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

Parish Regathering Updated Guidelines

May 13, 2021

Dear Friends in Ministry, 

As we approach the Day of Pentecost, I give thanks for your leadership and the ways in which the Holy Spirit is blowing through our congregations, guiding all of us as we adapt in creative, new ways to the reality in which we find ourselves. Thank you for your faithfulness and courage in persevering throughout this past year.

At long last, we can all give thanks that COVID-19 cases continue to decline, and in response, local authorities are lifting restrictions. Mayor Bowser, for example, has recently announced that capacity limits on places of worship in the District will be lifted as of May 21, and I am sure other jurisdictions will soon do the same, if they haven’t already. Suddenly, it feels like reopening is happening faster than we anticipated.    

At the start of the pandemic, I needed to place restrictions on our ability to worship and gather together, and I greatly appreciate your faithfulness in abiding by those guidelines.  Now, as the pace of reopening picks up, I feel it is important to release you from that expectation.

Going forward, I trust you to monitor the guidance from civic authorities and adjust your practices accordingly. Where civic authorities do not provide guidance related to our life of faith -- serving food and drinks at coffee hour comes to mind -- I trust your best judgment as to what is right for your community and the health and well-being of your people.

Let me be more specific in some areas:

WORSHIP

Parishes no longer need to submit a plan for regathering, though we are happy to talk through plans with you. Please email Canon Andrew Walter with your questions. Parishioners no longer need to sign the Covenant for Regathering prior to attending worship, unless you wish to ask that of them.

There is one restriction that remains in place for now in our sacramental practice. Until we have more information, please refrain from using the common cup and common loaf of bread in the sharing of Communion. Communion wafers for the bread is best for the time being, as is Communion in one kind or offering wine through individual cups or some other way you feel is safe. When we learn more from health officials, we will advise you further. 

MUSIC/SINGING

We have all missed singing, and recent CDC guidelines tell us that singing indoors by fully vaccinated people wearing masks is a safe activity. Therefore, singing is once again permitted by choirs and congregations, as you feel comfortable. This is an opportunity to encourage choir members and parishioners to receive the vaccine before returning, as the more people who are vaccinated, the safer all of us are in church. It is also within your authority, or that of your music minister, to insist that all choir members be vaccinated. I recommend that you do so, but leave it to your discretion.

COFFEE HOUR/ FOOD AND DRINKS

In addition to singing, we have missed gathering after church for informal conversation and social gatherings. Coffee hour and other  activities with food and drinks may resume; I simply encourage you to think carefully about how food and drinks are served, avoiding potlucks and sheet cakes, where many people touch the same food and utensils. The safest alternatives are individually served items. 

PASTORAL CARE

Please continue using your best judgement when it comes to making in-person pastoral care visits. You are the best person to decide when a visit can be safely made in-person and when a visit is best by telephone or Zoom. Trained Lay Eucharistic Ministers may resume making visits, bringing much comfort to those who need it.

Undoubtedly, this letter will not cover every nuance or circumstance of your ministry, but as I stated earlier, I trust you to use your best judgment to follow civic guidelines and do what is best for your people. As civic guidelines continue to relax, please feel empowered to regather as you feel is right. 

Again, thank you for your careful, courageous ministry through this long and challenging time. You are an inspiration to me and to many. 

May we continue to experience greater freedom and health for all people. 

Faithfully,

Bishop Mariann

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