Guidelines to promote a faith-based response to COVID-19

Guidelines to promote a faith-based response to COVID-19

GUIDELINES TO PROMOTE A FAITH-BASED RESPONSE TO COVID-19
IN THE EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF FORT WORTH

FROM THE RIGHT REV. J. SCOTT MAYER
IN CONSULTATION WITH THE CLERGY OF OUR DIOCESE
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11, 2020

At this time and in all times, relationship with our loving, liberating, life-giving God is the foundation of our life and work. Prayer is the language of our relationship with God. Therefore, in the words of my sister bishop The Rt. Rev. Susan Brown Snook of the Diocese of San Diego, I offer

Above all, pray for our country and our world during this difficult time. Pray for those who are ill, those who cannot work, those who are alone in quarantine, and all who are suffering from the current economic disruptions. Prayer is effective, and it is a ministry Christians can engage in on behalf of our neighbors and ourselves. And please know that I am praying for you . . . as we all do what we can to respond to this crisis with courageous love.

Please stay in touch with me and with our diocesan staff. Accurate and timely information is key in coordinating a CALM and FAITHFUL response to COVID-19.

The three-legged stool

The “three-legged stool” of support and encouragement in the midst of a public health emergency is COMMUNITY, INFORMATION and AGENCY.

  • COMMUNITY: Continue to be in touch with the people in your congregation and community during this time. Be creative! Phone calls, a handwritten note, a FaceTime call, a Bible Study or knitting group held on Zoom, PRAYER . . . all of these are excellent ways to stay in community during this time.
  • INFORMATION: Remind people that social media is not a reliable source of information. The CDC is a great place to get accurate information. You can also have confidence in the carefully vetted information on our diocesan website – edfw.org
  • AGENCY: Offer people choices. When people are feeling disempowered and afraid, as many are in the midst of this health crisis, it is uplifting and empowering to be able to choose. Give people opportunities to help and encourage each other and their neighbors. Start a phone tree for intercessory prayers and offer folks the opportunity to participate.

Our diocesan website is – and will continue to be – an excellent, accurate resource for information about faith-based responses to COVID-19. The website is regularly updated with new information. Here’s the link: https://episcopaldiocesefortworth.org/resources-for-sensible-precautions-regarding-coronavirus/.

Doing church differently

During this season, we will be “doing church differently.” In your communications with your congregation, please talk about being present to parishioners and neighbors in ways other than “closing the church” and/or “cancelling _______.” If you are not hosting gatherings at the church building, please say “the church building is closed” rather than “the church is closed,” because the Church isn’t closed! We will continue to do the work of God together . . . and in different ways.

If public gatherings are banned by state or local authorities, our congregations will follow the guidelines. Congregations, at their discretion, may err on the side of additional caution. For example, if gatherings of 200 or more are banned, a congregation where 50 typically gather for worship may continue to hold public worship – or may opt to err on the side of caution and do church differently.

Unless/until public gatherings are banned, you and your congregation are the best source of wisdom about whether to hold public worship services for your congregation. Each of our congregational contexts are different. It is not my expectation that all of our congregations will take the same approach. Please know that I will support you in whatever decision you make.

Regarding public worship, I strongly urge you to maintain as much social distance as possible in all aspects of worship, including but not limited to:

  • Replace handshakes and hugs with elbow bumps, the peace sign, or a nod/bow
  • Though we will continue to have both bread and wine blessed in the Eucharistic prayer and the common cup will be offered . . .
    • intinction is prohibited until this health crisis passes. If someone drinks from the common cup, that is a decision a person makes for her/him/themselves. If someone intincts (dips the bread into the wine), that person may be exposing everyone else to the germs or bacteria on their hands.
    • people may be encouraged to take communion in one kind (the bread), knowing that Christ is just as present in the bread as in the bread and wine together.
  • Avoid touching common surfaces; push doors open with your elbow not your hand, encourage people to put their offering in the offering plate before worship or at the peace rather than passing the offering plates, etc.
  • For events where food is served, take care to observe all food handling precautions and consider having servers rather than allowing people to serve themselves.

I encourage you to explore online worship options NOW, in order to be prepared for the possibility that public gatherings may be banned. There are a number of resources available, including Facebook Live, live-streaming, Zoom, etc. Of course, the service of Holy Eucharist cannot be conducted “virtually,” though Eucharist shared in community (with even a small number of people) can be live-streamed. This is a good time to reintroduce folks to Morning Prayer and the other Daily Offices. Please note that if you use any music in your online service, you must secure a special license. The license that covers music used in your church services does not cover online use. (See the resources available in your Google Shared Drive “Clergy Dealing with COVID-19”)

Start now (if you haven’t already) considering how to continue ministries that are vital to your neighbors. Food pantries, driving folks to doctor appointments and other ministries are essential. Do your best to find creative and healthy solutions to limit person-to-person contact while still caring for those who are the most vulnerable.

Remind people that an important way to help out their congregation during this time is to continue to fulfill their pledge and to give generously. If you have online giving already set up on your website, great! If not, please check out Venmo or Text to Give or other online options.

Keep in touch

Please keep me, Canon Janet Waggoner, and Director of Communication Katie Sherrod informed of what is going on with you, your family, and your congregation. If you are ill (COVID-19 or not), please let us know – and please self-quarantine. If someone in your family is ill, please let us know. If someone in your congregation has COVID-19, it is especially important that you let us know. We will pray for you, we will help you manage communications, and we will provide other practical help if/as necessary.

If this, then this