As you know, after holding several sessions to receive wisdom and feedback, I had been anticipating that we would publish a new revision of our regathering guidelines in June. The COVID-19 virus and its variants continue to play a significant role in our common life, but it is clear that access to effective vaccines has substantially changed the landscape. The latest guidance for vaccinated people issued by the Centers for Disease Control has given us a sense of hope for the future. And yet, the mixed vaccination status of most of our congregations and ministry partners is a sobering reminder of the care we owe one another as we move forward safely.
For nearly 14 months my staff and I have guided each of our congregations as you have sought to worship, serve, and nurture relationships in the midst of this pandemic. It is now time for us to move carefully into our new normal. Beginning Pentecost Sunday, I will resume in-person parish visitations. And in June, most of the bishop’s staff will return to the Indiana Interchurch Center for in-office work a couple of days a week. As we slowly make our return to more in-person experiences, I believe we are at the point where my office no longer needs to approve regathering plans.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you will be left on your own. Here are some recommendations and a couple of requirements as you move forward:
- Congregational regathering teams should continue to meet and monitor local conditions, making changes as necessary to keep your members and visitors as safe as possible when gathered for worship, formation, fellowship, and service. As always, Canons Kristin White and Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale and Transition Minister Jen Phelps will continue to be resources to you.
- Eucharist: Celebrations of Holy Eucharist should be done with the integrity of the rite and the safety of communicants in mind. Until we have a definitive word on the safety or advisability of the “common cup,” please refrain from distributing wine from a common chalice. However, it is now permissible to bless a large cruet or flagon on the altar and distribute the wine using cups provided by the communicant.
- Singing*: CDC guidelines tell us that singing indoors by fully vaccinated people wearing masks is a safe activity. Therefore, singing is once again permitted by choirs and congregations, as you feel comfortable. This is an opportunity to encourage choir members and parishioners to receive the vaccine before returning, as the more people who are vaccinated, the safer all of us are in church. It is also within your authority, or that of your music minister, to insist that all choir members be vaccinated. I recommend that you do so, but leave it to your discretion.
- Pastoral Care: Please continue to check in on members—especially the home-bound. Phone and Zoom calls and in-person visits (including lay Eucharistic visits) should continue or resume using good pastoral judgment and holding in mind the safety of those in your care.
- Children/immunocompromised people/newcomers: Our diocesan mission calls us to stand with the vulnerable and marginalized. At this moment, people most at risk are those who cannot or may not be vaccinated. As you consider regathering in person, please make intentional provision for safely welcoming children, visitors, and those who are not able to be vaccinated.
- Semi-monthly Thursday check-in calls: As we approach a new phase of the ongoing pandemic, the nature of our Thursday calls will also evolve. I deeply appreciate all of you who have provided feedback on the nature and frequency of these meetings by Zoom. Beginning June 3, these gatherings will take the following format: First Thursdays of the month will be an opportunity to gather with me to discuss matters critical to our common life, as we have been doing during the past year. On the third Thursdays, the Rev. Mary Taflinger, missioner for pastoral care, will host an opportunity to gather for fellowship and community building. We will take a break during August.
Finally, please know that I have deep trust and confidence in your ability to continue leading faithfully. We find ourselves on this side of the pandemic, having survived the crisis of our generation. Though we still have a long way to go, I rejoice that by the grace of God we have come through it together. I continue to be humbled by the privilege of sharing this journey with all of you. May God bless you richly as we serve together.
*Guidelines on singing courtesy of Bishop Mariann Budde and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.