The following updated COVID-19 requirements and guidelines from the bishops were sent to clergy and congregational and diocesan leadership on March 7, 2022. A Spanish translation is available here; a language translator function also is available on this site.
March 7, 2022
Dear Colleagues in the Diocese of Massachusetts,
Grace and peace to you as we enter the season of Lent.
Just as the COVID-19 Omicron variant brought a surge of new cases all over the nation and in countries around the world in December and January, caseloads have fallen dramatically in recent weeks. While public health officials continue to urge caution, especially for those who are not fully vaccinated and those most vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19, we can be hopeful that the worst of the pandemic has passed.
Recognizing that Massachusetts is a national leader in vaccine acceptance, and in light of recent positive progress on COVID-19 indicators, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has updated its guidance on safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also issued a new statement on the use of masks. In line with this new guidance, it is our hope that less restrictive practices for church services and events may be put into effect in time for Holy Week and Easter.
We want to be clear that, should there be a significant resurgence of COVID-19 infections in our region, we all may need to return to more restrictive safety practices that will help prevent a rise in severe illness and death and prevent undue stress on our medical care system.
We also stand with clergy, vestries and regathering teams who conclude that, in their local context, more restrictive measures on gatherings need to be maintained.
With these developments in mind, and in the hope that conditions will continue to improve, we issue the following requirements and guidelines, effective April 1, 2022.
Grateful blessings to you,
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris
Bishops' Updated Requirements and Guidelines
Effective April 1, 2022
- Stay attuned to the state of COVID-19 in your area. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a COVID-19 Data Tracker to help you monitor community transmission and key indicators in your county.
- Strongly encourage vaccination and booster shots, and regularly publish information about how to access the vaccine.
- Physical distancing: Capacity limits on church services and events are lifted, though we require that each church provide an area in which attendees can maintain physical distance of 6 feet. Such areas should be clearly marked and expandable to accommodate all who wish to observe this safety measure.
- Masks: We strongly encourage that all persons continue to wear masks at indoor services and events, especially where singing occurs.
- Promote good ventilation, such as opening windows when weather permits.
- Holy Communion may be distributed in both kinds. The common cup may be offered, though individuals at higher risk from COVID infection are discouraged from receiving in this manner. We commend individually packaged wine as an alternative for those who are reluctant to receive from the chalice. Intinction is discouraged.
- Holy Baptism: Previously announced limitations are rescinded.
- Caring for the most vulnerable: Full COVID vaccination, including available booster shots, is required of all persons, clergy or lay, who are engaged in ministry with the most vulnerable, including children age 12 and under, homebound or immune-compromised persons, and those in hospitals and care facilities.
- Pastoral visits: Masks are required for all pastoral visits in the homes of those who are sick or at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Pastoral visits should be brief and minimal physical proximity is safer.
- Prayer books, hymnals and offering basins may be used. We urge careful attention to cleaning and disinfecting your facility, and commend to you CDC cleaning and disinfecting guidelines.
- Christian formation: We urge careful planning with regard to Christian formation classes and events, especially where they involve young children not yet eligible for vaccination. We commend to you the COVID-19 Mitigation Protocols and Guidelines for Child Care from the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care.
- Coffee hour and other events with food and drinks may take place but plan carefully how food and drinks are served. Individually wrapped foods and designated servers, as opposed to potlucks or buffets, are still a safer option.
Canon Bill Parnell is available to respond to questions and concerns and can be reached at email@example.com or 617-482-4826, ext. 205.