Update March 18, 2020:
Bishop Jennifer announced today that in-person worship will be suspended and diocesan events will be canceled or postponed until further notice.
Her announcement follows Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s March 17 request that in-person public worship, including Holy Week and Easter services, be suspended.
“As public health guidelines about slowing the spread of COVID-19 have changed, it has become clear that we must strengthen the precautions we have in place,” she said. “We all need to do our part to slow the spread of the disease so that our hospitals and medical systems do not become overwhelmed. Our Holy Week observances and Easter celebrations will need to be different this year out of love for the people in our communities who are depending on us to ‘flatten the curve‘.”
Among the diocesan events that have been canceled or postponed are the clergy conference that was a to have taken place this week and has been postponed until October 12-14, and the Blessing of Oils and Renewal of Vows service scheduled for April 8, which has been canceled. Organizers of the Civil Rights pilgrimage scheduled for March 21-24 have notified participants that it has been postponed.
A collaborative effort to bring Palm Sunday and Holy Week services including the Easter vigil to our diocese is in the very early planning stage. Watch future newsletters for more information.
Update March 13, 2020:
All in-person worship is suspended effective March 16. Bishop Jennifer urges everyone to stay home from church effective immediately. Read her letter online.
Update March 11, 2020:
You may know that I believe God calls us to live fearlessly as we go about our lives and ministries. We are also called to be prudent in our care for one another and the people we serve. Therefore, I want to inform you of several important and immediate changes to our diocesan calendar between now and Easter Sunday.
After much conversation and consultation Bishop Doug Sparks and I have decided to postpone the clergy conference at French Lick Springs Resort, originally scheduled for March 16-18. The virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading quickly, and clergy are obviously not immune. The risk of needing to quarantine every clergy member who might attend the conference for two weeks in the middle of Lent is simply too great to run.
Bishop Sparks and I remain eager to hold a joint clergy conference, however, and are already in conversation about rescheduling.
I am also canceling the Blessing of Oils and Renewal of Vows service scheduled at noon on April 7 at Christ Church Cathedral. We cannot risk all of us in attendance needing to quarantine ourselves in the midst of Holy Week. Nor can we run the risk that we might become infected at that service and pass the virus on to our congregations.
I am also canceling the March 21-23 civil rights pilgrimage, sponsored by Good Samaritan, Brownsburg. We hope that we will be able to reschedule this pilgrimage as we honor our commitment to racial justice and healing.
We are adapting other scheduled events including a youth ministry discernment day (March 28) being convened by the Rev. Holly Rankin-Zaher and a gathering scheduled for April 4 led by the Rev. Shannon Ferguson Kelly to engage new ways of ministering to young adults and those on college campuses. Both of these events are being moved online, and invited participants will be contacted directly.
In making each of these decisions, I have relied on the best available public health advice and our desire to protect the most vulnerable among us by slowing the virus’s spread. We need to do all we can to stay healthy, to keep the members of our families, congregations and communities healthy, and to avoid practices that might inadvertently lead to the spread of this difficult virus at a rate that would overwhelm our health systems. This may mean that, for a time, our common life will be disrupted in various ways. But I know you to be a creative, resilient and caring people. I encourage clergy and wardens to continue the practices I’ve outlined in my last communication to you. I ask all of you to read our weekly diocesan newsletters as we continue to update recommendations for adapting our various ministries of hospitality including food pantries, lunch programs, and weekly congregational coffee hours.
We will continue to find ways to accompany one another in prayer and service through this difficult time, and I will be in touch again as the situation evolves.
By now you may be aware that the Rev. Timothy Cole, rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Georgetown in Washington, D. C., has been hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19. The mayor of the District of Columbia is asking anyone who attended his church on specific dates in late February and early March to quarantine themselves for two weeks. This development, along with increasingly worrisome reports about the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 nationwide, makes it advisable to update the initial guidelines and permissions I offered last week.As clergy, you stand at the hub of many networks within your congregations and communities. This makes you effective representatives of God’s church, but it also positions you to contract and spread certain kinds of illnesses. I urge you, therefore, to take care of yourselves. We all want to live out our ministries as energetically as possible, but we should not do so at the cost of our health, or the health of others. If you are feeling sick, or if you have symptoms of cold or flu: stay home. If this means your church has to offer Morning Prayer instead of Eucharist, stay home. If it means you need to cancel services, stay home.
If you are offering the Eucharist, be aware that the risks associated with sharing the common cup may seem minimal, but are not completely understood. At this time, I am not asking you to suspend offering the cup, but I do recommend that you make clear that there may be risks associated with taking it. I also recommend that you set the cup at a place apart where it can be handled by as few people as possible. I implore you not to permit the practice of intinction.
If your Eucharistic theology makes you uncomfortable with any seeming restriction on the common cup, I ask that you hold Morning Prayer instead of a Eucharist. Our tradition offers more than one way to come together in authentic Episcopal worship, and this is a good season to practice those ways with which we may be less familiar.
Much of our attention in the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis has been on issues of worship. But we will soon face other concerns as the Body of Christ. I urge you to begin thinking about ways to keep in touch with parishioners, particularly the vulnerable in the days ahead. Additionally, I hope you will consider means of offering worship online if we are soon unable to meet in person, and I have asked our communications team to include some suggestions and guidelines for doing so in this Wednesday’s newsletter. I hope, too, that you will begin to think with your congregation’s leaders about how you will be able to help respond to your local community’s needs if the epidemic worsens.
Many of you will be wondering about next week’s clergy conference and the upcoming civil rights pilgrimage. Bishop Doug Sparks and I are considering how to proceed with the clergy conference given the rapidly evolving public health situation, and I will be in touch with more details in the next few days. Likewise, you may know that the leaders of the pilgrimage continue to assess the situation in the locations the pilgrimage plans to visit, and you can expect that there will be further updates on that front as well.
February 28, 2020
Federal health officials have asked Americans to prepare for a possible outbreak of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. While there are no currently confirmed cases of the virus in Indiana, with a few sensible practices, we can play a key role in sharing responsible information and limiting the spread of disease.
Episcopal Relief & Development is updating this webpage with comprehensive resources about the virus, its cause, and simple measures for its prevention. Among the most important:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water, including after coughing, sneezing, handling diapers, preparing food or using the bathroom.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
- Stay home when you feel sick.
- Clergy and Eucharistic ministers can use hand sanitizer visibly when celebrating the Eucharist or distributing the elements and have it available for worshippers to use.
- Ask worshippers to avoid intinction (the dipping of the host or bread into the chalice).
- Use metal chalices rather than ceramic.
- Remember that the Eucharist is complete when only one element (in this case, the bread) is received.
- Replace hugs and handshakes at the peace with waves, elbow bumps, bows, or peace signs.
- Pray for those who are ill and encourage them to stay home.
- Remind coffee hour and feeding program volunteers to wash their hands and handle food with utensils or food safety gloves.
My staff and I are monitoring this situation closely. If the Indiana Department of Health reports confirmed cases of the virus in Indiana, we will communicate quickly to clergy and lay leaders with additional recommendations.
These times of illness and uncertainty can be trying, but as we take steps to care for one another and our communities, we show God’s love to an anxious world. Thank you, as always, for your care for one another and our beloved church.