Three years ago, the world was shocked when churches, schools, and most other public spaces in our country were closed indefinitely, because of a pandemic that most of us thought could never happen in the twenty-first century. During the spring of 2020, still expecting to reopen our churches after a few weeks, I invited Dr. Cheryl Anderson, a distinguished epidemiologist from UC San Diego, to speak to us on a clergy Zoom call. Someone asked Dr. Anderson, “How long do you expect this pandemic to last?” Without missing a beat, she said, “About three years.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I couldn’t imagine that the emergency could possibly last that long. But it was almost three years later, last December, when we finally felt comfortable enough to hold the Good News Festival that had been postponed twice – and even then, one of our keynote speakers, Dr. William Barber, had to bow out at the last minute because he caught Covid. Three years later, the world is finally returning to normal.
At the three-year mark, I would like to update pandemic guidance for worship, which I last issued just over a year ago. The short version of the updated guidance is this: I have removed all pandemic restrictions on worship except that you should no longer be allowing individuals to intinct bread into the cup. A priest or chalicist may intinct bread on communicants’ behalf and hand it to them. If your congregation wishes to create more stringent requirements, such as requiring or encouraging masks for worship, you may do so.
Expanding that guidance a bit, you will note that the common cup was restored to worship a year ago, and at that time, I asked that you ensure that all worshipers have access to communion in both kinds. You may offer the common cup for sipping or for intincting by one person on worshipers’ behalf. Please do NOT bless small individual cups of wine on the altar and hand those out to worshipers. The symbolism of the common cup is important, as the mixed wine and water represent the baptized people of God who are one with Christ in his body and blood. If, for some reason, you are still using small individual cups, please make plans to transition back to using the common cup, as described above.
In other words, other than not allowing individuals to intinct their own bread, we are back to normal Episcopal communion practices.
Our churches aren’t quite back to normal yet, though. While some churches are enjoying booming attendance and participation, most are not yet back to pre-pandemic attendance. While we did well with the short-term challenge of how to keep our congregations together during a pandemic, the bigger challenge is proving to be the same one that our churches have confronted for a long time: how, in a time of church decline, to reach our communities with the good news of Jesus Christ.
To confront this larger challenge: stay tuned. We’ll run a Top Ten list of suggestions for congregations as we emerge from the pandemic in next week’s EDSD E-News.
Please know how grateful I am for all of you and your continuing leadership of God’s People.
Bishop Susan Brown Snook