Pastoral Letter to Clergy and Wardens
April 22, 2020
“For I know the plans I have for you,’' declares the LORD, “plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Dear Clergy and Wardens:
Blessings to you this Easter season and at this threshold moment in our lives and in the world. We of the diocesan staff pray daily for you and your loved ones, thanking God for your faithfulness and courage. We have information to share as you continue to serve your congregations and surrounding communities in the days and weeks to come.
In this letter I address:
- The application process for COVID-19 Emergency Relief Funds
- The process for reopening churches for in-person worship
- Congregation Check-in Conversations
- Guidelines and resources for ministry at the time of death
- Looking to the future
COVID-19 Emergency Relief Funds Application Process
Thanks to the generosity of many across the diocese, we are now able to provide direct assistance to those within our congregations and the communities they serve.
The COVID-19 Emergency Relief Funds amplifies congregational ministry to assist:
- congregation and community members experiencing financial hardships as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and
- established congregational food pantries and meals programs experiencing increased demand
All grants will go to congregations to be distributed by parish clergy, wardens, or designated leaders. We’ve made the eligibility criteria and application process as simple as possible to facilitate the disbursement of funds. You can find the criteria below my signature and the application form here. For more information, contact the Rev. Paula Clark, Canon to the Ordinary.
Reopening Our Churches
We all long to resume public worship and in-person meetings. As our civic leaders are now making plans for a gradual easing of restrictions, following broad guidelines issued by the White House, it’s time for us to begin planning as well.
To be clear: we will continue our suspension of public worship and other activities until the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia lift the mandatory closure of non-essential businesses and restrictions on public gatherings. The District of Columbia’s order has been extended to May 15; in neighboring Virginia, until June 8; and in Maryland, there is no set date. For now, please do not assume that we will open our churches again by May 16th.
In collaboration with our neighboring dioceses, we are working on guidelines for a phased reopening of our churches, along with a check-list of measures for each congregation to complete before being granted permission to resume public worship or face-to-face meetings. Such measures will include sanitation/cleaning policies, plans for physical distancing, strategies for public gatherings under the proposed number of people allowed.
Given our geography and diverse populations, the process of re-opening may not be uniform across the diocese, and officials have warned that we must also be prepared for re-closures in the future. I will have more specific information to share within the next two weeks, and I ask you to begin thinking of how your congregation can start preparing now for limited worship and face-to-face meetings.
Check-ins with Congregational Leaders
Bishop Chilton, members of diocesan staff, and I will be contacting you to schedule a check-in call. We’d like to speak with clergy, warden and treasurers of each congregation, to hear how you’re doing, how you sense God’s presence, what you’re struggling with and excited about, and how we can pray for and support you. These conversations will inform our reassessment of diocesan initiatives and resource allocation in light of all that has changed so quickly. Please watch for our call or email.
Caring for the Dead and Dying, and Ministering to Their Families
Sadly, some in our congregations have died from COVID-19 and related complications, as well as from other causes. Under no circumstances are clergy or lay leaders in high risk categories themselves to visit the sick or dying. I understand, however, the desire you have to be present with the sick and dying and for some, it may be the faithful thing to do. Given the risks to you and others, you must contact me or Bishop Chilton before entering any situation where you risk direct exposure to the coronavirus.
Regarding funerals and memorial services, we are bound by the guidelines given to us by civic authorities. In the current stay-at-home/closure state, you may, if you choose, preside at a graveside for a gathering of less than ten people, provided appropriate masking and physical distancing. While current civic guidelines allow for services in our sanctuaries for less than 10 people, I ask you to wait until the stay-at-home orders have been lifted. As restrictions ease, we will adjust accordingly. These same guidelines apply to presiding at marriage ceremonies.
Looking toward the future
We have the opportunity to emerge from this experience stronger and better equipped to serve God’s mission in an ever-changing world. In the words of Andy Doyle, Bishop of Texas, “God will not waste this moment, and neither will we.” Many of you have said that you’d like to continue new practices of ministry after this season has passed. I look forward to future collaborative endeavors so that we might strengthen and amplify your faithful efforts.
May God grant us all strength and courage for the living of these days, the peace that surpasses understanding, and an assurance of Christ’s presence with us always.
Faithfully in Christ,
COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund Eligibility Criteria
The Diocesan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund was established to:
- Assist parish and community members experiencing hardships as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and
- Support established congregational food pantries and feeding programs to assist persons suffering from food insecurities, especially in Diocesan communities that are underserved.
Funds can be granted to parish and community members who meet the following criteria:
- Members of EDOW congregations who are suffering from food insecurity and other hardships; and/or
- Persons associated with EDOW congregations, or in the communities that the congregations serve, who are not receiving enough financial support to feed themselves or their families; at the discretion of the parish clergy and/or wardens;
- Persons whose needs can be verified by parish clergy and/or wardens; and,
- Clergy/wardens provide information about each of the recipients/families for whom they are applying in the application form
Funds can be granted to existing EDOW congregational food pantries and feeding ministries that meet the following criteria:
- Funds are needed to restock food & supplies
- The ministry program is in compliance with current COVID-19 jurisdictional and diocesan guidelines
- Clergy/wardens provide a brief description of the program and needs of the ministry in the application form
Applications for assistance from the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund may be submitted by clergy and/or wardens of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
While the Committee will use discretion in determining amounts granted through the fund, grants will be assessed according to the following guidelines:
- Parish Member Assistance
- Individual: $150
- Individual +1: $250
- Families: $400+
- EDOW Congregational Food Pantries and Feeding Ministries
- Food Pantries: $450
- Feeding Ministries: $300