This message from Bishop Alan M. Gates and Bishop Gayle E. Harris was issued by e-mail on March 31 to clergy and diocesan and parish leadership.
March 31, 2020
Dear Clergy and Lay Leaders of Our Diocese,
Once again we offer our deepest gratitude for the dedication with which you are serving your congregations and your communities. That the Church continues to find ways to be the Church in these extraordinary circumstances is a tribute to your creativity and devotion.
We know that planning for Holy Week and Easter presents particular challenges. Strive not for perfection; strive only for faithfulness! We hope that the diocesan offerings, as described below, will be a help and support to you.
When all we are and everything we do
are called into question,
grant us dignity and direction,
grant us patience;
Jesus, be there then.
[Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week, A New Zealand Prayer Book.]
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris
Holy Tuesday for clergy: Clergy of the diocese are invited for a time of prayer on Holy Tuesday, April 7, at 11 a.m. We will gather by Zoom for mutual strength and encouragement, including words from both Bishop Gayle Harris and Bishop Alan Gates. The Zoom link has been e-mailed to clergy. A bulletin for the service is available here. The traditional Renewal of Clergy Vows and Blessing of Oils Service will be rescheduled at a later date.
Palm Sunday observances continue under the guidelines previously issued. Live-streamed or pre-recorded services may include the Liturgy of the Palms; however, distribution of palms to parishioners is strongly discouraged given the challenges of maintaining stringent hygiene and physical-distancing mandates. A recommended option, to be practiced at our Cathedral Church of St. Paul, is to bless palms on Palm Sunday for distribution when we are able once again to gather for public worship.
Worship for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day will be offered as a diocesan resource. These pre-recorded services will be posted and available on the diocesan website on the morning of each respective holy day. The Maundy Thursday service will be offered from the monastery chapel of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge; Br. James Koester, Superior, will preach. The Good Friday service will be offered from the convent chapel of the Sisters of St. Margaret in Duxbury; Bishop Gayle Harris will preach. The Easter Day service will be offered from the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston; Bishop Alan Gates will preach.
Recording your worship attendance: We are grateful for the creativity and faithfulness which has enabled worship to continue over a variety of digital platforms. Questions have arisen regarding how to document participation in such virtual worship. As recommended by churchwide officers, we encourage congregations to maintain a separate roster of the number and kind of worship offered (Morning Prayer, streamed Eucharist, etc.), and list the participation as "virtual attendance" or a similar designation, using whatever counting your digital media allows. Further instruction is anticipated before completing the next Parochial Report.
Online giving and response opportunities
Online giving platforms: The diocesan Office of Development has compiled some helpful guidelines for congregations regarding the set-up of online giving options. Find the guidelines here.
COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund: The Diocese of Massachusetts has established a COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to help meet emerging, urgent needs in 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. The fund is now open to receive online gifts at www.diomass.org/give-now. Please publicize this giving opportunity in congregations. A grant application with more guidelines will be available soon.
Episcopal City Mission is also launching a rapid response grant fund for grassroots organizations and Episcopal faith communities, to support staff and constituents losing income, for rent control direct action organizing, local justice efforts and other emergent needs. Learn more here.
"Zoom-bombing": As use of the online video conference platform Zoom increases, so too has a new type of malicious behavior known as Zoom-bombing. Interlopers use publicly posted Zoom links to crash meetings and then share their screen to display inappropriate content and/or abusive commentary. If your Zoom links are publicly posted on websites or social media, make sure your Zoom hosts familiarize themselves with the "Manage Participants" controls, which allow hosts to control screen sharing and to remove people from a meeting. This advisory from Zoom provides some security tips: “Keep the Party Crashers from Crashing Your Zoom Event”
Upcoming Zoom gatherings for clergy and wardens: Zoom conferences for clergy and wardens have been scheduled on Thursday, April 2, and for clergy with children at home on April 16 and May 7. Links have been e-mailed directly to clergy and wardens.
Serving our neighbors in need
Two important considerations create a dilemma during this pandemic. On the one hand, it is vital that people stay at home to prevent spreading the virus. This is especially important for those who are part of high-risk groups. On the other hand, there are essential services provided by our churches and community organizations that require some workers or volunteers in order that basic needs are met.
It is important to reaffirm what was stated in earlier communications regarding the need for those at high risk to stay at home as much as possible. It is equally important to ask that those not in high risk groups who have been asymptomatic for the past two weeks to consider stepping up to support ministries which provide life-sustaining assistance to others.
We are compiling a list of volunteer opportunities for church and community services to be published soon. Send a description of the program and types of volunteers needed, along with contact information, to be considered for inclusion to Canon Bill Parnell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Financial and operational matters—New developments
Several resources were noted in the March 25 communication from the bishops: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, fee waivers for testing and treatment through The Medical Trust and Medicare Supplement, and Operational and Financial Guidelines for congregations.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“the CARES Act”) was signed into law on March 30. Details of the provisions and benefits of the CARES Act are under review by diocesan chancellors and human resources staff churchwide. It appears, in preliminary review, that religious organizations may benefit from many CARES Act provisions. A summary on the CARES Act, prepared by the Church Alliance is available here. Please note that this guidance is preliminary. Further information will be disseminated as it becomes available.
The Church Pension Group has announced that, until June 30, 2020, there will not be any cancellations of group benefits or property and casualty insurance coverages, or charging interest for failure to make timely payments. Institutions that can afford to make full or partial payments for pension assessments, health benefits (including individuals on extensions of benefits), property and casualty coverage, life insurance and disability policies should continue to do so, but there is a 90-day hardship grace period for those who cannot make timely payments. We continue to refine the criteria for a waiver of pension assessments for up to two months, intended only for congregations which lack the resources, including endowments, to pay pension plan assessments and continue to function. Please do not request waivers at this time; an announcement and application form is forthcoming.
The Executive, Budget and Financial Advisory Committees of Diocesan Council met in joint session last Thursday to consider the implications of the COVID-19 crisis. The three committees endorsed communicating to congregations that while we hope congregations will continue to make timely assessment payments, deferral of payment for up to 90 days during the pandemic crisis is permitted in cases of need. Please note: This does not constitute a waiver of assessment obligations, only a deferral of payment.