Dear Members of the Episcopal Church in Central PA,
COVID-19 PROTOCOL UPDATE from
THE TASK FORCE ON OPERATIONS May 2021
Effective immediately pending rector and vestry review
As Christians we are called to care for the least among us and to exercise servant leadership in community. St. Paul tells the community in Corinth, “…but God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. “(I Cor 12: 24b-27). Our call is to care for each other in community.
These are guidelines for how to worship in our churches with each other and, when we are fortunate enough to have visitors and newcomers, how we offer hospitality.
While vaccination has changed the way that we are able to interact, it is true that not all of our parishioners and visitors will have been vaccinated. There are those who, because of their tender age, are not eligible for vaccination and those who, because of health reasons, are unable to be vaccinated at all. Checking vaccination cards at the door of the church is not an acceptable practice of Christian hospitality.
These guidelines are not mandates. We encourage dialogue with the Task Force Member assigned to your congregation as you work to find a plan that will suit your congregation, your building and your local context.
Gathering for Indoor Worship
Worship out of doors continues to be recommended as the safest way to gather.
Gathering for Services
We recommend the continued use of attendance sheets for the purposes of contact tracing. The taking of temperatures may be eliminated.
We continue to recommend following the Governor’s guidelines. Those who have been vaccinated need not wear a mask. Some may choose to wear masks for their own comfort level.
Social Distancing for indoor and out of doors worship is recommended to continue. Those in family or household pods can sit, as before, without social distancing from each other. Worship space capacity is limited to the number of people that can fit in the space while social distancing.
Communion is recommended to continue in one kind only (bread.) If wine is desired, then it may be included by pre-pouring into small paper or plastic cups. (Paper is preferable for ecological reasons.) Please dispose of the cups by burning the paper cups or respectfully discarding in a separate bag. The congregation may come forward to the altar rail while maintaining social distance to receive communion and the celebrant may distribute wafers by hand, if desired, after using hand sanitizer. The use of the common cup or the practice of intinction is strongly discouraged.
The sharing of the Peace is recommended to include a friendly wave, bow or other non-touch gesture of hospitality and greeting. This is a good time to re-think the way that we use touch in the church and to honor the varying comfort levels among our parishioners about being hugged and embraced.
Among all of the worship practices that we engage in as a community, one of the most missed is congregational singing. “Making a joyful noise” is an important part of our Anglican spirituality.
We recommend if you decide to include music in your service, that, as with other guidance, those who are unvaccinated wear masks.
Some churches may continue to employ quartets and cantors for their musical expression.
Choirs may resume their ministry with social distancing employed.
Collection plates and Counting Practices
We have learned that it is unlikely that the virus can be spread by transmission on surfaces. The practice of passing the alms basin during the offertory is acceptable. Money can be counted following the service, as in pre-Covid days, with more than one member present.
Social gatherings (coffee hour)
If food is served, individually portioned items are preferable to large containers of food that are shared. When possible, coffee hour should be held out of doors.
Books in the pews and cleaning
Hymnals and Prayer Books can be restored to the pews at this time. There is no longer a need for comprehensive, individual paper bulletins. Cleaning surfaces between services is not required.
Nursery protocols, Sunday School and VBS
Gathering in the Church Nursery or for Sunday School or VBS should include all those over the age of 2 to be masked if not vaccinated. It is preferable that games, crafts and activities do not require a high level of physical contact. Since we do not know the potential rate of transmission of the virus among infants and toddlers, special care is to be taken in offering toys and other manipulatives. When possible, the sharing of these items is discouraged. Frequent handwashing and sanitizing is recommended to keep our children safe.
This document addresses the most frequently asked questions regarding our worship practices as we emerge from the pandemic. Please contact the Task Force member assigned to your congregation if you have other questions. These are the “least restrictive” guidelines that the Task Force recommends; more cautious measures are acceptable, and each parish’s practice will vary depending on their comfort level, congregational demographics, building and local context.
In the Way of Love,