Tuesday, April 27th, 2021
“Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,”
1 Peter 1:8
My siblings in Christ,
Over the past year, our priority has been your health; spiritual, mental and physical. For this reason, we have endeavored to be proactive rather than reactive, developing protocols, meeting with officials on all levels and making the difficult decisions. Each decision has been made with you at the forefront. With trust in the Lord, we have thrived and we are growing. With prayer and scientific information, we now prepare for the next stage of our journey. We press on with confidence, knowing that Jesus walks with us, just as he did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We do not always recognize him but we trust in him to guide us all the same.
As more and more of us get the vaccine, our hope for gathering in larger numbers and more varied ways is being made visible. We must continue to be cautious, patient and care for one another. Therefore, I ask you to exercise great caution and care for one another. Please remember that the outdoors is far safer (but still not without risk.) If you gather indoors, in addition to all other protocols, please be sure to both maximize your ventilation and minimize the length of time you are together.
After carefully and prayerfully considering the number and the advice of experts, I offer the following updates to the Guidance for Holy Week and Easter:
Although the number of cases and continued threat of new variants do not allow us to make more extensive changes at this time, we are hopeful that if conditions allow, we will be able to lift a number of restrictions starting June 1. We hope to expand worship capacity indoors to 75%, expand choral singing, allow for the use of prayer books and hymnals, and allow for food and drink as part of hospitality and fellowship, especially outdoors. In light of the most recent CDC guidance, we will also be looking at the role of masks outdoors.
We also hope to expand activities for children and youth. This could include youth programming and in-person activities for children under 12 including VBS (the diocese will be offering a hybrid City Camp this summer) as well as the reintroduction of children’s choirs under the supervision of the Choir Directors following protocols. We are currently creating a guide to assist you in putting the necessary health and safety measures for both the children and the volunteers and staff that work with them. This will be released soon.
Finally, we hope to expand the options around outreach to community including feeding, preparation of foods and clothing ministries.
We will make an announcement to confirm or postpone these changes the week of May 17.
Looking ahead to the fall, as you know, we are working on a comprehensive guide to assist you in fully re-engaging worship, mission and ministry in new and creative ways. This will be released in August. In addition, again assuming that the numbers allow for it, we will also be looking to expand indoor capacity, increase options for singing and consider allowing wine to be offered as part of the Holy Eucharist. I am also pleased to announce that I will also be resuming in-person visitations in September (confirmation, reception, and reaffirmation).
Many of you are asking how the vaccine will affect our health and safety measures. This is a complex issue with not only medical but also legal, ethical and theological dimensions, which we are currently studying. I have directed the Health Committee and the Worship/Theology Committee to work together in compiling a document to help guide you in addressing these issues within a theological framework. This document will be released June 1.
As we consider what may be possible moving forward, I would like to make a special request from all our churches. Since the vaccine has been widely distributed, we ask the clergy to anonymously poll their churches and then give us an estimation of how many people have been vaccinated. Naturally, this should be done in a way that respects people’s privacy and does not exacerbate any political divides. However, that information may help guide you in discerning what activities you can resume more safely and it will help our diocese in crafting future phases of our protocols.
I would also ask that if any of our clergy have not yet been vaccinated, that they please do so as soon as possible. The vaccine is now readily available including at our diocesan clinics. (Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get scheduled). Your participation not only helps to guard your safety and the safety of your people but also serves as a servant role model and encourage all those in your churches to receive the vaccination.
If you have questions, please contact Canon Wamsley (email@example.com) or Canon Berlenbach (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you have a need that is not addressed by or exceeds this guidance, please email me directly, copying them when you do. Please explain what it is you feel called to do, why it is important to your church, and what steps you would take to ensure safety for all involved.
I am truly grateful for your faithfulness and I hold each one of your in my daily prayers. With the joy of the Risen Christ in our hearts, let us press on together in this great journey of faith. Alleluia, Christ is Risen.
Trusting faith over fear,
The Rt. Rev. Daniel G. P. Gutiérrez
XVI Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania