COVID-19 March 13 Update

COVID-19 March 13 Update

Dear People of God:

Following discussions this day with several diocesan clergy and others I am directing all Episcopal Churches in the Diocese of Oregon, beginning on March 22, to discontinue all public Sunday services for the remainder of the month.

I also ask that you take other measures you deem necessary to safeguard the people in the church, keeping in mind the request to practice social distancing. This may include closing the church during the week as well and canceling midweek services.

As I continue to monitor the situation with the COVID-19 virus, watching for signals from national, state, and local officials and listening carefully to my sister and brother bishops in neighboring dioceses, it has become apparent to me that we must do all in our power to slow the progress of the spread of this virus. It is in that spirit that I make this directive.

Many congregations here in Oregon and across the country are already making the decision to close for a limited period of time and I invite you to consider this a Lenten fast from the practice of regular Sunday attendance at worship. I hope that you will watch for news from your local congregation about ways the leadership is working to keep us in touch with each other during this period of time.

As these weeks unfold we will see if this directive needs to be extended for additional time. We are a resurrection people and Easter is coming. Let us continue to walk the way of the cross, the way of Jesus, and to pray for the safety of those most vulnerable.

You remain in my prayers,

Bishop Michael Hanley
Episcopal Diocese of Oregon

COVID-19 March 12 Update

Dear Friends in Christ:

For the past three days the bishops of The Episcopal Church have been meeting virtually for our spring House of Bishops meeting. During this time, we have addressed several important topics, not the least of which is our response to COVID-19. The situation we are facing is new and changing day by day and as leaders in the community we are all called to make the best response to insure the safety and security of everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us.

I have also been working closely with Heidi Pitts, our diocesan Communications Director, and we have been monitoring the state and local government news about how we should be making decisions concerning church meetings at this time. We will continue to do so and we will make changes to our recommendations as they are deemed necessary. Please continue to look to us and to other reliable sources as you make your own decisions about how to respond to the spread of the virus in your context.

At present the governor of the state, Kate Brown, has asked that meetings of over 250 individuals be canceled. She has said nothing specifically to the religious community and no request has been made to discontinue worship services of under 250 people. Out of an abundance of caution the diocese has made the decision to cancel or postpone a number of events that are scheduled for the next several weeks. We will continue to evaluate these decisions as needed.

Please know that should the clergy in charge of a congregation decide to cancel Sunday services, I will support them. Should the clergy in charge of a congregation decide to continue with Sunday services, I will support them. As the Presiding Bishop shared with us, this is a situation in which local context is key and it in that spirit that I offer my direction to you.

Please do also be aware that pastoral care is of critical importance in this issue. There are people who will experience a heightened sense of social isolation if they are prevented from connecting with others on Sunday morning. My question to you is, how might you mitigate that isolation with other forms of connection?

Should anyone have questions or concerns I do hope you will reach out to me and or to Heidi as we continue to try to offer best practices that are the best hope for the community in the coming days. Please remember Christ’s calling to be not afraid and live in the hope of resurrection.

Bishop Michael Hanley
Episcopal Diocese of Oregon

COVID-19 March 9 Update

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Remind the congregation and staff that, if ill, they should not come to work or attend Sunday services.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.
  6. Intinction: If using the common cup stop this practice, including intinction by the Eucharistic ministers.
  7. Holy Water: Remove holy water from all fonts.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10.  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.

In Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Michael Hanley
Bishop of Oregon

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