March 7, 2020
Dear clergy and people of the Diocese of Bethlehem,
Today, I gathered with many in the diocese at the ordination of our newest priest. This wonderful celebration occurred within the context of the uncertainty with which we now gather as the people of God. With four presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 reported in Pennsylvania (as of Saturday, March 7), I feel it is necessary to offer an update to the recommendations that were distributed earlier this week.
The following are intended as best practices as we gather together this weekend and in the future for worship:
Those who are ill or have respiratory issues—Those who are ill or have respiratory issues should not come to church. As outlined by the CDC, anyone who is concerned they may be ill should call their doctor for advice rather than going to the emergency room to help contain the spread of illness.
Communion—Intinction (dipping bread/wafers into the communion wine) should no longer be practiced in any of our churches, as intinction is more likely to spread disease than drinking from the common cup; nor should anyone receive communion bread directly on the tongue. Churchgoers should be reminded that it is perfectly acceptable to take communion in only one kind (consuming only the bread), or to abstain from taking communion. It may be helpful for churches to set up stations with sanitizer for people to use before taking communion. Anyone who administers communion should wash or sanitize their hands before distributing the bread or the wine, and to do so again after communion.
Offering plates—Consider placing a plate or basket to accept pledges and other donations in a designated area of your church rather than passing plates from person-to-person. I would also encourage each parish to set up ways for members to give their pledges online. The Diocese of Pennsylvania recommends tithe.ly, and there are many other options as well. Please contact us if you would like help establishing online giving in your church.
The Peace—Please refrain from shaking hands, hugging, or kissing during the peace. Waving or using the peace sign would be appropriate and can help prevent the spread of viruses.
Baptismal fonts—Fonts should be drained unless performing a baptism. If performing a baptism, the practice of dipping one’s hands in the water should not occur. Only the priest performing the baptism should touch the water.
If someone is home sick—Visits to those who are ill should be performed by clergy only at this time (rather than Eucharistic Visitors) in order to limit the number of people exposed to disease. Please make sure those who are ill at home are aware of options to watch services online. For example, the Cathedral and St. Paul’s, Montrose regularly livestream their Sunday services. For those congregations who have people in these vulnerable categories, I encourage you to develop a plan to check in on members who choose to separate themselves.
If you have any questions or are in need of assistance, I and everyone else on diocesan staff are available to help you.
During this time of increased anxiety and vulnerability, we turn once again to the God of love who offers comfort, especially to the sick and the suffering:
God, the strength of the weak and the comfort of those who suffer; hear our prayers and grant us the power of your grace, that our sickness may be turned into health, and our sorrow into joy; for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
The Rt. Rev. Kevin D. Nichols
Bishop of Bethlehem