Monday, November 22nd, 2021
“I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
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:
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:
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:
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.
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