The following information from the bishops and Standing Committee, regarding a COVID Respite for church employees, was sent to clergy and congregational and diocesan leadership on March 22, 2022. A Spanish translation is available here; a language translator function also is available on this site.
March 22, 2022
Dear People of the Diocese of Massachusetts,
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” —John 10:10
As we mark the second anniversary of the initial COVID shutdowns, we rejoice at the adaptability, resilience, and faithfulness which have been manifest in our congregations. We also recognize the deep fatigue which has resulted from the constant array of evolving challenges.
Our lay and ordained employees and leaders have gone above and beyond to adapt worship, maintain connections, provide pastoral care, protect the health and well-being of our communities, and continue to be the church in creative and Gospel-rooted ways. Words cannot express our collective gratitude for these devoted labors.
Data also show that church workers and their families are exhausted, anxious, and stressed. We commend those who are accessing mental health services, aware also that obtaining such services can prove challenging for many. We note a rise in clergy and lay employees of all backgrounds leaving active ministry or seeking early retirement; this is a painful reality in our church.
We are concerned for the entire human community in its suffering in this pandemic. We take seriously the special responsibility which the bishops and Standing Committee have for care of clergy and church employees. Following God’s example of resting on the seventh day of creation and the example of Jesus, who throughout the Gospels takes leave to rest, we now urgently invite our diocese to provide a COVID Respite for our clergy and lay employees.
We urge each worshiping community/ministry setting to identify two consecutive work weeks when meetings, office hours, and non-essential activities would be suspended. The timing of COVID Respite weeks is at the discretion of each ministry setting. We urge the identification of a period in the first half of 2022, if at all possible. Pastoral emergencies, of course, will be attended to; we encourage worshiping communities to partner together for emergency coverage where feasible. The COVID Respite should not count against vacation time, sick time, or continuing education time. Pay and benefits should continue for both salaried and hourly employees.
It is not our expectation that Sunday worship be canceled altogether during the COVID Respite. Options for worship could include lay-led Morning Prayer (online); worship with another congregation in our diocese; or joining the global community worshiping online with our National Cathedral at www.cathedral.org.
This is a voluntary program, but we are asking with our whole hearts for participation. The well-being of our church employees is of utmost concern and our biblical call to rest is clear. As our “Way of Love” resources remind us, “By resting we place our trust in God, the primary actor who brings all things to their fullness.”
We invite you to notify either Bishop Gates’s office (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Bishop Harris’s office (email@example.com) when your COVID Respite will take place, so we can offer special prayers for you. We welcome questions about this initiative. We know that many congregations will require creativity in applying this plan. Please join us in living into our call to rest and provide rest for those who so urgently need it.
Faithfully, in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop Diocesan
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris, Bishop Suffragan
Mr. William Boyce, President of the Standing Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org or 774-328-2383)
The Rev. Debbie Phillips, Vice President of the Standing Committee (email@example.com)
Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts
COVID Respite FAQs
Who is included in the COVID Respite?
- Clergy—both priests and deacons
- Lay employees and lay independent-contractors (musicians, office administrators, Christian education professionals, sextons, etc.)
- Chaplains serving in university, healthcare, and other education settings
Is the COVID Respite required?
Although this is not required, your worshiping community is strongly encouraged to participate.
We believe this respite is a needed Christian response for our call to love one another, the growing burnout and strain on our clergy and lay employees, and a direct expression of God’s call for us to rest.
Should we cancel Sunday services?
Although it is not our intention to require the cancelation of Sunday services, we encourage you to consider doing so, and you will have our full support if you choose this option. We encourage consideration of alternative options for worship, such as those suggested in the letter.
Other than weekday meetings and services, what else should be canceled during our COVID Respite?
We imagine this being a respite for the whole worshiping community. We encourage you to cancel all non-essential activities. This will require all of us to resize our expectations for the two weeks of respite. Many of us are accustomed to receiving various communications (e-mails, phone calls, mail, newsletters, etc.) from our worshiping community and/or its leaders. During the two-week COVID Respite we encourage you to stop all unnecessary activity and to take on the spiritual practice of rest, together.
The goal of this program is to provide respite and rest for the whole community. Many of us know the pressure and extra work often put in right before we go away on vacation. We hope and intend that the COVID Respite is different. We invite you to avoid front-loading or overloading surrounding weeks to your COVID Respite. Doing so creates additional burden, stress, and anxiety that is already abundantly present in all our lives.
Can we still hold Bible study, vestry meetings, church school, etc.?
Each worshiping community will need to decide what activities should be canceled during its two-week COVID Respite. We encourage any non-essential meetings, programs, or activities to be canceled to maximize the benefit of this rest period. By pausing all unnecessary activities, the whole worshiping community is able to enter this period of restoration together.
What should we do about ongoing outreach programs (food pantry, community meals, afterschool programs, etc.)?
We understand some ministries and outreach initiatives are vital to the lives of those in our community. Each worshiping community will need to decide what activities should be canceled during its two-week COVID Respite. To the extent a program or activity cannot be canceled altogether, we encourage you to find ways to provide two consecutive weeks of rest for employees and volunteers in those specific ministries. This may be another opportunity to partner with other worshiping communities in your deanery to provide coverage while your volunteers/staff embrace two weeks of rest. You can then return the favor so your neighbors also benefit from a period of rest.
What resources are available for lay-led Morning Prayer services?
- Morning Prayer Rite I can be found on page 36 of The Book of Common Prayer.
- Morning Prayer Rite II can be found on page 74 of The Book of Common Prayer.
- A helpful resource for the lectionary readings of the day is available at www.lectionarypage.net
- Morning Prayer may be led by a lay officiant. Instructions and language adaptations are included in The Book of Common Prayer.
- The app Venite is available free of charge (App Store and Apps on Google Play) and may be helpful for planning and leading Morning Prayer.
- An online version of The Book of Common Prayer is available at www.bcponline.org
What other alternative worship resources are available to our worshiping community?
We encourage you to invite your worshiping community to join with other local worshiping communities for services always, and in particular during the COVID Respite. This will require up-front communication and collaboration.
Is the COVID Respite taken from paid time-off?
COVID Respite time does not count against vacation time, sick time, or continuing education time. This is additional paid time off.
How should pay for salaried and hourly employees be handled?
- Pay and benefits should continue for both salaried and hourly employees.
- All employees’ pay and benefits should be paid as if the employee worked a regularly scheduled week of work.
- Pay should not be taken out of vacation time, sick time, continuing education time, or other pre-existing paid time off accruals.
Additional questions may be directed to William Boyce, President of the Standing Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org or 774-328-2383) or the Rev. Debbie Phillips, Vice President of the Standing Committee (email@example.com).