RESOURCES

COVID-19 RESPONSE

BEING A COMMUNITY OF LOVE DURING THE COIVD-19 PANDEMIC

In these challenging times, we are called to find new ways to be a community of love, to encounter Christ and engage the world. Please note this important guiding principle: Out of love and compassion for each other, all church functions in which you cannot maintain six feet (or two arms length) of distance between people, in addition to appropriate hygiene, should be suspended. All public worship in the Diocese of Maryland is suspended until May 31. See our guidelines and updates on regathering below. For questions about beginning to regather your congregation, please contact us at [email protected].

REGATHERING GUIDELINES AND COVENANTS

Individual congregations can seek permission to move from phase to phase depending on local circumstance. The bishop may move a congregation back to an earlier phase if local circumstance risk factors change and merit such action. These guidelines remain in effect and will change only as local conditions require.

These guidelines are developed in accordance with recommendations of the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, Episcopal Relief and Development, and Johns Hopkins University of Medicine and in compliance with federal and State of Maryland policies.

For specific guidance on preparing for regular disinfecting after regathering:
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/reopen-guidance.html

EPA guidance on disinfecting products:
https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2

Training for ushers (and/or greeters):

  • Before worship, entrance doors are to be propped open if possible. All door knobs and restroom light switches disinfected
  • Bulletins placed near entrances for congregants to pick up themselves
  • Door handles disinfected repeatedly and consistently
  • Make sure hand sanitizer available
  • Keep track of number of participants to ensure maximum capacity not violated
  • No open seating. Guide people (while social distancing) to available seats, keeping in mind size of household
  • Ask people displaying symptomatic behavior to leave
  • Used bulletins not reused for subsequent services
  • Door handles and other contact surfaces cleaned and disinfected after
  • Checklists printed and maintained as record for liability purposes. A sample disinfecting checklist is linked here.

Signage:

  • “STOP and help us stay safe. Do not enter property if you have been exposed recently to someone with Covid-19 or if you are experiencing symptoms.” Displayed at all public entrances. Download a customizable entrance sign [MS Word DOCX]
  • “STOP and help us stay safe. Please disinfect faucet handles, toilet handle, doorknobs and other touch surfaces after use with provided products.” Displayed on restroom doors. Download a customizable restroom sign [MS Word DOCX]

Seating Capacity:

  • Generally speaking, expect normal seating capacity to be reduced to 15-25 percent capacity depending upon architectural layout. Calculate based on an average household unit of two being able to sit together with minimum of six feet to the next closest person

UPDATE: – Please see the Zoom presentation from 5/20/2020 to clergy and senior wardens on phasing in during the Orange Phase. Feel free to watch or share with vestries and church leadership who can help you make decisions on transition.

Helping Children Return to Worship – Hannah Graham, Chair of the Diocesan Christian Formation Council, has created a series of videos for you to share with your congregation on welcome children back to church and encouraging their leadership.

RED PHASE

Red Phase: Suspension of Live In-person Public Worship Services and Public Use of Property

Public Health Indicators: Civic authorities shut down all public gatherings and numbers of known infections and deaths rising or near peak levels in state.

Worship:

  • Congregations encouraged to offer online worship
  • Services live-streamed using as few persons as necessary
  • For Eucharists, no distribution of Holy Sacrament either live or virtually; celebrants may consume elements on behalf of congregation
  • Online social gathering and community building encouraged

Other property use:

  • Outside tenants or small groups prohibited from gathering
  • Schools closed

Staff:

  • Strongly encouraged to work remotely. Essential reasons for coming into church offices include processing mail, checks, bills and payroll, and setting up for live-streaming. Further accommodations made for high-risk persons

ORANGE PHASE

Orange Phase: Significantly-limited Live In-person Public Use of Property

Public Health Indicators: Civic authorities allow for limited numbers of persons to gather and numbers of known infections and deaths have fallen substantially in the region. Numbers of known infections and deaths have declined in the county for fourteen (14) consecutive days on average.

Worship:

  • In conjunction with online services, limited number of worshipers may gather for in-person worship inside or outside.  Number of worshipers dependent upon modified seating capacity to allow social distancing by household
  • Copies of Covenant for Regathering available in advance and at entrances
  • Mandatory use of masks or scarfs covering mouths and noses for entire time in church buildings. Worship leaders with speaking role may remove mask only while speaking
  • Worshipers known to be diagnosed with COVID-19, actively sick or symptomatic are not to attend or must leave immediately. Worshipers with underlying health risks are discouraged from attending service
  • No choirs or congregational singing allowed. Churches may allow, however, for one cantor who is at least 20 feet away from other worshipers to sing alone on the congregation’s behalf. Other worshipers may mouth the word silently or hum while hymns and psalms are sung by the cantor
  • No touching others outside one’s household during any portion of service
  • Offerings: online and regular electronic giving encouraged.  Offering plate placed on table near entrance and other access points for in-person gathering
  • For Eucharist, no distribution of wine.  Only celebrant consumes host and wine.  After Invitation to Communion, only wafers to be distributed, (the wafers having been consecrated by celebrant wearing mask). Communicants may come forward to receive standing only and continue to maintain social distancing
  • Holy water basins and baptismal fonts must be emptied during this period
  • No live coffee hours, potluck meals, or live community building times allowed
  • In addition to making hand sanitizers widely available, churches must disinfect all doorknobs and handles before and after each church service
  • Emergency baptism and anointing only, at discretion of cleric’s comfort level and using gloves and masks
  • Weddings, funerals complying with other worship guidelines. No food receptions allowed
  • Pastoral care administered via telephone or video conferencing only

Other building use:

  • Groups may gather following guidelines for this phase: social distancing, mandatory mask use, cleaning and disinfecting before and after
  • COVID-19 signage at primary entrances
  • Schools may resume following guidelines for this phase

Staff:

  • Staff may return to office, but remote working still encouraged. Guidelines for social distancing and cleaning and disinfecting apply. Mask use only necessary in shared areas; not necessary in individual office area

 

YELLOW PHASE

Yellow Phase: Moderately-limited In-person Public Worship Services and Property Use

Public Health Indicators: Vaccine has been developed to effectively prevent spread of disease and/or test to detect disease widely available.  Numbers of known infections and deaths fallen to near zero in state. Widespread testing and tracking.

Worship:

  • No social distancing required
  • People who are COVID-19 positive, actively sick or symptomatic are still not to attend
  • Masks optional
  • Singing may resume
  • All Eucharistic guidelines of Orange Phase still in effect
  • Distribution may be at altar rail only if rail is disinfected after each group fills row
  • In-person social hours with light refreshments may be offered with professionally prepared and packaged food products (no home-prepared food)
  • All sanitizing practices still in effect
  • Baptisms permitted at cleric’s and family’s discretion and comfort level
  • Weddings, funerals, anointing permitted at cleric’s and family’s discretion and comfort level
  • Receptions using professionally prepared and packaged food productsPastoral care may be in person using mask and gloves with persons with any communicable disease

 Other building use:

  • COVID-19 signage remains in place
  • Masks optional
  • Food and beverage use still limited to professionally prepared and packaged food products

Staff:

  • May return and not required to wear masks or maintain social distancing. Accommodations still encouraged for high-risk persons

GREEN PHASE

Green Phase: All Live In-Person Public Worship Services Allowed with Few Limitations

Public Health Indicators: Civic authorities have allowed all public gatherings. No reported new cases of pandemic infections in the state for at least two weeks. Widespread testing and tracking.

Worship:

  • Those who are COVID-19 positive, actively sick or symptomatic are still not to attend
  • Acolytes no longer need to wipe down the altar rail after each round of worshipers have been communicated
  • Holy water basins and baptismal fonts may be refilled
  • The Passing of the Peace should be not extend beyond a few minutes. Words, hugs and fist & elbow touching are allowed – but no handshakes
  • Offerings may be collected as the congregation chooses, using a variety of means
  • For Eucharistic celebrations, traditional practices may resume, and wine can be distributed to all who desire it – except that worshipers may not intinct (dipping the bread into the cup). If intinction is desired, a eucharistic server follows the clergy person distributing the bread, and that server alone dips the wafer into the consecrated wine and places it on the tongue of the worshiper
  • Baptism and other sacramental rites have no restrictions except for those with COVID-19 positive or symptomatic
  • In-person coffee hours, potluck meals, and community building times may resume
  • In addition to making hand sanitizers widely available, churches should still wipe down all doorknobs and handles before and after each church service
  • No restrictions on pastoral care visits, except the use of masks and gloves still required for any diagnosed or symptomatic COVID-19 persons

Other building use:

  • No restrictions except for people who are showing signs of possible infection

Staff:

  • Can return fully, but accommodations are still encouraged for high risk persons

 

Date
Info

05/20/20
Phase In Guidelines for Regathering

05/20/20
Covenant for Regathering

05/20/20
Covenant for Regathering for Outside Groups

05/20/20
Orange Phase Checklist
This is a printable/downloadable version of the online application, for your convenience. Please use the online application (button below) to submit your regathering plans.

FINANCIAL RELIEF FOR CONGREGATIONS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

As the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues, congregations can seek financial relief from the federal government, the Church Pension Fund and the bishop’s office. Below are details about each form of relief currently available, as well as a list of important documents.

The Small Business Administration has released the lengthy but detailed application for forgiveness of the Paycheck Protection Program loans. They appear to have addressed (favorably) the questions around timing of payrolls within the eight-week period via two means, first by using the language “eligible payroll costs incurred or paid” and second by providing for an “Alternative Payroll Covered Period.” There is also a definition of what is considered a business utility in the application. You can read the SBA’s press release about the application here.

This page is being updated as new information becomes available. Last update 5/16/2020.

PAYROLL PROTECTION PROGRAM – WHAT CHURCHES NEED TO DO NOW

The two trillion-dollar federal economic stimulus bill known as the CARES Act includes a provision offering forgivable loans to small businesses, including non-profits, for the purpose of maintaining payroll and paying other qualified expenses, including mortgage interest, rent, and utilities. The maximum amount of the loan is 2.5 times the organization’s average monthly payroll expenditure over the previous twelve months, including most employee benefits, pension contributions, and employer 403(b) contributions. The application period opened on Friday, April 3. The application period ends on June 30, but because the amount available for these loans is capped, churches should apply as soon as possible.

The loans are backed by the Small Business Administration but are administered by banks. You may seek loans from any Small Business Administration-approved lender. Due to the size of the program, banks that have previously not worked with the Small Business Association are now doing so. Contact your bank to see if you can apply through them.

You can find the loan application here. Here are some notes for completing your application:

  • The application asks for information about and signatures of owners. Nonprofits, including churches, do not have owners, so these fields can be marked “not applicable”.
  • The form asks for the number of employees you have. This should be your average headcount over the last 12 months, including 1099 contractors. The count should be number of people – there is no differentiation between full-time and part-time employees and contractors for the purpose of this question.
  • Special rules apply for any employees whose earnings (including salary and SECA reimbursement) exceed $100,000. See this fact sheetfor details.
  • The attached spreadsheet can be used to calculate your salary amounts.

While we are still awaiting specific guidance about exactly what documentation will be required alongside the application, congregations can begin preparing by assembling the following information. It is possible that not all of this information will be required. It is also possible that other information not listed here will be required. This list is based on the guidance we have at the moment, and additional information is emerging quickly.

  • IRS 501(c)3 letter
  • Vestry or bishop’s committee minutes documenting authorization to apply for the loan.
  • Copies of driver’s license, passport, or other proof of identity, of parish officers (rector/priest-in-charge, wardens, treasurer)
  • Proof of payroll for the last 12 months. Because it is not yet clear exactly what time frame will be requested, you should assemble payroll data beginning January 1, 2019 through the present. This documentation should include payroll summaries and bank statements from the same period. Quarterly IRS forms 940 and 941 may be required. If you do not have this information at hand, please contact your payroll provider.
  • Statements indicating a breakdown of payroll-associated benefits, including pension payments, employer 403(b) contributions, health insurance, and dental insurance (if paid by the employer). Note that for clergy health insurance, we are awaiting guidance on whether the congregation or the diocese will be considered the payer for the purposes of this loan program.
  • 1099s for individual 1099 contractors. Omit 1099s issued to LLCs or 1099s for payments other than non-employee compensation.
  • Recent mortgage or rent statements (if applicable).
  • Recent utility bills.

About loan forgiveness:

Most or all of the loan is forgivable, provided the following standards are met:

  • Loan proceeds must be spent on qualifying expenses: payroll and associated benefits, rent, utilities, and mortgage interest, within eight weeks following the issuance of the loan.
  • Staff and payroll must be maintained for the eight-week period after the loan is issued.
  • While not required, it is advisable that churches set up a separate account for administration of loan proceeds, to make it easier to document compliance with these standards.
  • For any portion of the loan not forgiven, payments may be deferred for six months, with a maximum 10-year term, a maximum interest rate of 4%, and no prepayment penalty.

PPP loans are unsecured, so they may be applied for without the approval of the Standing Committee.

Frequently asked questions pertaining to faith-based organizations can be found here.

OTHER FINANCIAL RELIEF PROVISIONS IN THE CARES ACT

Refundable payroll tax credits: This small-scale relief, which provides employers a 50% credit for their share of Social Security taxes while business operations are suspended, is not available to employers who receive a PPP loan. This provision is not likely to apply to congregations in the Diocese of Maryland.

Expansion of unemployment insurance: Church workers are not generally eligible for unemployment benefits because churches generally do not pay into the unemployment insurance system. The CARES Act expands the definition of who qualifies for coverage to include church employees displaced due to the pandemic. Additionally, the act provides $600 per week in addition to the state unemployment benefit to any displaced church worker, including clergy and 1099 employees. States are in charge of administration of unemployment benefits, and we do not yet know exactly how the Maryland Division of Unemployment Insurance will respond. Displaced workers should file their unemployment claims online as soon as possible. Processing takes a minimum of 21 days, and the current high volume means it may take longer.

FINANCIAL RELIEF AVAILABLE THROUGH CHURCH PENSION GROUP

CPG is offering a two-month waiver for payment of clergy pension assessments to congregations who meet a strict set of requirements. Please contact Canon Stuart Wright if you are interested in exploring this option.

For all congregations, CPG is providing a 90-day payment grace period, ending June 30, 2020, for the following payments:

  • Pension assessments;
  • Health and dental insurance premiums due to the Medical Trust;
  • Property & casualty insurance premiums and life insurance premiums due to the Church Insurance Company; and
  • Disability insurance premiums to companies administered through CPG.

 

FINANCIAL RELIEF AVAILABLE THROUGH THE BISHOP’S OFFICE

Shared Ministry Allocation Relief: At a special meeting of the Diocesan Council held on April 7, the council approved a one-time voluntary 10% reduction of congregational allocations for 2019. Congregations that remain able to continue making apportionment payments are encouraged to do so.  In addition, we invite all congregations to make the shared ministry allocation the last bill you pay in April and May so that you may continue paying salaries and operating expenses while processing loan applications, etc.

The Bishop’s staff, the Investment & Finance Committee, Program and Budget Committee, and Financial Advisory Board are meeting regularly to monitor the financial impact across the Diocese.

Revolving Loan Payment Holiday: At a special email meeting of the Middendorf Committee in March, the committee voted to give congregations with loans issued by the fund a three month deferral of loan payments. No additional interest will accrue on loans during this period.

Online giving service: Individuals may make gifts to congregations using the diocese’s online giving platform. The diocese will absorb payment processing fees while our churches remain closed. Contributions will be disbursed to congregations each week via check.

Bishops Eugene and Bob, their staff, and the leadership of the diocese are working hard to be responsive to the resource needs, financial and otherwise, to enable on-the-ground ministry in a fast-changing situation, and you can expect future communications on this topic. Even with these relief provisions and government assistance, painful choices about how to most faithfully to use limited financial resources will be unavoidable. Congregations should know that they are not alone in these challenges, and that the Bishop’s staff is available for consultation and assistance each step of the way.

Date
Info

04/24/20
Paycheck Protection Program FAQs

04/08/20
Paycheck Protection Program Loan Amount

04/08/20
IRS Tax Exempt Letter

04/08/20
IRS Tax Exempt Letter Confirmation

04/08/20
IRS Tax Exempt Letter Subordinates

04/01/20
Slides from Clergy Webinar

04/01/20
Borrower Paycheck Protection Program Application

04/01/20
Paycheck Protection Program Borrower Info Sheet

04/01/20
Paycheck Protection Program Lender Info Sheet

COMMUNICATIONS, TECHNOLOGY AND LIVESTREAMING RESOURCES

ONLINE SECURITY IN THE AGE OF ZOOM

“ZOOM Bombing” and other ZOOM security issues

During this pandemic, there is plenty to be anxious about. Your communications team doesn’t want ZOOM to be one of those things. You are all working so hard to keep your communities together online. We want to work together with you to help keep you safe and reduce anxiety. “ZOOM Bombing” occurs when an unwelcome and unknown guest is determined to disrupt worship or a meeting by using technology to “break in” to your meeting. Recently ZOOM has acknowledged that recordings of their meetings were found to be searchable on Google ( a quick search for URLs that include Zoom.us leads hackers to find unprotected links of multiple meetings they can jump into. Similarly, links to public meetings can be found scattered across organizational pages on social media. Below are tips and instructions how to protect your ZOOM meeting.

While there are no guarantees against determined trolls, there are a few ways to improve overall privacy levels when using Zoom.

  1. Don’t use the Personal Meeting ID for you meetings. Instead, use a per-meeting ID, exclusive to a single meeting (or series of meetings). Zoom’s support page offers a video walk-through on how to generate a random meeting ID for extra security. Adding a password can be helpful but if it’s embedded in the link, it’s still easy for an unwelcome guest to join the meeting.
  2. For large gatherings like a worship service… Assign at least two meeting co-hosts (we’ll call them Ushers). These co-hosts (ushers) will be able to help control the situation in case anyone bypasses your efforts and disrupts the meeting or worship service.
  3. To appoint your worship/meeting ushers, go to Settings icon, then to the Meetings tab. Scroll down to Co-host and make sure it is enabled. If Zoom asks you for verification, click Turn On.
  4. Enable the “Waiting Room” feature for Vestry meetings, retreats or youth gatherings so you can see who is attempting to join the meeting before allowing them access. A skillful disrupter can sometimes bypass this control, but it helps to put another hurdle in their route to chaos and this is where your “ushers” can be helpful.

Disable other options, including the ability for others to Join Before Host (it should be disabled by default, but check to be sure — see below). Then disable screen-sharing for non-hosts, and also the remote control function. Finally, disable all file transferring, annotations and the autosave feature for chats.

How to…

Disable the features above by clicking on the gear-shaped Settings icon on the upper-right side of the page after you’ve logged in. From there, you’ll see the option to turn off most of the listed features.

Disable Screen Sharing using the host controls at the bottom of your screen, and you’ll see an arrow next to Share Screen. Click the arrow, then click Advanced Sharing Options. Go to Who can share? Click Only Host, then close the window.

What do I do if someone Zoombombs our Zoom worship or meeting?

It happened. Despite your careful efforts of prevention, some jackal has gotten into the meeting to cause chaos for kicks. Short of ending the meeting entirely, here are two things you can do to try and get rid of them. Here’s where your “ushers” can be helpful.

Lock them out. Go to the Participants List in the navigation sidebar, and scroll down to More. Click Lock Meeting to stop further participants from entering the meeting and to be able to remove participants.

Shut them up. Have yourself or one of your co-hosts go to the Participants List, again scrolling down to the bottom, and click Mute All Controls. This makes it so the unwelcome participant can’t use their microphone to disrupt your audio.

Behind the scenes tips on livestreaming from the Rev. Steve McCarty

A huge thanks to Fr. Steve McCarty for doing this livestream demo for us while livestreaming! 🙂 Steve is the vicar of Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church, Clear Spring and has been offering virtual worship via Facebook Live for about five years. Watch his demo for a walk through on how to set up and offer a pastoral presence on a low budget. These are great tips!

READ MORE

A Brief Introduction to Creating a Virtual Choir

We’re in a weird world where we’re all having to adapt. One of the ways ensemble musicians are adapting is by finding ways to still make music – or give the illusion of making music – in a group. One popular approach to this is the “Virtual Choir” (though, note you could substitute any ensemble type here).

READ MORE

Three things you can do today to increase participation on your church’s Facebook page

In your next church newsletter, remind your parishioners to LIKE your church’s Facebook page. Provide them with a direct link to your page in the newsletter. Because so many churches have the same names, it is not always easy to locate even your own church’s page.

READ MORE

GUIDELINES FOR PASTORAL, SACRAMENTAL AND OUTREACH MINISTRIES

Guidelines for pastoral and outreach services during the coronavirus epidemic, the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, March 20, 2020

We are in the midst of learning how to continue to be the Church in this time of the COVID-19 crisis. The situation is changing rapidly, and guidelines from our public health officials are updated daily to stem the rising numbers of coronavirus cases. The President of the United States, our governor and other government bodies are all calling for limits on public gatherings, if not totally canceling them altogether. The diocese takes these public directives very seriously, and we are all called to follow the guidelines issued by those whom we trust have to safeguard us in times of crisis.

We also know as clergy that we have a pastoral responsibility to help people ritualize the important milestones in their lives: we must baptize, confirm, marry, feed the hungry, care for the sick, and perform burial rites with persons and their families at crucial moments that cannot be rescheduled quickly or easily, if at all. The Church, in following the way of Jesus, simply must find a way to meet the real and legitimate spiritual and pastoral needs of people – even in the midst of a crisis. Below are our guidelines, which we will update as required, for meeting these needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR YOUTH

As online interaction increases between personnel and youth due to the implementation of online learning tools, it is important that the correct policies and procedures are in place. Please follow the provided guidelines based on your electronic communication policy: Electronic Communications with Youth in Challenging Times [Download PDF]

As always, follow mandated reporting laws and be sure to report your findings if you suspect abuse or neglect of any sort. You can find your local State Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Numbers HERE.

For those working towards providing emergency childcare services, please refer to this guide: Top 10 Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Essentials for Emergency Childcare [Download PDF]

OUTREACH MINISTRIES

As followers of Jesus, we are reminded not to shy away from the face of a potential emergency.  Neither are we to panic.  By faith, we can continue to act with power, love, and self-discipline that comes from God.  Now, more than ever, the people in our various communities need the Church to show up – regardless of the current situation at hand and the various restrictions in place.  How do we do that effectively, mindfully, and with due caution and respect needed for the situation we are currently experiencing?  By remaining active, by being the Church in a different, but same way as always.

Episcopal Relief & Development has provided some guidelines for all of us to continue with our outreach ministries in a mindful and direct way.  There is great opportunity to use the gifts of your parishioners to meet the needs of those in high risk groups. For the people you are connected with already, such as older adults, immigrants or those who experience mental illness, addictions, frequent incarceration or homelessness, here are some tips:

  • Connect people to local health, psychological and spiritual resources.
  • If you have questions about what is advisable in your area, please reach out to your local public health department. 
  • For feeding and outreach ministries, prepare food and deliver food and goods wearing gloves. You likely want to shift from congregate feeding to to-go service, drive up distribution or delivery.
  • If you have parishioners who are hospitalized or in other care facilities, contact the hospital/care facility first to determine if you are allowed to make a pastoral care visit before going to the facility.  Use all universal precautions when in a hospital/care facility and limit your time with the individual.  Pastoral care calls are also encouraged to limit exposure if the individual is able to receive calls.
  • Mobilize parishioners with different language skills to help people who don’t know English gain access to services and understand their rights as employees or tenants, among other legalities.
  • If activities have been suspended at your local church, figure out ways to continue them via social media, email or phone. This is especially important for those with limited social connections. You may even be able to visit through a door or window, on the phone.
  • A ministry of letter/card writing for those homebound, hospitalized and/or imprisoned is highly recommended and encouraged. 
  • When speaking with parishioners, collect contact information for their relatives and people in their support system. You may be asked to help them with spiritual care support.

 

MINISTRY AND RESPONSE

 

  • During disasters and epidemics, remember this acronym:I.A.–Community, Information and Agency. As church and community leaders, support your community and maintain connection throughout the event, provide your community with verified information about the health and safety implications of the event and then allow them to decide what’s best for them.
  • Maintain community, whether safely in person or online. Learn more ways to connect using remote tools.
  • Bolster outreach ministries to prepareto help low-income hourly workers who call out of work. Encourage those who may consider going to work for the sake of income to stay home because you can offer assistance.
  • Many of our churches have important feeding programs for people living with homelessness or for other marginalized people. Keep these points in mind:
  • Wash all dishes in a dishwasher rather than by hand, as the water heats to higher temperatures and the dishwasher cleans more thoroughly.
  • Use paper goods if you do not have a dishwasher in the church.
  • Wear gloves to hand out non-perishable food and other items.
  • If you need to serve food, please ban self-service buffets and have all food served in individual containers, or by food servers wearing gloves. Do not allow other people to handle the serving pieces.

MARRIAGE AND WEDDINGS

The bishop empowers all rectors and priests-in-charge to make the decisions at the congregational level as to when and how marriages are to be conducted during this period. Clergy are to talk with the couples and families involved about how to weigh their desires for the service versus the health risk that we are all faced with. For instance…

  • Ask if the wedding can be rescheduled, or perhaps performed with a simple ceremony with fewer than 10 people in attendance, and with the expectation that a larger celebration will occur at a later (and safer) time with all invited guests when the earlier vows can be renewed or re-enacted for all to witness. (Please note that the bishop is open to being quite expansive and creative liturgically in this unusual time when our theology of pastoral care must at times supersede our theology of worship for the sake of the Gospel.)
  • If not rescheduled, can the wedding ceremony go on as planned with provision made for the wedding party and attendees not being within three to six feet of one another? “Social distancing” is our primary defense when we gather with others.
  • Do not celebrate the Eucharist as part of the ceremony at this time.
  • Or, in summary, what is the level of health risk they would be comfortable with for themselves and for that of their guests?
  • Again, clergy do not need a bishop’s permission to perform or cancel weddings at your parish, but please let the bishop’s office know how you plan to handle weddings during this time. We can all share our “best practices” with other colleagues in ministry, and thus help each other.

FUNERALS

The following rules are strongly recommended for funerals:

  • Clergy should minister pastorally to families in time of the death of a loved one.
  • When possible, funerals and memorial services should be postponed until restrictions on gatherings are lifted.
  • If the family is uncomfortable with waiting, a small funeral, not to exceed ten people, may be held in the church or at graveside. A memorial service might be held at a later time to accommodate more people.
  •  Ashes may be interred at any time by the clergy and no more than nine family members.
  • Wherever there is a small gathering people are encouraged to stand several feet apart from one another.
  • Hand washing, not shaking hands, and all the other now usual procedures for cleanliness should be followed.

CONFIRMATION

Visitations on Sunday mornings are canceled for the immediate future. Nevertheless, there are people in our diocese prepared to be confirmed or received. The following is recommended to meet the needs of any for whom this sacrament is time-sensitive (for example persons elected to vestry who need to be confirmed or received to legally function).

  • Where possible, confirmations and receptions should be delayed until Episcopal visitations resume.
  • Confirmation or reception may be arranged for individuals or up to ten people with one of the bishops.
  • As is mandated, the bishop must lay hands on each person. However, between confirming each person the bishop shall thoroughly wash his hands with an antiseptic wipe.
  • This procedure will also be used for persons being received.
  • The usual cleanliness practices along with limiting the number of participants (no more than ten), and social distancing should be followed.

PASTORAL CARE TO THE SICK AND DYING

In 1527 Martin Luther wrote a pastoral letter to those coping with the Plague.  In it he strongly encouraged those responsible for both the temporal well being of patients as well as the pastors to live out their vocations in the care of the sick.  While we can affirm his devotion to those who are suffering, our knowledge of transmission causes us to reorder our priorities.

Among the most emotionally laden sacramental rites are those of Anointing (healing) and the Ministration at the Time of Death, commonly known as Last Rites or Extreme Unction. In light of the present virus crisis, we have to make some adjustments.

  • If the sick individual is in a patient care facility, please contact the chaplain to see what their protocol is.
  • If you are denied access, it may be because the staff doesn’t understand how important this rite is to an Episcopalian. It’s alright to try and make the case for Last Rites.
  • If you gain access, it’s virtually impossible to bless an individual with oil without touching them. While gloves are far from ideal, it’s better than not being able to administer the oil at all.
  • If still denied, attempt to get as close as you can and pray with the individual. Even if the patient is gravely ill, our voices and prayers are sure to reach them on some level plane of consciousness.
  • Needless to say, if the clergy person is exhibiting flu-like symptoms or has been exposed to the virus, he or she should attempt to get another priest to see the patient.  Even if the individual is dying, there will be others there who would be in danger of exposure.

 

Regarding anointing the sick who aren’t in danger of death, again, while that is ideal, it may not be permitted by the institution. Prayers for the individuals will suffice in this case.

 

BAPTISM

In general the rubrics for Holy Baptism specify that baptism is a community celebration that should normatively be celebrated as part of the Sunday celebration of Holy Eucharist.  During this time the celebration of Holy Baptism should be deferred until churches reopen for regular Sunday and daily worship. However, this is a time when baptismal preparation of parents, godparents and older candidates is encouraged through web-based tools such as YouTube, Facebook and ZOOM calls.

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer does offer specific guidance about Emergency Baptism (p. 313). Extraordinary pastoral reasons for baptisms may emerge at this time in which it is important to offer a “private” baptism. In such cases a private service of no more than ten people can be held in the church without holy communion. (Book of Common Prayer 1979, Holy Baptism, pp. 299-308). The usual precautions for washing hands, practicing safe social distancing, except for the baptism, should be observed. At the earliest opportunity the newly baptized should be welcomed into the congregation at a Sunday celebration of the Holy Eucharist using such services as A Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child (BCP p.439 ff.) or Welcoming Returning Members and Members Baptized in other Traditions (Book of Occasional Services 2003 p. 139 ff.) or following the rubrics for Welcoming New People to a Congregation (Book of Occasional Services 2003, p.112.)

RECONCILIATION OF A PENITENT

Private confessions may be heard. Preferably these should be face-to-face meetings in a small conference room where safe social distancing can be practiced (three feet). One of the sacramental signs of the rite is placing a hand on the shoulder of the person making a confession during the absolution. Alcohol wipes or hand sanitizer should be available for both participants in which hands are cleaned before the rite begins and the officiant’s hand is cleaned after the absolution.

CORONOVIRUS (COVID-19) RESOURCES

An epidemic is a large-scale outbreak of an infectious disease, such as influenza or coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Our role in responding, as churches, dioceses and compassionate Christians, is to:

  • Combat fear with knowledge in order to encourage preparedness and decrease stigma.
  • Maintain operational continuity and continue worship life in the case of potential quarantine and disruption.
  • Show God’s compassion and care to those in our communities who are affected.

These are general guidelines; decisions should be made in collaboration with Church leadership and health authorities, based on local practices and safety concerns. See the Episcopal Relief and Development Resources for Epidemics and COVID-19 information, as well as those of the Maryland Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines by using the buttons above.