Dear Members of the Diocese of Vermont,
“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
Throughout the pandemic we have been guided by our theology of the Body — that in Jesus Christ we are one Body, called to work together in love and care for all, especially the most vulnerable in our midst. This continues to be our priority even as pandemic restrictions are reduced or removed in our part of God’s world.
As we gather in Lent, COVID-19 rates and hospitalizations are falling in Vermont. We encourage congregations to institute practices of hospitality, generosity, and inclusion that will work best in their situations to meet the needs of their clergy, members, and visitors. Communicate decisions clearly, making changes in sensibly timed rollouts. Always remember there are vulnerable people within our membership and in our communities, including young children. It is out of Christian love that we seek to make sure everyone is included in safe ways.
- We strongly encourage continuing hybrid (online and in-person) worship if possible. We know now that many people want to take part in Sunday church services, but cannot attend in person. Hybrid worship is valid and valuable, and we recommend that congregations continue to offer it.
- We continue to expect everyone attending church to be fully vaccinated and boosted, except those few for whom vaccination may not be medically advised.
- Masks can still be used, especially higher quality masks (such as N95). Wearing masks, and seeing others wear them, can be particularly reassuring for those who are at higher risk, immunocompromised, or living with someone who is. Because we often sing during services, masks are helpful in this regard as well and continue to be recommended. Clergy and congregations should make decisions regarding masking based on infection rates and the needs of members of their own communities.
- Physical distancing during worship can continue, although distancing can be adjusted as local situations might allow.
- Ventilation remains a high priority. This is a “passive” measure that can be put in place and help reduce risks for all. Air filtration systems, portable air filtering machines, and even open widows and fans when the weather permits, will benefit everyone.
- Coffee Hour and meal programs may resume, but please be aware of keeping all as safe as possible by taking risk-reducing measures. Examples might include holding coffee hour in a space big enough for people to be distanced or have their own tables while eating, or holding coffee hour outdoors when weather permits. Establish prudent local guidelines, and please respect and honor without derision the decision of anyone, whether clergy or lay, who chooses not to participate in these activities. With respect to those preparing and serving meals for others, we strongly recommend that they wear masks and observe social distancing to the extent possible.
- Please be aware that we cannot declare an “All Clear” with regard to COVID-19. While we have reached a level where risks are reduced for many, they are not reduced for all, and COVID-19 is still present. Remember that infection rates in your part of Vermont may be different (perhaps higher) than in other parts of the state; greater caution should be exercised in places where infection rates are higher at a given time. Furthermore, our situation in Vermont as a whole can change in the future, and we may again need to institute public health safety measures. Don’t throw away your masks yet! You can find your COVID-19 Community Level on the CDC website.
- While the common chalice is a powerful symbol of our unity in Christ to many, some may not yet feel comfortable with a return to its use. Perhaps others are eager for such return. Resuming use of a common chalice should be done with care, only with full consent of the congregation’s clergy, in consultation with the vestry, bishop’s committee and others (e.g., worship committee), and with clear communication to all. It is advisable to have alternative methods for administering the consecrated wine available (e.g., TrueVine communion kits or other individual containers). Congregations should be reminded that communion in one kind (bread) is fully valid, as is communion by communion kits or their equivalent.
We hope this guidance is helpful as congregations make wise pastoral and practical decisions. We are thankful for everyone’s thoughtfulness and forbearance during these past two years of the pandemic. We remain available to help with any further questions or information any may need. Please be in touch through the Covid Response Team’s convener, the Rev. Fred Moser. May God bless all as we look forward to Holy Week and Easter, knowing that Christ calls us to bear each other’s burdens as we serve Jesus’ way of love in the new day before us.
The Covid Response Team of the Diocese of Vermont