Last updated: 31 March 2020
As developments around the coronavirus continue to manifest at a rapid rate, the Diocese of North Carolina continues to do all it can to help stem the spread and support our churches. On March 12, the Rt. Rev. Sam Rodman and the Rt. Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple released a statement on how the Diocese will proceed in the coming weeks, and updates have continued from there. Please visit this page often, as we will keep it updated with the latest status on a number of fronts.
The Diocese is committed to following these practices and doing all we can to ensure the health and safety of our brothers and sisters. 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. Read the bishops' statement.
On March 23, the bishops offered additional guidance for Palm Sunday and Holy Week, including safe practices for distributing palms and further clarification around communion practices in response to questions from clergy and lay people.
FROM THE DIOCESE: The bishops and diocesan staff are working in partnership with several churches across the diocese to produce worship resources for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. These resources will include both sermons and full pre-recorded services (except for Holy Saturday). They are intended to supplement what you're already doing or take the pressure off if you simply need them; as always, they are not intended to replace what you are offering. More information will be available here as the resources are completed.
FROM VTS: For those looking for resources and ideas to help develop Holy Week and Easter offerings online, Virginia Theological Seminary produced a two-part webinar, "Triduum in Quarantine: Planning Holy Week Services That Honor Social Distancing" to help churches provide sacred worship opportunities in this unique and challenging time. Presented by the Rev. James Farwell, Ph.D., professor of Theology and Liturgy, and Lisa Kimball, Ph.D., and James Maxwell Professor of Lifelong Christian Formation at Virginia Seminary, these webinars help to imagine (and plan for) Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and the Great Vigil of Easter when congregations cannot assemble in person.
Many churches are choosing to livestream worship services incorporate other technology to keep communities connected. (Read here for some great ideas.) In an effort to ensure this effort is maximized in terms of improving safety, the following parameters 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
- 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 physical distancing and ongoing self-monitoring around their health at all times.
ONLINE VESTRY MEETINGS
One area of concern for many churches is the ability of vestries to meet online and meet canonical requirements, 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.
EUCHARISTIC / 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.
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 here.
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.
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.
The Diocese understands the financial ramifications not just of the suspension of services, but the pandemic as a whole, and we are working to help alleviate that strain. Now is the time to start paying attention and making adjustments, and the Diocese has created a financial guidance and resource page to get you started in a number of different areas.
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.
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