All of the clergy in the diocese received an email from Bishop Wright today with new directives concerning Sunday worship in the age of the coronavirus. Here is what will be our “new normal” until this pandemic has run its course:
1. There will be no more use of the common cup at the Eucharist. Two weeks ago I sent an email citing an article from a scientific journal stating that research showed that drinking wine from the common cup, with the cup wiped after each person, was medically safe, and asked everyone to stop intincting. Now in an effort to err on the side of caution, the bishop is telling us to not only stop intincting, but to stop the common cup, too. This means that communion will be offered “in one kind,” the bread alone.
2. There will be no water in the baptismal font. Nurse Jeanne Taylor and I actually had a conversation about this after church last Sunday, and decided then to empty the font. Scientists are not sure whether the virus can be spread through water, but again we are erring on the side of caution. However, we will fill the font with fresh, clean water for baptisms at the Easter Vigil!
3. Refrain from hugging or shaking hands at the Peace. To make this easier, I suggest that instead of our usual free-for-all extended Peace that we stay in our pews and exchange the peace with those around us by bowing, fist bumps, or the peace sign.
4. Refrain from passing the offering plate. The plate is not to be passed from hand to hand in the pews. Instead, it will be held by the ushers alone. You can always put your offering in the plate, which is on the table in the back of the church, before or after the service.
I would add to these directives from the bishop the reminder that the Bible has a lot to say about fear. “Fear not” or a variation of those words are used dozens of times in Scripture. Here are a few:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6-7
“Whenever I am afraid I will put my trust in you.” — Psalm 56
“Fear not, I am with you. Do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” — Isaiah 41:10
All of these verses are given in contexts in which there is much reason to fear. And yet, we are told time and time again not to give in to fear, not to react from fear. That does not mean we are to be reckless, or take unnecessary risks. It doesn’t mean that we are to throw caution to the wind. All of the bishop’s directives above, and all other precautions we are taking (washing hands, staying home when we feel ill, not venturing out if we have other medical conditions that make us vulnerable), are sensible ways to prepare and take care of ourselves and others.
Times of crisis and fear are exactly when the people of God should come together, to give strength and support to one another, and to pray for one another. If you are sick please let me know so that you can be included in our prayers. I ask your prayers for Deb Dee, who works for the US Public Health Service, who has been deployed out of state to help efforts to contain the virus. She left this morning and will be gone for at least 45 days.
Every Sunday until this pandemic has run its course we will pray the following at the conclusion of the Prayers of the People:
“Gracious God, we pray for all those affected by the coronavirus in this nation and around the world. Fill those who are ill with your healing and life-giving Spirit. Bless medical workers and all who care for the sick. Bless public health officials who work to contain the virus, and scientists who work to find a vaccine. Bless all whose livelihoods who are affected, and those who have no one to care for them. Guide our leaders to make decisions based on facts, not fear. May our compassion not give way to panic, and may we always remember that in caring for one another, and for the most vulnerable among us, we are serving you. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.”
And we will have the Wednesday evening Eucharist (bread only!) tomorrow at 6, followed by a potluck supper. Come join us!