Statement from Bishop Brown
Offering a common-sense response to a very uncommon threat
We are all well aware now of the increased coverage of the COVD-19 ‘coronavirus’ that is dominating our news and newsfeeds from every direction. Medical professionals continue to stress that while much about this disease is still unknown, there is a great deal that is known about COVD-19. It is most often compared to a new strain of influenza – a disease to be taken very seriously and yet one countered every year by sound medicine, good hygiene, and wise decision-making. Still, I understand how words like ‘pandemic’ and ‘quarantine’ can frighten anyone into forgetting what we have learned from decades of combating the flu.
I encourage us all to approach this very uncommon moment in our history with common sense and reasoned calm. I ask us to focus on our preparedness, precaution, and prayer. Delaware has not yet, as of this writing, seen confirmed cases of the coronavirus. We should, however, expect to see cases in our state in the weeks or months to come. Our smart decisions can help our community-wide response and limit the opportunity for this or any communicable disease to spread.
What specifically can our churches and parishioners do?
First, be prepared. Churches should make hand sanitizer widely available throughout the church, especially for the Eucharistic ministers who will handle the bread or wine in worship. (Many parishes have been doing this for years.) Sanitizers that are a minimum 60% alcohol-based are recommended. Keep a close eye on home-bound parishioners, and plan as a parish how to reach out to those who stay home sick.
Second, take precautions. Most importantly, if you are sick or think you might be, stay home! Stay home until you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever reducers. Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, following the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines. Cover those coughs and sneezes! And again, wash your hands!
Third, remember to pray. Add those who have contracted COVD-19 and any communicable disease to your prayer life, as well as those who have died. Pray for us all who live in a time of a pandemic and heightened anxiety. Pray for our medical professionals who work to keep us well, for researchers developing vaccines, and for our vestries and clergy for calm leadership.
Our preparations and precautions will, of course, apply to our liturgical practices.
- When welcoming visitors, passing the Peace, or generally saying hello at coffee hour, avoid shaking hands, kissing, or hugging – especially during flu season. Infectious disease experts are clear that skin-to-skin contact is far more likely to spread germs in church than, say, drinking from a common silver chalice. A polite bow or a friendly wave are both perfectly acceptable forms of greeting.
- At Communion, intinction by anyone other than the Eucharistic ministers is strongly discouraged, now or at any time of the year. All Eucharistic ministers (lay or ordained) must apply hand sanitizer as the altar is being set. More importantly for our common health, Eucharistic ministers are trained to intinct properly without getting their fingers in the wine, which ensures the cleanest chalice for all.
- History and experience have shown that the best way to share a common cup in community is by drinking directly from the chalice. The Eucharistic minister is trained to keep the rim well-wiped and to rotate the chalice between servings.
- It is helpful to remember that receiving wine at Holy Communion remains, as always, optional. The Eucharist is perfectly valid when either consecrated bread or wine is consumed.
- Of course, as always, keep those patens and chalices clean. Wash them well with soap and water after each use.
Here are a few resources you might find helpful:
- State of Delaware
- Episcopal Relief & Development – Faith-Based Response to Epidemics
- CDC Information on Coronavirus
- Washington State Department of Health on Coronavirus
- Washington Post – How to Prepare for the Coronavirus in the US
- CDC Pandemic Guidelines
As my sister bishop Carlyle Hughes wrote so eloquently to her diocese (Diocese of Newark) recently, “the increase in news reporting about COVD-19 coronavirus gives us an opportunity to make sure we are taking necessary steps to lower risk of infection as we gather for worship, fellowship, and ministry. … I encourage you to remember that for centuries the faithful have gathered for prayer, breaking of the bread, learning, and fellowship. Through wars, epidemics, market crashes, disasters, and [every] manner of calamity. No matter what, God seems to meet us just where we are physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
My brothers and sisters, please do not be fearful, but do take care and prayerful precautions. I hope that you have a blessed, healthy, and Holy Lent,