Update on Covid Protocols (11/22/21)

Monday, November 22nd, 2021

Logo for the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania

“I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Isaiah 49:6


My Siblings in Christ,

Advent is a sacred time of preparation. As we prepare our hearts for the coming of our Savior, it is also important that we prepare our churches to share the hope and joy of Christmas with our communities. To assist and support you in this ministry, here are the latest protocols and recommendations. 

As you know, the number of cases in our region and across our nation has started to climb again and may continue to do so after Thanksgiving. However, the vast majority are among those who are not vaccinated. This continues to highlight the importance of vaccination as the best tool we have to combat this disease. Gathering for church, fellowship and ministry, especially if employing other precautions such as masks, distancing and ventilation continues to pose only a small (but not non-existent) risk for those who are vaccinated.  Thankfully, the number of fully vaccinated individuals continues to increase and now includes all but the youngest children.

With this in mind, after consulting the Deans and other diocesan leaders, careful review of the science, and prayerful consideration, I have decided to permit the chalice to be reintroduced beginning the weekend of Dec 12. As with all other significant protocol choices, this decision should be made jointly between the clergy-in-charge and the vestry.  

As you discern whether or not this is the right time to reintroduce the chalice, please understand that as with many of our other protocols, this is permission, not a requirement. Given that the virus is transmitted by aerosol, the common cup, when properly administered, does not create a significant risk of transmission. Please, give careful consideration to the feelings of your congregation as well as to how you will include young children who cannot as yet be vaccinated. Churches should not offer the chalice unless and until they have prayerfully discerned that it is right for their community.

If your church chooses to reintroduce the chalice at this time, a church must offer both theological context and practical instruction to help people prepare for the reintroduction.

Most importantly, you must emphasize that receiving the chalice is optional and that receiving in one kind only constitutes full participation in the sacrament. If a person does not feel comfortable receiving the chalice, they should be assured and encouraged to receive the bread only.  In terms of the mechanics, it is important that church leadership thoroughly think through how to offer the chalice in a way that does not significantly increase the amount of interaction between the people. You should also give clear instruction as to how a person who does not wish to receive should indicate this to the minister. Should they cross their arms? Should they simply leave the rail after receiving the host? Another option would be to set up a separate station for the chalice. In this way a person who does not wish to receive might not feel as conspicuous.

Secondly, as before, and in keeping with our polity, only a common chalice should be used as opposed to individual cups. If your church does not feel it is safe to do so at this time, you should not offer it.

If you offer the chalice, you should take every possible step to minimize risk. These include:

  • All persons administering the elements should be fully vaccinated and masked throughout the process of administration.
  • They should wash/sanitize their hands both before they start and at the completion of administering the chalice.
  • They should carefully wipe and rotate the chalice after each administration.
  • To help minimize the risk of transmission, intinction (dipping bread in wine) is strongly discouraged.  If a church chooses to offer intinction, they should consider having all communicants sanitize their hands first.

As you continue to plan your Advent and Christmas services, be prepared to welcome visitors who are not familiar with your current safety protocols and who may or may not be vaccinated. It is therefore appropriate to consider expanding safety measures such as distancing. Whatever steps you take be sure to announce them when advertising your services so people can know what to expect when they come to your church (such as masks and distancing) as well as any virtual options that you are offering.  Primary safety measures include the following:

  • Vaccines: Vaccination continues to be the best possible defense. If you still need to get the vaccine, please contact us. We will help you find a location.
  • Masks: We continue to recommend, in the strongest possible terms, that masks are worn for all indoor gatherings when the vaccination status of participants is not certain, especially for events.
  • Distancing: Depending on your space, distancing of 3-6 feet between people who are not from the same household is recommended. 
  • Ventilation: Maximizing ventilation is recommended as much as the weather will allow. 

Apart from the chalice, our protocols have not changed since the last significant update in May. To help you prepare here are the primary points:

  • Singing: Congregational singing continues to be permitted but masks should be worn and increased distancing considered. 
  • As stated in previous protocols, because of the increased risked posed by singing, choir members should be vaccinated. If they are singing without masks, they should be distanced from the congregation. 
  • Brass and woodwinds: Because of their capacity to project aerosols, mitigating steps such as distancing and/or windsocks should be employed. 
  • Fellowship: Masks should be worn when not eating/drinking. Food and beverage should continue to be offered in individual portions. 
  • Pageants: Pageants are permitted, but because not all children can be vaccinated, additional safety measures should be taken. This includes ensuring that all staff and volunteers working with them are fully vaccinated.
  • Bazaars: Consider taking additional precautions around serving food, including whether or not you will permit dining indoors. Set up tables/vendors in a way that allows for more distancing and minimizes crowding. You may wish to consider setting a capacity limit and admitting people only as space becomes available.
  • Greening: As with all indoor events, masking is strongly encouraged.
  • The Peace: As before, people should pass the peace at a distance with a wave or bow or an elbow bump. They should not shake hands.
  • Books: All prayer books and hymnals may be returned to the church.
  • Passing the Plate: Collection plates may be passed but ushers should be masked. The contents of the plate do not need to be held before being counted however, those counting should wash/sterilize their hands afterwards and may wish to consider wearing disposable gloves. 

As you seek to discern what worship, ministry and fellowship will look like each church must continue to consider the particulars of their own circumstances (building size, ventilation, percentage of people vaccinated, average number of guests, etc.) and then discern the correct procedures for their own context.  In planning for Advent and Christmas, I encourage you to be creative and imaginative. Some helpful ideas can be found in a webinar recorded last year. Although things were much more restrictive then, it still contains some helpful tips and is a good resource document.

Any church wishing to upgrade their technology or improve Internet connectivity in their worship space can apply for a technology grant. For those who need training or advice, you can also request help from our Digital Disciples.

As always, if you have questions, please contact Canons Shawn Wamsley (swamsley@diopa.org) and Kirk Berlenbach (kberlenbach@diopa.org).

Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome him. Let us prepare our churches and our hearts to share the light of his love so that the whole world may be drawn unto him.  

The Rt. Reverend Daniel G. P. Gutiérrez

XVI Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania