Nov. 15, 2021
Current COVID-19 guidelines follow below, with modest revisions since the Aug. 16, 2021, guidelines were issued. As an introduction to these guidelines, Bishop Gates invites reflection on the following excerpts from his annual address given at Diocesan Convention on Nov. 13, 2021.
In addition to the language translation function available on this site, a Spanish language version is available here.
Canon to the Ordinary Bill Parnell (email@example.com) will host Zoom meetings on Nov. 22 and 23 to answer questions and offer clarification. The schedule and Zoom links have been e-mailed to clergy and congregational and diocesan leadership.
From Bishop Alan M. Gates's Nov. 13, 2021, Diocesan Convention address:
"During this COVID pandemic we have organized ourselves around the question: How will we live? But this is a double-entendre. How will we live--meaning, how will we survive? But also, how will we live--that is, what will characterize our behaviors and our priorities in this anxious and challenging time? How will we get through this? And how will we maintain and prioritize our humanity as we do?
"The pandemic journey has challenged and strained us in ways previously unimagined. …I urge us not to be misled by the practice in other types of gathering places.
"Many businesses and restaurants have relaxed COVID precautions, but such venues do not typically have people in proximity to one another singing--consistently a top priority for our worshippers, and for which masking is still deemed vital. At concert and performance venues, which are apt to have seating more akin to churches than do restaurants, Massachusetts COVID guidelines currently have 50 percent capacity limits, and most performance venues require documentation of vaccination or negative test results. We have been loathe to organize worship in ways that would exclude vulnerable persons, including families with young children (who until now have not had access to vaccination--and for whom the very youngest still do not). Thus, our worship services have not required proof of vaccination. That means other precautions remain essential.
"Many communities in our diocese remain areas of high transmission, areas in which the CDC recommends continued indoor masking. While many trends are hopeful, we know that this past week a Boston Public School had to be closed for 10 days in response to a surge. Renewed and highly worrisome surges, even among the vaccinated, are plaguing us, from Massachusetts to Europe and around the world.
"All of this warrants continued caution. But here is what I most want to say about our COVID guidelines. The epidemiological realities are only one part of the story. For us as Christians, theological and spiritual realities are equally important. The question framed in our heated national discourse is: 'Does this mask or this vaccination impinge upon my personal freedom?' That is not the operative question for a Christian. The operative question for us is: 'What is the most loving course of action here?' Individualism is an esteemed value in our country, and individualism is foremost in current political debate. But individualism is not the right framework for decisions about communal Christian gatherings. My favorite restaurant or yours will not expect its patrons to sacrifice personal comfort for the common good. A church expects precisely that.
"Sacrificial love is at the heart of the Gospel. If my sacrifice of comfort and convenience keeps others safer, and enables more of God’s children to gather in communal worship--as it does--then that is surely the criterion called for by the Way of Love."
COVID-19 Requirements and Recommendations for Churches
Effective Nov. 28, 2021 (The First Sunday of Advent)
These guidelines will remain in effect through the season after the Epiphany and may be extended.
• REQUIRED: Maintain physical distancing (6 ft. or more) between households at all indoor gatherings.
• REQUIRED: Mask wearing by everyone (except children age 2 and under) at all indoor gatherings. Those with speaking roles (e.g., preachers, lectors, intercessors) may remove masks while they speak, provided they maintain at least 6 ft. distance from others.
• REQUIRED: COVID vaccination 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.
• EXPECTED: Monitor guidance from the CDC, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and civic authorities in your own communities, and adjust your practices accordingly. The CDC provides a COVID Data Tracker at the county level to help you assess risk in your community and inform local decision making.
• VIGILANCE: We continue to require use of masks and physical distancing between households in order to protect everyone, especially the most vulnerable. For some, including our youngest members, the vaccine is not yet available; for others, underlying medical conditions or history make vaccination inadvisable or less effective. Still others, even if fully vaccinated, are at higher risk for serious illness should they contract COVID-19.
• VACCINES: We strongly urge vaccination and booster shots against the coronavirus for all our members as soon as they are eligible. We reiterate, however, that our congregations must not require vaccination, nor documentation thereof, for attendance at worship services.
• RENTERS AND COMMUNITY GROUPS: We urge you to be in regular conversation with renters and community groups who meet in your buildings to determine appropriate safety precautions. The Church Insurance Company offers a Safety and Insurance Handbook for Churches which includes a helpful section on “Outside Groups and Special Events.”
• PASTORAL CARE: Pastoral visits are to be brief and vaccination is required of pastoral visitors. Minimal physical proximity is safer, especially for those who are most vulnerable due to illness or age. Please refer to the Expanded Guidelines for Holy Communion, Pastoral Visits and Holy Baptism for detailed guidance.
• HOLY COMMUNION: Restrictions on the sharing of Holy Communion continue. The Celebrant should remain masked during the prayer of consecration. Please use wafers for the distribution of Communion in one kind only. Refrain from using the common cup; individually pre-packaged wine may be used, if desired, provided there is reverent cleansing and disposal of the cups. Please refer to the Expanded Guidelines for Holy Communion, Pastoral Visits and Holy Baptism for detailed guidance.
• CLEANING: We strongly urge regular cleaning of high-touch areas, ready availability of hand sanitizer and minimizing use of shared objects. Prayer books and hymnals now may be used, but photocopied worship leaflets or projected materials are preferable. We strongly encourage that, where multiple services are held on a given day, the covers of prayer books and hymnals be wiped down.
• OFFERINGS: An offering basin at a convenient location is preferable to passing offering plates.
• MUSIC: Singing and choral music is permitted, provided the mask requirement, stated above, for indoor worship is observed. We strongly advise that all choristers be fully vaccinated, wear masks and maintain physical distance from one another. Wind instruments should be equipped with bell covers to reduce the spread of droplets and aerosols.
• RECEPTIONS: 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 a safer option. Physical distancing between households at such gatherings is strongly recommended.
• FORMATION: We urge careful planning with regard to Christian formation classes and events, especially where they involve young children not yet eligible for vaccination. You may wish to consult with your local schools or daycare providers about the practices they are observing.
• CHILDCARE: Nurseries and childcare are allowed, provided the health and safety guidance established by the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care is observed.