways.
State and District Mandatory Closure Orders
Now that both Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland and Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, DC have issued the mandatory closure of non-essential businesses and strict restrictions on public gatherings, we will continue our suspension of public worship until those orders have been lifted. Apart from those involved in essential services, church employees are to work from home whenever possible. Please see the Essential Parish Operations page in our COVID-19 resource hub for more information on what is meant by essential services.
Online Worship Guidelines and Resources
Thankfully, the closure orders allow for offering online worship from our sanctuaries provided that we:
- restrict those involved to ten or less
- involve no one who falls in a high risk category
- practice physical distance in worship
Please be vigilant in your compliance. Should civic orders become more restrictive, we will need to adjust accordingly.
Many of you are offering online daily or midweek services such as Morning Prayer and Compline. The positive response reveals a strong desire among our people for communal prayer. In their simplicity, your offerings are deeply moving and I’m grateful for your efforts. I often end my days now joining one of the many Compline services offered throughout the diocese. Please pace yourselves in this work, and involve others so that your offerings can be sustained.
Sunday Morning Worship
Some in the diocese feel strongly that Morning Prayer is the appropriate offering while we cannot gather in community for worship. I respect that view and support the practice of Sunday Morning Prayer.
Many have expressed a strong desire to pray the Eucharist, and that of their people to hear the familiar prayers. It is an understandable desire and pastoral response. You are free to offer the eucharistic prayers of consecration. Rather than partake yourself, consider not doing so, and praying together some version of the prayer of spiritual communion:
My, Jesus, I know that you are present in the Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally
come spiritually into my heart.
I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself wholly to you.
Never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.
-- Prayer by St. Alphonsus (1696-1787)
Beginning this Sunday at Washington National Cathedral, we will celebrate Eucharist in this way, offering the prayers of consecration without partaking ourselves.
Please do not attempt to offer the sacraments in others ways, such as drive-by communion or delivery of consecrated elements to people’s homes. Theological issues aside, we need to minimize travel and human contact. Nor is it appropriate to gather in groups of less than ten for a eucharistic celebration when others can’t be included.
It’s perfectly appropriate, on the other hand, to craft a worship service that involves individuals and households breaking bread together as in the ancient practice of an agape meal.
A priest in the diocese asked if it would be acceptable to invite members of the congregation to send in their prayers and intentions. Placing them on the altar, the priest would then preside at Eucharist, and receive the elements on behalf of the people. If such a practice would be meaningful for you and your congregation, I’m happy to give my consent.
Praying with Others
While your people want to pray with you and their community, you needn’t carry the burden of offering online worship alone. Feel free to encourage members of your congregation(s) to pray with other online worship communities. Washington National Cathedral is one of many resources available to you. Given your many responsibilities and the stress of this time, your self-care is essential. Allow others to help, i.e., inviting lay members to lead Morning Prayer or Compline.
I close, as I began, with a word of admiration and thanks. Together we’re learning that there are countless ways to gather in prayer and that people are hungry for spiritual food. As many have said to me, now is an ideal moment to teach and encourage home prayer practices for individuals and households. May a stronger home prayer life be one of the lasting results of this time.
Please know that I and others on the diocesan staff are here to help in any way we can, and remember that you are all resources for one another. We’d love to receive copies of your liturgies to share on the resource page and so build a strong library of offerings to share. You can email them directly to Archdeacon Sue von Rautenkranz.
May God bless you and keep you strong.