Worship and Sacramental Guidance
"Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Hebrews 9:24
Dear Clergy,

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! In our current pandemic situation, we are learning new ways to proclaim this great truth of our faith. Jesus Christ is risen, and we have good news of eternal and abundant life in Christ to proclaim. In our church, that mission has not changed. Our ways of accomplishing that mission are changing, as they have many times in Christianity’s 2,000-year history. I am proud of and inspired by the adaptive and transformative work that so many of you have been doing to creatively proclaim the good news and to lead your congregations. And I am convinced that the new ways we have all learned to follow Jesus during this time of quarantine will help us meet the challenges of the twenty-first century long after the pandemic is over. The Holy Spirit will guide us in proclaiming the good news of Christ and serving our communities in many new ways.

Many people are talking about “re-opening” churches. Our churches have never closed. They have simply moved the location of their ministries onto the internet and into the world. The church is open and we are still following Jesus. Just as the apostles were sent out into the world to proclaim the good news in a new way in Acts Chapter 8, we have been sent into the world to follow Jesus in new ways. Of course, in-person worship has paused, and we are now looking toward restarting that vital part of our mission.

As our governing officials look at “re-opening” various sectors of society, I am issuing this updated guidance for restarting in-person worship in our churches, along with guidelines for celebrating the sacraments. We do not yet know when our state and county officials will allow churches to restart in-person worship, but after it is authorized by governmental officials, I will make a determination about when our churches can begin to restart worship. I currently do not anticipate authorizing in-person worship to resume before June 21. I will update you as soon as I have more information.

Please create a task force to make a written plan for restarting limited in-person worship in your congregation, adapting the following guidelines to your congregation’s building and context.

For parishes: the plan should be approved by your vestry and made available to the whole congregation by email, posting on your website, and/or mailing to the members.

For mission congregations and MAP/APP congregations, you are required to send me your written plan for approval before you can restart limited in-person worship. The plan should be made available to the whole congregation by email, posting on your website, and/or mailing to the members.

The worship guidelines below apply to all congregations. You are authorized to institute stricter guidelines if you believe they would be in the best interest of your congregation, but I must approve any relaxation to the rules below.

These guidelines will be changed and updated as the public health situation and governmental guidelines change. 

During this initial phase of reopening:

  • Online or other distance worship should continue, to accommodate people who will not yet feel comfortable leaving home to gather in groups. If your congregation has not yet begun online worship, please contact [email protected] for help in starting.

  • Governmental authorities will likely authorize smaller groups of people to meet first, slowly progressing to larger groups. Our diocese will determine the maximum group size allowed in our churches at any one time based on governmental guidelines and other factors.

  • Before restarting in-person worship, please deep-clean your worship facility, including door handles, pew tops, pulpits, and other surfaces.

  • People who are over 65 or in a high-risk group should be discouraged from attending in-person worship.

  • Any clergy in a high-risk group who wish to lead in-person worship must be authorized by me personally. Please call me to discuss your request.

  • In addition to any group size limitations instituted by government authorities, you should further limit your in-person attendance at any worship service to the number of people (or household groups) who can sit six feet or more away from any other people (or household groups). You will have to determine this limit based on the size of your worship space. Please plan for how you will enforce the group size limit once your maximum capacity has been reached.

  • It is essential to provide the best ventilation possible. Outdoor worship is safest. If you choose to worship indoors, please open doors and windows and turn on fans. 

During this phase, careful attention must be paid to church practices to help prevent spreading the disease. I ask you to follow these guidelines, which will be gradually loosened as restrictions ease.

  • No choir or congregational singing, and no use of wind instruments, as these forms of music have been shown to spread the virus. You may use soloists or very small groups of singers, spaced at least 12 feet apart from each other and any other participant in the service.

  • People should wear masks at all times, except when reading or preaching. Schedule only one lector at each service. 

  • Provide extra masks at the entrance of the church for worshipers who arrive without them.

  • You may consider offering Morning Prayer or a service of Ante-Communion during this phase rather than a full communion service.

  • Clergy should wash hands frequently. If communion is celebrated, the celebrant (and deacon, if applicable) should go to the sacristy during the offertory to wash hands thoroughly before setting the table and celebrating communion. Only the celebrant should stand at the altar during the Great Thanksgiving.

  • If communion is celebrated, only the celebrant should distribute bread, and should wear a mask during distribution. Bread may be distributed by dropping it into people’s hands (ask people to avoid touching your hand), or by setting it out in separate receptacles for people to pick up as they come forward. Please do not offer wine to the congregation during this period.

  • Place hand sanitizer at the entrances and exits to the church, and other convenient locations, and encourage people to use it. Provide disinfecting wipes at the entrance and inside each restroom, and ask people to use them to clean door handles, faucets, and other surfaces after each use.

  • Ensure that people who come forward for communion stand at least 6 feet apart, and do not allow kneeling at the altar rail because of the danger of many hands touching the rail.

  •  Place collection plates at a central location instead of passing them hand to hand.

  • Ask people not to touch or come closer than six feet to each other during passing the Peace or social times.

  • If you have more than one worship service, remove shared artifacts such as prayer books and hymnals, and instead allow people to take single-use paper bulletins from a central distribution point, or offer downloadable bulletins that people can access on their personal devices. Used bulletins should be disposed of by the user instead of leaving them in seats for ushers to pick up.

  • Station masked greeters 6 feet away from the stations where people pick up bulletins to welcome them and indicate where they can get a bulletin.

  • Prop doors open so people don’t have to touch door handles.

  • Engage in careful, thorough, and frequent cleaning of pews, door handles, light switches, restrooms, and all other things that are often touched, before and after each service.

  • Open doors and windows to provide good ventilation, or even hold services outdoors if possible.

  •  Do not serve refreshments at social hour, and ask people to maintain 6-foot distancing.

  • Do not offer nursery care or in-person children’s Sunday school during this period, and hold other meetings (Bible studies, vestry meetings, etc.) online.

  • The congregation may decide whether to allow outside groups such as AA to begin meeting in person at the church. Any in-person meetings should observe group size limitations and distancing and cleaning precautions.

  • Church Offices should remain closed during this phase, except for essential services (opening mail, depositing checks, etc.). Clergy and staff may come into the office to take care of occasional needs, but should primarily work from home.

  • Churches with Schools. Schools are authorized to reopen under the strict limitations set out by the government. Mission congregations and MAP/APP congregations with schools must have their reopening plans approved by the diocesan office. I invite you to consult with Canon Gwynn Lynch ([email protected]) or with Serena Beeks with the Diocese of Los Angeles Schools Consortium, of which our diocese is now a member ([email protected]). 
Sacramental and Pastoral Guidance

The guidelines below set standards and options for celebrating the Episcopal Church’s seven sacramental rites, plus the pastoral service of burials.

Holy Baptism
Baptisms may be offered under either of the following two options:

  1. The baptismal party and priest gather at a source of water (possibly outside for additional safety), physically distanced, with fewer than 10 people present. The service is recorded and inserted into a regular Sunday online service, or live-streamed as part of a Sunday service. The baptism commences with the presentation on BCP p. 301 and continues through the middle of page 307. The priest does not touch the water. For the actual baptism at the bottom of page 307, a close relative (perhaps the parent of an infant) performs the actual baptism (“N., I baptize you….”). The priest then continues with the prayer beginning “Heavenly Father” at the top of page 308. Chrismation is saved for a later date. The congregational welcome at the bottom of page 308 may be done live at the actual baptism, and repeated by the whole congregation during the Sunday service if the baptism is pre-recorded. Please note that this option is allowed because the BCP allows laypeople to baptize in case of emergency. I have discussed this option with the Presiding Bishop and he has agreed that it is allowable under our rubrics.
  2. This option should be chosen only with the permission of the baptismal candidate (or sponsors, in the case of a child). The baptismal party and priest gather at a source of water (possibly outside for additional safety), physically distanced, with fewer than 10 people present. The service is recorded and inserted into a regular Sunday online service, or live-streamed as part of a Sunday service. The priest should thoroughly wash her/his hands before the baptism begins, and wear a mask throughout the service. The baptism commences with the presentation on BCP p. 301 and continues through the middle of page 308. If a child is being baptized, the child should be held by a parent, not by the priest. The priest may use a long implement such as a ladle (which has been disinfected before the service) to touch the water and to perform the baptism, or may use thoroughly washed hands. Other than the actual moment of baptism and chrismation, all parties (who do not live in the same household) should be physically distanced. The congregational welcome at the bottom of page 308 may be done live at the actual baptism, and repeated by the whole congregation during the Sunday service if the baptism is pre-recorded. 
Holy Eucharist
Guidelines for in-person celebrations of the Holy Eucharist are spelled out above in the worship guidelines.

In addition, you may consider making use of Lay Eucharistic Visitors to take Eucharist to home or family church gatherings. Such a structure might consist of:
  • Pre-recorded celebration of the Holy Eucharist where elements are consecrated. The pre-recorded celebration would be available for viewing on Sunday morning so home churches could participate.
  • On Sunday morning, Lay Eucharistic visitors come to the church to pick up pre-consecrated elements (providing bread only is authorized if this is the practical way to do it). Elements should be pre-consecrated, individually packed in communion kits or other receptacles, and set out for LEVs to pick up. The LEVs should be sent out with a short sending service, repeated at intervals on Sunday morning if necessary to maintain small group sizes.
  • At the home or family church gathering, the group would watch the pre-recorded Eucharistic celebration and share communion distributed by the LEV. More guidelines for how this might work liturgically will be forthcoming from our office.
  • The size of home or family church gatherings may increase as governmental guidelines allow group sizes to increase.
  • This structure may be integrated with a small group structure as previously proposed by Canon Christian Gillette ([email protected]), and home church gatherings may include a Christian formation time and a time for in-person prayer. I encourage priests to equip their LEVs to lead in this way.
  • Our diocese will be providing streamlined online LEV and small group leader training in June. Please stay tuned for announcement of dates, and ask your LEVs to participate in the training. LEVs will have to take Safeguarding God’s People training as well.

The following proposals are NOT currently authorized by our church. If the whole church agrees that such innovations are allowable, I will consider authorizing them.

  • “Virtual communion” (i.e., using online worship to bless bread and wine that people have at home) is NOT authorized.
  • Asking people to bring their own bread to in-person worship and hold it up to be blessed is NOT authorized.
  • “Drive-through communion” is NOT authorized.
Marriages may be performed with observance of authorized group size and with social distancing (except for the couple being married and other family groups). Performing the ceremony outdoors is encouraged if feasible. The State of California requires that the following persons be physically present in the same location: officiant, the two people being married, and one witness. Therefore, “Zoom” weddings where those persons are in separate places are NOT authorized.
I am not doing confirmations at this time; when larger in-person gatherings become allowable, I may schedule one or more regional confirmations to make up for confirmations missed during the stay-at-home order.
Holy Unction
The sacrament of holy unction may be performed in end-of-life situations by a priest who is masked and gloved, group size limits are observed, and no one present has symptoms or a diagnosis of COVID. All persons present (except those living in the same household) should be physically distanced. The priest should thoroughly wash her/his hands before and after the anointing. 

For end-of-life anointing of a person with a COVID diagnosis, in-person anointing is allowed ONLY if the hospital allows it and can provide appropriate personal protective equipment to the priest. Otherwise, you are allowed to send a nurse or other medical provider to anoint the patient with a pre-anointed cotton ball, and conduct the prayers by video.
I will make policies for ordination when appropriate.
A priest may lead the rite of reconciliation virtually, or in person if physical distancing is practiced, both persons are masked, and the two parties do not touch each other.
Outdoor interments may be conducted with group size limits observed, and with all persons physically distanced. Funerals may be conducted in the church building with group size limits observed, with all persons physically distanced, with the permission of the bishop. 
Financial Assistance

As a reminder, our diocese is offering financial assistance in two ways:

  • Assistance with congregational operating expenses. If your congregation is facing financial hardship, please apply for assistance by clicking here. We are eager to help.
  • Assistance for people in need. If your congregation has feeding programs, other programs to help people in need, or members or employees facing financial hardship, please write me an email describing the need and the budget. I am happy to provide assistance from our “For Such A Time as This” fundraising campaign. We have the money available and are eager to help.

Thank you again to the clergy who have worked so hard to adapt to the massive changes in our church. Christ is risen, and I believe he is constantly calling us to transformation. I am so grateful for the transformations you are all leading.

In Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Susan Brown Snook
The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego
2083 Sunset Cliffs Blvd., San Diego, CA 92107