Suggestions for Celebrating a Safe Christmas in Church

Christmas is almost here – and with the anticipation of blessed Christmas services comes concern about the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is spreading rapidly in our area.  This variant appears to be more infectious than its predecessor Delta and more resistant to vaccine-induced immunity. Fortunately, it also appears to cause less severe illness. Nonetheless, as COVID-related hospitalizations are rising around the country, our diocese has followed the mandate of the state of California and reinstituted the mask mandate for indoor worship and other public indoor events.

EDSD’s Public Health Task Force met this week and agreed to ask each congregation to consider whether to establish further restrictions for safety. Each congregation’s situation is different, based on factors such as its location, vaccination status of its members, size of its worship space, number of people expected at Christmas services, and so on.  The Public Health Task Force has some suggestions and ideas each congregation might consider to help people stay safe.

  1. In accordance with this week’s state and diocesan mandate, we require worshipers to wear masks. We suggest mandatory wearing of a surgical mask that covers the nose and mouth. N95 masks are the most effective. Cloth face coverings and face shields without a mask are not adequate. Congregations might want to have extra supplies of masks on hand for those who arrive without them. Preachers, readers, and officiants at worship are not required to wear masks while speaking, but please do wear them for activities that occur close to other people, such as distributing communion.
  2. Individuals who are not vaccinated and “boosted” should consider not attending in-person services.
  3. Individuals who are at high risk for developing severe COVID-related illness (which includes many of us in the diocese: the very elderly, those with serious heart or lung disease, significant obesity, diabetes or illnesses that impair the immune system), if they choose to attend in person, might consider choosing one of the less crowded services.
  4. Social distancing is important and churches that have more than one service might try to work with the congregation to distribute attendance evenly, or even limiting attendance.
  5. Indoor congregational singing should only be allowed with masks. Singing creates aerosols that can penetrate masks and transmit the virus, especially in crowded, poorly ventilated indoor spaces. As an alternative to indoor singing, an after-worship, outdoor, session of caroling, with continued adherence to mask wearing and distancing, could be considered.
  6. Good ventilation is essential. All doors and windows should be open. Fans can be installed. Adequacy of ventilation can be assessed with an inexpensive, hand-held CO2 monitor.
  7. Rapid COVID test kits are available. Anyone with recent COVID exposure or concerning symptoms should test before coming to church and attend only if they have a negative test.
  8. It is understood that social distancing and good ventilation will not be possible to the same degree in all parishes – and in those parishes where these goals cannot be achieved, every effort should be made to discourage the highest risk individuals from attending services.
  9. Live streaming of services will become an increasingly important offering in years to come.

In summary: wear masks; social distance; keep indoor spaces well ventilated; get tested; stay home if you have symptoms, exposures, or special risk factors; and get vaccinated and boosted.

Your Public Health Task Force prays that all our congregations will have a safe, merry, blessed Christmas, and enjoy the celebration of the coming of our Savior – in good health!

Members of the Public Health Task Force are: David Ostrander, M.D., Chair; Dr. Cheryl Anderson PhD; Ms. Judy Burton, R.N.; The Rev. Deacon Cindy Campos; Dr. Jamal Gwathney M.D.; The Rev. Roger Haenke, R.N.; The Rev. Brian Johnson, PhD; The Rev. Regan Schutz; The Rt. Rev. Dr. Susan Brown Snook.