COVID-19 Precautions and Guidelines for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington
August 25, 2021
This letter was emailed to diocesan leaders on August 25, 2021
We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayer, remembering before God your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3
Dear EDOW Colleagues and Friends,
As all in the diocese finalize preparations for the season of ministry before us, I write to thank you for your continued commitment to the health and safety of those in our congregations, schools, places of ministry, and the communities we serve in Christ’s name. Given rising infections and hospitalizations in our region, and concerns for highly contagious variants of the virus, it is imperative that we pay close attention to the instructions and mandates from local public health and civic leaders. In speaking with leaders across the diocese, I am once again inspired by your creativity and resilience.
Several clergy and lay leaders have asked me if diocesan policies will change this fall. The short answer is no. We are all required to follow the guidelines and mandates of our local communities. When those policies change in your region, you are free to relax your own practice as you deem best.
At the moment, there is near uniformity in policy across the four Maryland counties and the District of Columbia, with mandated masks in indoor settings and renewed emphasis on physical distance and encouragement to gather outdoors whenever possible. Churches are no exception. There is particular concern for unvaccinated children, and yet schools are reopening with safety measures in place. I would encourage all who are able to gather children safely in church to do the same.
Regarding in-person worship, I am impressed with the creativity of Eucharistc practice across the diocese. Several have asked me when we might resume sharing Eucharistic wine by common cup, which I raised with epidemiologists in our diocese and at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The unanimous consensus among them was that now is not the time, and thus that restriction remains. The simplest alternative is to distribute wafers only. Some congregations offer individual paper cups; others purchase portable individual communion sets.
I am delighted that singing in church, provided that all are masked, is no longer restricted by health officials. I have enjoyed singing once again in my visitations, and hearing the beauty of choral music!
If you haven’t yet opened for in-person worship, I encourage you to consider it in the coming months. While maintaining an online presence going forwards is a high priority, so is being together, safely, in Christian community. Please reach out to your colleagues or to those of us on diocsesan staff for support and suggestions.
Finally, let me say a word about vaccinations. This week the FDA fully authorized the Pfizer vaccine, and other vaccines may soon receive that same encouraging endorsement. As you well know, an increasing number of businesses and governmental bodies, including the military and school districts, are now mandating vaccinations for their employees and personnel. After speaking with the diocesan chancellor, Mr. John Van De Weert, I am persuaded that as bishop, I do not have authority to mandate vaccinations for employees of our congregations or schools. But vestries, boards of directors, and rectors do have that authority, and I encourage you to consider exercising it if you haven’t already done so. I recognize the concerns some feel regarding vaccinations, but the risk of not being vaccinated, and the cost to the wider community, makes vaccination, in my estimation, both a civic responsibility and act of Christian discipleship.
If you have specific questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us in the diocesan office. While you may speak to any of us, Canon to the Ordinary Andrew Walter leads our COVID response efforts.
Again, thank you for your leadership, faithfulness, and prayers for all those adversely affected by COVID-19. May God bless and protect those working tirelessly on behalf of us all.
The Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde
Bishop of Washington