Diocesan Update on Coronavirus: March 17
It’s hard to believe a week ago today, we were still contemplating adaptations within worship services. A week ago today, the suspension of services and the idea of not being able to gather was not even a topic of active discussion. What a difference a week makes, and what a week it’s been.
Since we first announced the suspension of in-person worship and gatherings, the response we have seen across the Diocese has been a phenomenal testament to the depth of your faith and the power of beloved community. In church after church, whether online or in other ways, we have seen a spirit at work that refuses to submit to despair, instead springing into action to ensure community continues and looking already to how it can be expanded.
We are blessed to see it, for as many of you know, we started the week with an updated recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control to lower the number of people gathered anywhere to 50 for at least a period of eight weeks. As we have said all along, we are following the recommendations of both the medical experts and health authorities to do all we can to help stem the spread of the coronavirus, and so as of today, the suspension of in-person worship and gatherings is extended to encompass the eight-week period, taking us at least through May 17.
Of course, this extension puts us in uncharted territory, and it’s a challenge to which we will rise. As Holy Week and Easter approach, we will find new and innovative ways to celebrate that which is sacred to us, and we will do it together, even as we continue to be faithful practitioners of social distancing.
Holy Week and Easter are not the only areas around which people across the Diocese have questions. We are in ongoing contact with church leadership, and we are working to address these questions. For some we have answers for you here. For others, we will share the work in progress and keep you updated as answers are found. In all cases, we remind you that all parameters and restrictions are in place because we are doing all we can to stem the spread of coronavirus and return as soon as possible to a life where restrictions are not necessary. Every one of us plays a part in making that happen, in following best practices and health guidelines, in taking care of ourselves and each other, and keeping in mind – always – how our actions may impact the greater good of others.
Most of you are acquainted by now with the diocesan resource page about the coronavirus. The information gathered has grown to where it cannot be contained in one spot, and so in addition to the main page, several additional pages have been added, the most notable of which is the situation summary page. This page is important, for on it we will keep the most up-to-date information on many of the areas below. What is posted there is what is currently in place. We encourage you to access it often.
What a joy it was to be able to attend so many services this past Sunday! With a substantial number of our churches making their worship available via livestreaming, we were able to enjoy the beauty of worship after worship. In that variety, we noted a need to implement parameters to ensure every church follows best practices and limits the number of people involved in order to maximize the safety effects these efforts are intended to accomplish. As of now, the following protocols are to be followed:
- The maximum number of people assisting with the livestream worship is six:
- 2 Video crew (1 camera person + 1 audio person; note: if the broadcast is managed by one person, this does not mean adding an extra person below)
- 2 Musicians (1 Organist or Pianist + 1 Cantor or Singer)
- 1 Lector or 1 Server (priest, deacon or lay)
- 1 Celebrant or Officiant (priest, deacon or lay officiant); this person will also serve as preacher
- Multi-clergy parishes should rotate celebrants and lectors or consider assigning different staff members to cover different online offerings (e.g. Eucharists, daily offices and formation.)
- Communion: The use of the common cup is to be suspended until this crisis has passed. Communion is to be offered in one kind, bread only, and should be administered by the celebrant alone. Wine will be consecrated by the celebrant but not consumed during the service. Following the service, the normal practices of the parish will be followed concerning the consecrated wine and bread. The celebrant should visibly wash and sanitize their hands before consecrating and distributing the bread.
- Log everyone involved: Every one of the 5-6 people assisting with the livestreaming should be signed in with contact information to ensure should someone become infected, exposure can be tracked and quarantined. Everyone involved should maintain effective social distancing and ongoing self-monitoring around their health at all times.
Online Vestry Gatherings
One area of concern for many churches is the ability of vestries to meet online, especially as this is necessary while in-person meetings are suspended. Diocesan Canon 33.1 does permit vestries to adopt by-laws that authorize meetings by teleconference. If your vestry has not yet adopted this by-law, please read here for instructions on how to do so.
This is a unique area, as it is one of the few situations where closings are not yet mandated. We understand the discernment faced by those providing direct life-giving services such as food pantries, feeding ministries, diaper banks and medical resources.
At this time, we are not directing any ministry to close or stay open. This is a discernment you must do around the health and safety of your workers, volunteers and clients, and we will support the decision you make. For those that continue, we direct such ministries to restructure as necessary after consulting with experts in the respective ministry areas to ensure best practices in this public health crisis context.
Best practices collected from around the diocese are available on the here.
Eucharistic and Pastoral Visits
For now, all home visits are suspended while the Diocese researches best safety practices and alternatives to allow the pastoral care to continue without undue risk to either party and, by extension, the wider community. We understand this is an area of deep concern for our clergy and lay pastors. It is our sincere hope to have a protocol in place that will allow visits to resume before this eight-week time frame elapses; we are actively consulting with medical experts and church leaders to find ways to make this happen.
In the interim, we encourage you to coordinate with chaplains at hospitals and assisted living facilities to provide pastoral counsel to parishioners in their care.
The suspension of lay Eucharistic home visits was put in place last week as they put both the visitor and parishioner at risk. We highly encourage clergy, lay ministers and all parishioners to employ phone calls and utilize video conferencing technology like Zoom and Google Hangouts to conduct pastoral and social visits; all are a great way to stay connected.
The Diocese understands the financial ramifications not just of the suspension of services, but of the pandemic as a whole, and we are working to help alleviate that strain. First and foremost, we encourage everyone to continue to support their congregations by the methods provided by their congregations. Honor your pledges, and take advantage of the online giving options many churches have available.
For those churches who do not have online options available, the Diocese has created a giving option to help gather donations. By using the diocesan link, donors may designate their giving for a specific church, or they may donate to a general fund to be used to relieve financial stress as the Diocese designates to do so. If your parish is facing an immediate financial challenge, please contact the Rev. Canon David Sellery, canon for congregational mission, at 919-834-7474 x.5303.
Any non-essential gatherings should be cancelled, postponed or moved online.
Funerals present a particularly difficult challenge, and there are no easy solutions. Please be in touch with your local funeral director as well as hospice providers. Postpone any public gathering for a memorial service at a later time, and no one should travel for either memorial or private burial. Graveside services can probably be conducted with appropriate social distancing and other precautions. We hope to be providing clearer, more specific guidance soon.
Many of our churches extend the use and hospitality of their spaces to outside groups. Some of these are considered critical ministries and services; some are not. For now, provided you can meet social distancing and cleaning requirements, we leave it to you to be in conversation with those partners about whether or not to continue this hospitality; if you do, we strongly recommend you follow the recommendations of local health and government authorities. If you cannot meet social distancing requirement and safety precautions as outlined by health authorities, gatherings are not to be held.
Church Staffs and Schools
We highly recommend that church staff members, as much as possible, be allowed to work from home.
Parochial schools and daycare facilities should follow the recommendations and decisions of your county schools and county health officials. All public schools are currently closed by order of Governor Roy Cooper.
Diocesan House is currently closed with diocesan staff working from home, and will be until further notice. Please note: If you call a staff member's extension at Diocesan House, your voice mail will be forwarded to that person's email. Please be patient with any delay it causes.
As we said earlier, many questions are still seeking definitive answers. Working groups are being formed around several topics; if you are a church leader interested in participating in one of these working groups, please contact the Rev. Canon David Sellery.
The working groups in progress include:
- Eucharistic and pastoral visits
Update (March 23): The following working groups are formed; no additional members are needed at this time.
- Direct-service ministries
- At-home formation (children, family and adult)
As you can see, there is a lot happening as we work to find our way settling in to this pause in our normal lives. Because it is only a pause; we may not know how long it will last, but it will not be forever. For now, we encourage each and every one of you to seek the gifts to be found during a very trying time. For every different approach, see if it brings you connections, insights or feelings you didn’t have before. In thinking how to remain connected as beloved community, recognize how it has you thinking more deeply about your brothers and sisters.
We are in this together, and we will make it through this. The last week has proved that, and we are grateful for your faithfulness and courage. We are comforted in knowing we are loved and guided by our Lord, Jesus Christ, and we rejoice that if we must journey through a trying time, we are doing with you, the beloved faithful of the Diocese of North Carolina.
A Prayer for Our Nation and the World in the Light of this Pandemic
Ever-creating God, be with us as the pall of this COVID-19 pandemic falls upon this “fragile earth” which is our “island home.” We hold in our hearts and prayers all who are suffering in our nation from “sea to shining sea.” We pray for the whole world. Our common anxiety is making us one, undivided human family. We pray for world leaders as they chart these unknown waters. Strengthen them to walk into the Light of a new, healing day for the whole planet. Help us to cross our broken lands and be for each other bridges back to heaven. Lift the cares to which we cling. Descend, O God, on us all to be our Guest. Show us how to find in everything blessing and rest. May this be our prayer while we do not know how to pray and until the last light lingers in the west. Amen, in the name of our creating, redeeming and sustaining God.
(Prayer by the Rev. Dr. Barney Hawkins, with indebtedness to Malcolm Guite and Flannery O’Connor, two of his companions on the way)