6 January 2022
The Feast of the Epiphany
This notice sent to Churches, Priests and Deacons (active), Diocesan Council, Standing Committee and Chancellor, Wardens, Treasurers, Parish Administrators, Jubilee Center and Camp Leadership, Trustees, Summer Chapel Leadership, and Diocesan Staff
Dear Friends –

It was only a month ago that we touched base regarding COVID-19 protocols, yet the landscape is changed once again. The Omicron variant is surging around the world and here in Maine it’s impacting our healthcare systems, schools, our work and home lives, and our churches. There are also multiple sources of seemingly conflicting information adding to the discomfort and distress we all feel. Today’s Old Testament lesson, from the Prophet Isaiah echoes, “For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples” (60:2).

What follows is additional guidance about safety protocols, as well as a reiteration of our availability to support you. The diocesan COVID Advisory Team with whom I meet regularly (we met yesterday) is equally committed to you, and to the guiding principle of keeping our diocesan community united. As ever, I am grateful for their counsel. 

First, let me unequivocally and clearly state: Our guidance has not changed. The three-fold taxonomy which you have seen as recently as last month remains:  

1) LOVE: Love God and your neighbor.

2) COMPLY: Comply with all state and federal laws, policies, and recommendations.

3) TRUST & SUPPORT: We trust, support, and affirm the clergy and lay leaders of each faith community to make decisions that are best for your context (building size and HVAC systems, membership/attendance demographics, and regional transmission rates).

Let me address each of these in more detail:

LOVE: We know that you are and will make loving decisions for the safety and spiritual nurture of your people, and that of your neighbors and wider community.

COMPLY: We suggest you tighten up the current protocols you already have in place, based on the latest guidance from our state and national leaders, as well as the healthcare experts on our COVID Advisory Team.

The latest guidance is that we should ‘step up’ from just cloth masks. When we think of gathering for worship, a blue surgical mask should be the bare minimum. Doubling up in some way (two surgical masks, or one surgical mask + a cloth mask) is preferable. If possible, wear an N95 KN94 or KN95 mask.  

Encourage mask wearing the entire time you are gathered. Have blue surgical masks available at the door. Discourage any gathering where folks may remove their mask (such as to eat or drink). Please be a model of the mask-wearing you want to see by ensuring you are wearing your mask properly: over your nose and under your chin.

If social distancing protocols have become lax, please get them back in place. Consider denoting distancing areas with signs or ropes.

Consider creating a ‘pre-flight checklist’:
  • Are masks and hand sanitizer available at the door?
  • Are social distancing areas marked off?
  • Have you canceled events and activities where folks might remove their masks?
  • What is the contingency plan if you yourself gets sick?
  • If you have active healthcare workers in your membership, consider asking them to put a local face on the pandemic, to tell their story, and to answer questions.

Ensure you are also caring for your own health. If you’re feeling sick, please move worship online. If you have access to home tests, they can be another tool to demonstrate care and safety. If you have any 'cold' or covid symptoms then please stay at home, no matter what your covid test reads.

As helpful information comes out from the CDC, such as these flowcharts about what to do if you are a close contact or have tested positive or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, please share them with your church community.

TRUST & SUPPORT: We affirm that you are making the best decisions for your faith community based on your context. We’ve learned that Tuesday’s announcement from the Maine Council of Churches urging faith communities to move worship online was a precautionary statement solely from their executive director, not their board, and not in consultation with member churches or church leaders.

We reiterate here that Episcopal Churches in Maine may indeed gather for in-person worship while complying with state and federal laws, policies, and recommendations. Of course, Episcopal Churches in Maine may gather for online worship, too. Bear in mind that your neighboring congregation’s ways to love, comply, trust, and support may differ from yours; give each other grace. For example, some congregations are stating that vaccination is required to attend worship, others are requiring evidence of vaccination, still others are not mentioning anything about vaccination status. The differences abound: some congregations have a large community of children, others have no children; some of our buildings are large, others are very small.

The bottom line: everybody is doing their best. Once again, remember that we are here to support you. To consult about particular actions or decisions you’re considering, please contact the COVID Advisory Team,

Finally, on this great feast day, we must look for and then see God’s light. Remember the Prophet Isaiah who said, “For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples,” also says, “but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.” Be encouraged, beloved in Christ because we are marching in the light of God.

May Christ, the Son of God, be manifest in you, that your lives may be a light to the world; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always. Amen (The Book of Occasional Services, p. 24).

Faithfully in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Thomas J. Brown
The Right Reverend Thomas J. Brown
Bishop of Maine