From Bishop Shannon
Update March 25, 2020
On March 25, Bishop Shannon directed our church buildings to be closed for the duration of Vermont’s “stay at home, stay safe” order. Read the letter.
Update March 18, 2020
On March 18, Bishop Shannon wrote to the people of the diocese asking parish leaders to forego in-person Holy Week and Easter services. Read her letter.
Update March 14, 2020
On March 14, Bishop Shannon wrote to the people of the diocese asking that all parish clergy cancel public in-person worship until further notice. Read her letter.
Update March 11, 2020
As the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to spread in Vermont, I am writing to offer additional guidance about worship and our common life. While many of the precautions that I commended to you on February 28 are still essential, our common concern for the most vulnerable among us now dictates additional measures.
On Monday, I wrote to clergy directing that they cease offering communion wine, either for sipping or intinction, for the near future. Please be assured that this is a temporary change and that our gathering as the body of Christ remains real and valid. It is also perfectly appropriate to offer Morning Prayer led by laypeople or clergy on any Sunday. Clergy who do preside at the Eucharist are to consecrate a small amount of wine and then, after the service, pour it down a piscina or into the dirt. I discourage the practice of clergy receiving the cup when laypeople are barred from it.
I have also asked that all clergy, lay Eucharistic ministers and altar guild members continue to wash their hands thoroughly before handling communion wafers and use hand sanitizer visibly during liturgy.
Since then, I have had the opportunity to consider with colleagues other measures that we can take to slow the spread of disease and help prevent our health systems from becoming overwhelmed. Effective immediately, all diocesan meetings will be held via Zoom until further notice. I also ask that all congregations and worshipping communities:
- Use wafers for communion rather than bread baked in people’s homes
- Suspend direct physical contact at the peace or when offering prayer or blessings
- Drain baptismal fonts
- Place the offering plate in a central location in the church rather than passing it hand-to-hand
- Clean altar rails frequently and encourage people who are able to stand rather than kneel at the rail to receive communion.
- Encourage anyone who feels sick to stay home. This includes clergy; as is already the practice in many of our congregations, lay-led worship is appropriate any time that clergy are unable to preside at the Eucharist.
- Consider limiting or cancelling coffee hour and ensure that any volunteers wash their hands and handle food with plastic gloves or utensils.
- Explore ways to hold church meetings online. You can find a guide to worshipping online on the website, and many of the tools offered there can also be used for vestry meetings and other church gatherings.
- Consider how to care for the most vulnerable in your congregation and community while still slowing the spread of the virus. Are there people who you might make sure receive a daily phone call? Are there places where you might be able to provide assistance or supplies and agencies with which you might partner? Especially in these difficult times, our commitment to God’s mission remains unchanged.
Finally, please join me in praying for those who are vulnerable to this virus, for those who care for them, and for all the people of God who are finding ways to remain in community during these challenging times. I will be in touch often as the situation unfolds, and I invite you to be in touch with me via email or with Pamela Van de Graaf via email if you have particular questions or concerns.
Peace and blessings,
For the Sick
Heavenly Father, giver of life and health: Comfort and relieve those who are sick, and give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs. May they be strengthened in their weakness and have confidence in your loving care; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (modified BCP 260)
For Doctors and Nurses
Sanctify, O Lord, those whom you have called to the study and practice of the arts of healing, and to the prevention of disease and pain. Strengthen them by your life-giving Spirit, that by their ministries the health of the community may be promoted and your creation glorified; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 460)
For People Facing Uncertainty
God of the present moment, God who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart; bring hope and courage to us all as we wait in uncertainty. Bring hope that you will make us the equal of whatever lies ahead. Bring us courage to endure what cannot be avoided, for your will is health and wholeness; you are God, and we need you.” (edited excerpt From: “A New Zealand Prayer Book.”)
***February 28, 2020 On Tuesday, federal health officials urged Americans to begin preparing for the spread of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Churches can play an important role in sharing accurate information and educating people about commonsense measures to slow the progress of the virus. Here are some resources to help clergy and lay leaders make decisions about how their congregations and community programs can respond to coronavirus: Episcopal Relief & Development is posting current information and guidelines on its website. Find reliable information about the symptoms of the virus, how it spreads, and what you can do to prevent it on this page. The best prevention measures include:
- Washing your hands frequently with soap and warm water, including after coughing, sneezing, handling diapers, preparing food or using the bathroom.
- Not touching your face — especially your nose, eyes and mouth — unless you have just washed your hands immediately before that.
- Using alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Staying home when you feel sick.
Bishop Shannon recommends that congregations consider these measures as ways to prepare for limiting the spread of the virus if it should come to Vermont:
- When celebrating the Eucharist or distributing the elements, use hand sanitizer visibly and have hand sanitizer available for worshippers to use.
- Avoid intinction (the dipping of the host or bread into the chalice).
- If worshippers are concerned or are feeling unwell, remind them that the Eucharist is complete when it is received in only one kind—in this case, the bread.
- Encourage worshippers to greet one another during the peace with waves, elbow bumps, bows, or peace signs rather than handshakes or hugs.
- Encourage people who are ill to stay home and assure them that the congregation will pray for them.
- Remind coffee hour volunteers to wash their hands and handle food with plastic gloves or utensils.
If the Vermont Department of Health reports coronavirus cases in our state, we anticipate taking the following actions:
- Encouraging congregations to cancel in-person meetings and worship if their local school districts have closed due to coronavirus concerns.
- Holding Sunday worship via online video.
- Assisting congregations with ministries to hungry, unhoused and homebound people in working with their local health departments and emergency management officials to care safely for those they serve.
Bishop Shannon and her staff are monitoring the situation closely and will be in touch with clergy and lay leaders with additional recommendations if necessary. Email Canon Lynn Bates with questions or concerns.