Dear People of God in the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon:
Grace and peace to you in the Lord. Over the past several days, I have been much in thought and prayer concerning how we respond to the COVID-19 virus, which is spreading quickly in the U.S. and many other parts of the world.
While I am certainly not a medical professional, I have carefully read reliable sources of information available from government and medical sources. I have listened, as well, to the good counsel of my fellow bishops and many wise and informed diocesan clergy.
Yesterday, governor Kate Brown declared a state of emergency so that extra resources can be available to assist in testing and supporting the most vulnerable. At the time of this writing, Oregon appears to have relatively low numbers of cases and there is no need to be alarmed.
However, as you no doubt have seen yourself, information is ever-changing and at times contradictory. There is no way to know all that we might desire to know to make appropriate changes in our lives in response to the current situation.
As people of faith, we are invited to live in the love of God and in concern for our friends and neighbors. This is not a time to react in fear, but rather to be pro-active in ways that promote the common good.
Following are my instructions to the clergy in the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon:
- Hand washing: Please expect staff (and remind all those attending) to wash hands often and correctly. This link from the Centers for Disease Control offers instruction for effective practice.
- Passing the Peace: Before the passing of the peace, please instruct those present to greet one another with a smile and simple bow. Please note the rubric on page 407 of the BCP that allows the exchange of the peace to be moved to the time of the administration of the sacrament, just before or after the sentence of Invitation. This would allow for a verbal only peace.
- Remind the congregation and staff that, if ill, they should not come to work or attend Sunday services.
- Communion: In a number of our churches, the practice of offering both bread and wine at communion has been discontinued. While I am not mandating that change at this time, I fully support that position. (Note that the priest should consecrate a chalice with wine for their own consumption only. I would also remind you that, in Lent, it would be perfectly appropriate to offer Morning Prayer and a sermon instead of Eucharist.)
- Hand sanitizers: Insure that hand sanitizers are available at the church entrance and in the chancel, either purchased products or approved homemade recipes. This link on Popular Science provides two recipes that meet the requirements for effective homemade hand sanitizer.
- Intinction: If using the common cup stop this practice, including intinction by the Eucharistic ministers.
- Holy Water: Remove holy water from all fonts.
- Sunday Eucharistic visits: Please suspend these visits at this point. Of course, please take other measures, such as cards or phone calls, so that shut-ins and others at risk are assured of our love and care.
- Offering plates: End the practice of passing offering plates among the pews. Place a plate at the back of the church or other convenient place or have ushers (who have sanitized their hands) extend the plate while holding on to it. Please instruct those counting monetary offerings to take appropriate precautions.
- Watch carefully for future communications. I will immediately send revised instructions if circumstances require.
As you implement these instructions, I’m sure other ideas may arise. I leave it to the clergy to implement other appropriate measure on behalf of their communities. Please contact me online or by phone with any suggestions, questions, or concerns.
Know that you continue in my prayers as we seek to be the body of Christ for the care of the world.
The Rt. Rev. Michael Hanley
Bishop of Oregon
Other resources for churches:
- March 2020 Disaster Preparedness Checklist: Coronavirus from our Disaster Preparedness Coordinator
- Faith-Based Response to Epidemics from Episcopal Relief & Development
- The Coronavirus and Communities of Faith from Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon
- Concerning COVID-19 resources and statement from Presiding Bishop Michael