Update March 13, 2020
Bishop Lee has suspended in-person worship, meetings and events across the Diocese of Chicago be suspended until further notice. Read the letter online.
Update March 11, 2020
Dear People of God in the Diocese of Chicago:
As the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to spread across our region, I want to commend to you the resources for limiting the spread of the virus that my staff produced last week (below) and to offer additional guidance for acting for the good of all, particularly the most vulnerable, during this time.
First, I encourage everyone who is not feeling well and older members of the congregation with underlying medical issues to stay home. No program, liturgy, or ministry is important enough to risk accelerating the spread of the disease and overwhelming the health systems on which the most vulnerable will depend if they fall ill. It is perfectly acceptable for any congregation whose clergyperson is feeling sick to conduct lay-led Morning Prayer on any Sunday. Christ is present with us whenever we gather under any circumstances. We have also prepared resources for worshipping online in the event that doing so becomes the best option for your congregation.
I also ask that baptismal fonts be drained-an old Lenten custom with new utility-and that offering plates be placed in a central location in the church rather than being passed hand-to-hand. If you are not set up to receive pledge payments and gifts online, now is an excellent time to explore that option.
While I am not asking that congregations suspend the common cup at this time, I urge clergy and lay leaders to explain to worshipers that dipping the bread or wafer in the cup is unsanitary and should be avoided at all costs. Please also know that our theology is clear that when you receive just the bread of the Eucharist, you receive the fullness of the sacrament. Anyone may forgo the cup when receiving communion for any reason. Encouraging people who are able to receive communion standing, rather than kneeling, can help to limit exposure via the altar rail, which should also be cleaned thoroughly and often.
We know from public health officials that we can best protect those who are most vulnerable to this virus by limiting the number of people to whom they are exposed. For that reason, I ask that Eucharistic visitors not be deployed at this time. If pastoral and Eucharistic visits are appropriate, clergy can perform both functions in the same visit and thereby limit exposure.
All of these practices are important to attend to the needs of our worshipping communities. As people of God, we are also bound to care for our communities by providing accurate information about the virus and supporting those who are in need. To that end, I will be convening the deans via Zoom later today to explore ways that congregations can serve as resources for their communities in ways that help slow the spread of the virus. If you would like to explore options for public ministry in the midst of COVID-19, I commend to you this webinar from Episcopal Relief & Development scheduled for March 13 at 2 pm Central.
The guidance of public health authorities and what we understand about this virus is changing daily, and so these guidelines may need to change over time. I will be back in touch with you as the situation in our region merits new considerations, and in any event, before Holy Week. Please know that my staff and I are paying close attention to the needs of our congregations and communities during this time, and I invite you to let us know what would be most helpful to you. Please email the Rev. Courtney Reid, director of operations, or call her at 312.751.6725.
Finally, I ask you to pray. Among all the changes and chances of this mortal life, please pray for those in greatest need, for wisdom for our civic leaders, for guidance for all of us who have responsibility for our congregations, and for those who are afraid and alone. Along with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, I offer to you this prayer for our time from Episcopal Relief & Development:
God of the present moment,
God who in Jesus stills the storm
and soothes the frantic heart;
bring hope and courage to all
who wait or work in uncertainty.
Bring hope that you will make them the equal
of whatever lies ahead.
Bring them courage to endure what cannot be avoided,
for your will is health and wholeness;
you are God, and we need you.
-Adapted from New Zealand Prayer Book, p. 765
The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee
Bishop of Chicago
March 4, 2020
As more cases of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, are identified in our region and across the country, our churches can play an important role in sharing accurate information and educating people about practical measures to slow the progress of the virus.
Episcopal Relief & Development is posting current information and guidelines on its website. Find reliable information about the symptoms of the virus, how it spreads, and what you can do to prevent it.
The best prevention measures include:
- washing your hands frequently with soap and warm water, including after coughing, sneezing, handling diapers, preparing food or using the bathroom
- using alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- refraining from touching your face, especially your nose, eyes and mouth, unless you have just washed your hands
- staying home when you feel sick.
Bishop Lee suggests these measures as ones that clergy and congregational leaders can consider as ways to limit the spread of the virus:
- It is entirely appropriate to use hand sanitizer visibly when celebrating the Eucharist or distributing the elements.
- Congregations should avoid intinction (the dipping of the host or bread into the chalice).
- Some research suggests that illness is less likely to spread when metal, rather than ceramic, chalices are used.
- If worshippers are concerned or are feeling unwell, they can be reminded that we receive the fullness of communion by receiving only the bread.
- Hugging and handshaking are best avoided at the moment. Instead, worshipers can greet one another during the peace with waves, bows, or other signs that don’t involve physical contact.
- People who are ill can be encouraged to stay home and assured they will be included in the congregation’s prayers.
- Coffee hour and feeding program volunteers can be reminded to wash their hands and handle food with plastic gloves or utensils.
Bishop Lee and his staff are monitoring the situation and will be in touch with clergy and lay leaders if necessary as it unfolds. Director of Operations Courtney Reid is coordinating the diocese’s response; please email her with questions or concerns, especially if the situation in your area becomes urgent.