Dec. 20 COVID-19 protocol reminders from the bishops

The following reminder of current COVID-19 protocols from the bishops was sent to clergy and congregational and diocesan leadership on Dec. 20, 2021.

Dec. 20, 2021

Dear Colleagues in the Diocese of Massachusetts,

Grace and peace to you in these final days of Advent.

We find ourselves once again watching with grave concern as pandemic-related diagnoses, hospitalizations, and deaths have increased dramatically over the past two weeks, nationally and here in the Commonwealth.  With just four days of Advent remaining, our churches are making final preparations for Christmas observance.

After reviewing many assessments of risk and safety, we are not at this time issuing any changed guidelines in advance of the Christmas preparations which we know have been carefully implemented in most of our congregations.  However, we urge--in the strongest possible terms--renewed attention and strict adherence to the most recent COVID guidelines issued on Nov. 15.

This includes mandatory mask-wearing by all worshipers; physical distancing between individuals or family units; restrictions on administration of the sacrament; and extreme caution at any fellowship gathering.  Review the Nov. 15 letter and its predecessor guidelines linked therein for detailed direction. 

We recognize that the physical-distancing requirement results in a dramatic reduction in your overall seating capacity, and that this may create a significant challenge in many churches, especially for Christmas services.  However, adherence to that restriction represents the only way we are able with confidence to continue in-person worship.  Online broadcast of your services, and/or overflow video-streaming spaces are planned by many congregations, and remain the avenues available to us for increasing access to our worship services.

Our experience of recent visitations suggests that most congregations are making wise decisions and acting prudently in their conduct of worship.  We remind you that choir members should be physically distanced in the same way as other worshipers.  This may require seating some of your choristers in front pews of the transept rather than in the chancel.  We also underscore that events with food and drink fall under the distancing guidelines, and that such events may in fact be impracticable except for small groups.

The Nov. 15 guidelines seemed overly stringent to some; however, we were convinced that it would be better to err on the side of caution, in order not to be forced to re-institute restrictions should another surge occur.  We find ourselves now in just such a spike.  We thank you for having remained faithful to the guidelines.  We trust that careful adherence to them will allow us, even in this time of uncertainty, to celebrate joyfully the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus.

Dear friends, we are so grateful for your wise and careful planning; your commitment to your communities of faith; your pastoral devotion; and your patience with yourself and one another in such an anxious time.

Grateful blessings to you,

The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris