This message from Bishop Alan M. Gates and Bishop Gayle E. Harris was issued by e-mail on March 25 to clergy and diocesan and parish leadership.
March 25, 2020
Dear Clergy and Lay Leaders of Our Diocese,
The season of Lent is always a time for returning our focus to those things which matter most. In these strange days we find ourselves doing just that--concentrating our every thought and prayer on health and security, petition and thanksgiving, life and love, God and neighbor.
Please see below our latest updates. These guidelines reflect Governor Baker's March 23 advisory, with its definitions of "Essential Services," as well as consultation with civic health and policy officers, New England bishops, advisors from churchwide emergency management departments and others.
We continue to be deeply grateful for every way that you are serving your congregations and your communities, every way that you are finding to be the Church in this unprecedented circumstance. May God bless us abundantly with wisdom, compassion, courage and grace.
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris
You should now plan for no in-person public worship services until May 31. We will hope fervently that we might have a Spirit-filled celebration of Pentecost on that day. As with our March 21 communication, this restriction governs in-person worship open to the public. Online and live-streamed services from church buildings remain permissible, as long as fewer than 10 people are present, physical distancing is maintained and strict hygiene measures are observed. Our current listing of churches providing online worship is available here.
If Holy Eucharist is celebrated for live-streamed services, the celebrant alone should receive the sacrament (understood as receiving on behalf of all the people) or the celebrant should abstain (understood as sharing in the fast of all the people). Others present for the videotaping or broadcast should not receive. In place of the Invitation ("The gifts of God..."), the following Prayer of Spiritual Communion, as used at Washington National Cathedral, is recommended:
My Jesus, I believe that you are truly present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. I love you above all things, and long for you in my soul. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though you have already come, I embrace you and unite myself entirely to you; never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.
Jesús mío, creo que eres verdaderamente presente en el Sagrado Sacramento del Altar. Te amo encima de todas las cosas, y te anhelo en mi alma. Como ahora no te puedo recibir sacramentalmente, entra al menos espiritualmente en mi corazón. Como si ya hubieras venido, te abrazo y me uno completamente a ti; nunca permitas que me separe de ti. Amén.
(St. Alphonsus de Liguori, 1696-1787)
A suggested form for an Agape Meal is available here. Remote consecration of elements in viewers' homes is not sanctioned. Instead, the Prayer of Spiritual Communion (above) or the creative observance of an Agape Meal is commended.
Private funerals and memorial services may proceed as long as fewer than 10 people are present, physical distancing is maintained and strict hygiene measures are observed. An outdoor graveside option is strongly recommended.
Expanded liturgical resources have been gathered by members of our Liturgy and Music Commission for use in homes and online worship. A letter from the commission leaders introduces a host of links to resources for praying the Daily Office, praying with children, formation podcasts, grace at meals, suggestions for "Triduum Under Quarantine" and more. Find this compendium here. Additional liturgy and formation resources have been compiled by the Episcopal Church Foundation here.
Plans continue for diocesan online service offerings for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day. These pre-recorded videotaped services from the Society of St. John the Evangelist, the Society of St. Margaret and the Cathedral Church of St. Paul will be available for use by congregations which do not have resources to offer streaming worship, or as a complement for those who do. Further details will be forthcoming soon.
Mental health and domestic violence resources
During this time, ordinary channels for mental health support may be disrupted and support groups, like 12-step meetings, may not operate at the usual places and times. Those under quarantine, sheltering at home or feeling isolated or fearful may need additional support. The risk of domestic violence may increase. Stay in touch with people in your congregation through phone calls, video chats and notes. Find resources for additional support listed on our diocesan COVID-19 Updates page.
Financial and operational matters
We have established a COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund to respond to emerging, urgent needs in our congregations and affiliated organizations, and in support of collaborations with ecumenical, multifaith and community partners. The fund will address critical community needs and congregational sustainability during the time of the pandemic. A grant application with more guidelines will be available soon. The fund is now open to receive online gifts at www.diomass.org/give-now. We are deeply grateful for your sacrificial generosity. "Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2)
COVID-19 testing and care: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law on March 18, offering expanded family and medical leave to many employees. It appears, based on our research so far, that employees of religious organizations are included. Further information and guidance should be forthcoming.
The Episcopal Church Medical Trust will waive all co-pays, deductibles and coinsurance for its members for healthcare services relating to the evaluation and testing for COVID-19. In addition, the Medical Trust will waive all co-pays, deductibles and in-network coinsurance for its active members for healthcare services relating to the treatment of COVID-19. Any cleric, lay employee or other member with questions about benefits and coverage under healthcare plans offered through the Medical Trust should visit their provider's website or call the toll-free number on the back of the health insurance card.
For retirees enrolled in a Medicare Supplement plan with United Healthcare, Medicare has announced that there will be no out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 lab tests. For more information regarding Medicare benefits and additional information, please visit www.medicare.gov/medicare-coronavirus.
Clergy pension contribution waivers: Congregations may be eligible for a waiver of clergy pension plan assessments for a period of up to two months. Church Pension Fund policy allows temporary relief to congregations whose ability to function is severely impaired following a major disaster or state of emergency. This waiver is intended only for congregations which lack the resources, including endowments, to pay pension plan assessments and continue to function. We are consulting with CPF to determine criteria for these waivers and will be in touch with specific information about applications. Please do not request waivers at this time; an announcement and application form is forthcoming.
Additional operational and financial guidance for congregations: A document addressing practical concerns surrounding maintenance, operations, administration and finance is available here. Our team of congregational consultants stands ready to support clergy and lay leaders during this difficult time. Please speak to your regional canon to schedule a consultation.
The Massachusetts Council of Churches has a very useful COVID-19 Response page which contains links to upcoming events, webinars, resources, online giving platforms and online worship and meeting tools. There is also a link to a survey requested by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), to assist with the statewide response to COVID-19, as well as links to organizations providing critical support to the most vulnerable.
Additionally, an Episcopal Relief & Development webinar on "Institutional Support Systems During COVID-19" on Friday, March 27 at 3 p.m. may be of interest.