I write this knowing that the world around is changing not hour-by-hour but minute-by-minute, as we all seek to keep people safe in the face of the novel coronavirus. Our connection with one another across the Diocese of Kansas will remain a constant as we navigate this situation.
We are people of faith: We know that God is with us in all of our challenges. When one reads about the lesser saints portrayed in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, we often see people of God who act with both courage and wisdom in times of pandemic. The relationship with God we have in Christ anchors us amid waves of fear. We know that the Risen One is with us in all things.
And I invite you to pray. Pray for those who are ill. Pray for those who are caring for them. Pray for those who are vulnerable. Pray for those who are frightened. Pray for those suffering because of displacement.
We are people who value both community and safety: From its conception Christianity has had community at its core; it has had communal worship at its core. We do not want to cease being a worshipping, faith community in the face of Covid-19 or other diseases or disasters. At the same time, we honor that each of us is holy, made in the image of God, and we need to be safe. We will act to limit the spread of this disease out of our love for God and one another.
On March 12, I met by video call with many of the rectors and vicars who lead the churches of this diocese. In addition to the basic measures health officials call for – wash your hands thoroughly and often; cover your mouth as you cough or sneeze; seek medical attention if you have a cough, fever or shortness of breath – we discussed additional protections we can take in our churches.
I have asked that all clergy in charge of congregations meet with lay leaders immediately to discern the best way of worship in their particular context at this time. Between now and Easter Sunday, Morning Prayer, Holy Eucharist, Communion in the Absence of a Priest and the decision not to meet in-person for worship are all acceptable. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has clearly communicated that virtual worship is acceptable in these special circumstances.
- I have asked leaders to daily check the Kansas Health Department’s website for up-dates on the realities of the virus in our state.
- Grace Cathedral will worship using Morning Prayer Rite II at 10:30 a.m. It will be available on Facebook. If anyone in the diocese cannot be in church, you can pray Morning Prayer along with us at 10:30 a.m. Sundays, or later at your convenience. Messages from me, either in person or through the dean or other staff, will be shared during those services.
- In all worship and gatherings, please refrain from greeting one another by touching of any kind, either during the Peace, or before or after services. This includes clergy offering a blessing at the altar rail and handshakes as worshippers enter or leave the church.
- For those who choose Holy Eucharist:
- I am directing that both use of the common cup and intinction be suspended for now. Communion will be given only with bread – with a reminder that receiving communion in one kind only is a full communion.
- Priests will consecrate a small amount of wine in a chalice during the service, which afterward will be reverently returned to the earth either directly or through a piscina in the sacristy.
- Clergy, Eucharistic ministers, acolytes and anyone else handling communion elements should wash their hands (or use hand sanitizer) immediately before distributing communion and again afterward.
- Please make sure to use antiseptic solutions or wipes to cleanse the altar rail after every service.
- Offering plates are not to be passed but are to be available where worshippers can place their offering.
- I strongly suggest that food service of any kind be suspended through Lent, with the exception of community feeding programs and college houses – places where the food is more sustenance than fellowship. This includes refreshments at coffee hour, potlucks, etc. Consider this a Lenten fast for the sake of others.
- We ask that parishes be especially vigilant about any in the community who may be ill or vulnerable. We urge anyone with symptoms of fever, cough or shortness of breath to stay home, rest, and seek medical attention. We will continue to check in with our people to assure them of Christ’s love and care.
The Right Reverend Cathleen Chittenden Bascom
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas