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Restarting In-Person Worship

As part of the Jesus Movement and the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, we pledge to love our neighbors and protect the most vulnerable among us, remembering our baptismal vows to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” We live these pledges out by actively engaging in dismantling racism. For many of us, this will mean learning more about our racial identity, listening to those who have experienced racial prejudice, speaking out against racism, and showing up alongside those in our community working to change unjust systems in our society. We also live out this pledge at worship during this pandemic, by wearing face-coverings, respecting distancing guidelines, foregoing the common cup and refraining from congregational singing.

Updated Guidance on COVID19 Protocals (July 26, 2021)

Jesus commands us to love our neighbors, which includes doing what we can to keep them and ourselves safe in a public health crisis. With regret, due to the spike in Covid cases in our area, I am asking you to reinstate mask-wearing for all (except while reading or preaching) for indoor worship in our diocese.

I have so enjoyed our brief respite from most restrictions in worship. Like all of you, I hoped and prayed that the drop in Covid cases we saw earlier in the summer would prove to be the end of the pandemic. Sadly, the choice of many people in our area to remain unvaccinated is allowing the pandemic to continue. Given the fact that children and some people with health conditions cannot yet be vaccinated, and that even vaccinated adults can catch breakthrough cases (albeit with far better outcomes than unvaccinated people), it seems that the responsible thing to do is keep ourselves safe with masking during indoor worship. I am saddened by the need to tighten restrictions once more, but this message comes after review of the concerning news of a Covid spike, and after discussion with members of our Public Health Task Force.

I ask you to join me in prayer that the current growth in cases is short-lived, and I ask you to urge your members to be vaccinated, for the sake of public health in our community. I hope we can remove the masking requirement soon. But for now, I believe that Jesus’ command to love our neighbor compels us to do what we can to protect our neighbors and our community from this disease. I am grateful to all of you for your leadership in this trying time.

Updated Guidance on COVID19 Protocals (June 17, 2021)

We are glad to be hearing good news on the pandemic in our region. California has lifted COVID restrictions, and San Diego County has reached a milestone of official herd immunity (75% of the population is now vaccinated). Although we know that the Delta variant is coming, which for the unvaccinated population will be riskier both in contagiousness and in how sick people get, for now, we are in a good situation.

Therefore, following the advice of our Public Health Task Force, I am lifting many COVID restrictions, as always with the caveat that we may see restrictions tightening once more if the situation gets worse. Any congregation is welcome to adopt more stringent requirements than these, as congregational situations differ greatly by location, size of the sanctuary, vaccination status of your people, etc. These are the minimum guidelines I expect congregations to follow.

  • Vaccinated people are no longer required to wear masks for worship. Unvaccinated people, including children under age 12, are expected to wear masks.
  • Vaccinated people may now join in congregational singing, both indoors and outdoors.
  • Although you may personally ask people their vaccination status, especially those with particular roles in the service (see next point below), we discourage asking people to provide proof of their vaccination status to enter a worship service.
  • We require that the following participants in church ministry be vaccinated:
    • Anyone celebrating or distributing communion. If any clergy person in this diocese is not vaccinated and wishes to celebrate or distribute communion, I ask you to call me about it so we can talk personally.
    • Anyone singing in a choir or leading sung music in worship.
    • Anyone leading children’s or youth ministries for children under age 12.
    • Anyone visiting a home, hospital, or group care setting as part of a pastoral care ministry or serving as a Eucharistic visitor.
  • You may serve communion wine in individual containers, or by having the priest intinct all wafers and drop them in worshipers’ hands. Sipping from the common cup, or having individual worshipers intinct, is still not allowed.
  • Since children under age 12 have not had the opportunity to be vaccinated, all children’s ministries should be conducted with masks, following 3-foot distancing between children (the same requirements schools follow). Please conduct children’s ministries in a well-ventilated space, or outdoors. You may choose to have them spend most of the service in a special offering for children, entering the nave only for communion.
  • As your space allows, please consider providing a separate space in the nave for families with children under age 12 and for other people who need or prefer to maintain masking and social distancing. Alternatively, you may choose to provide a separate service that continues masking and distancing requirements, limits singing, etc.
  • I encourage clergy in congregations that have a significant number of children under age 12 to contact their families personally. Ask them how they are doing, how you can support them, and what they need to be comfortable returning to church in person. This is a pastoral conversation that will help build your relationship with your families.
  • Refreshments may be served at coffee hour, indoors or outdoors, but they should not be served buffet-style with shared implements. Please have refreshments individually wrapped, or served by a server who is the only one to touch the serving implements. I encourage you to require your servers to be masked and gloved.

I ask you to continue to encourage your members to be vaccinated, to help prevent the further spread of the coronavirus, including the more dangerous Delta variant. Please join me in prayer that the worst of the pandemic is over here in the US, and that the situation in other countries will improve in short order. I am glad that our country is able to share vaccines with other countries at this time, for the protection of their citizens and ours.

My friends, I am so grateful for all you have done during the course of this pandemic. It has not been easy for any of us, especially during the days when we had to sacrifice in-person worship. Now that things are reopening, please let me say how inspired I have been by your example. You have pivoted to meet new requirements numerous times; you have learned innovative ways to provide worship; you have found ways to help people grow in discipleship; you have reached new people with online offerings; you have provided support to people who were isolated at home; and most of all, you have loved and cared for your people. I am so thankful for all of you, and I am thankful to Jesus Christ, the great physician, who brings us together in worship and sends us out again in mission.

Updated Guidance on COVID19 Protocols (May 20, 2021)

California guidelines on indoor worship have not changed: the state still requires distancing, masking, and less than 50% capacity filled. California also does not permit congregational singing at indoor worship. Accordingly, our guidelines for indoor worship will remain as they currently are until California guidelines change, which is anticipated to happen on June 15. We will consider the situation at that time in issuing new guidelines for indoor worship.
For outdoor worship, we are instituting the following changes:
  • Masks are no longer required for outdoor worship.
  • Congregational singing is now permitted for outdoor worship.
  • Please note that at least 6-foot distancing is still required between family groups.
  • Please ask people who are unvaccinated or immunocompromised to continue wearing masks; however, you are not required to verify vaccination status.
Our other guidelines remain the same for the present, and as always, our restrictions may have to be tightened if the COVID situation worsens.
We ask you to encourage your congregations to be vaccinated, and if the opportunity arises, to offer your church facilities for vaccination clinics. Given the loneliness and isolation that many have experienced, we also suggest offering adult forums or webinars on overcoming loneliness.

Guidance on COVID19 Protocols (May 12, 2021)

As the coronavirus situation continues to improve in our region, our diocese is watching the situation carefully and praying that our case numbers continue to drop, as our vaccinations increase. We are so thankful for the scientific advances that have brought this improvement, as well as the careful adherence to safety practices that you have led in our churches. Mindful that cases are still spiking elsewhere in our country and in the world, we offer our prayers for those who are still suffering, and we realize that we may see our own situation worsen in the future.
Most of our churches have now returned to in-person worship, and many of our congregants and most of our clergy are fully vaccinated. Although we may need to tighten our restrictions again, for now our guidelines are changing to recognize the improving environment.
Accordingly, following the recommendations of our diocesan Public Health Task Force, I am making the following modifications and clarifications to our worship guidelines. These guidelines supersede all previous versions.
  • We do not require that you take temperatures.
  • We do not require contact tracing.
  • Hand sanitizer should be placed at all entrances and available in various places throughout the church.
  • We do not require that you clean all surfaces before and after services, but we ask that you continue to clean frequently touched areas like door handles.
  • Prayer books, hymnals and bulletins can be left out and used at second services.
  • Masks must be worn at all services; double masking is no longer required. However, we continue to encourage high-risk, unvaccinated individuals to wear double masks.
General Worship Items
  • Outdoor worship is still the preferred option.
  • Microphones should be cleaned between speakers, or separate microphones provided for each speaker.
  • Preachers may remove their masks if they are 12 feet away from other participants.
  • Deacons may set the table, indoors or outdoors.
  • Freshly baked communion bread is permitted.
  • Clergy should continue to thoroughly wash their hands during the offertory, before setting the table for communion or praying the Great Thanksgiving.
  • For communion, you may offer wine to congregants if: (1) it is in individual containers, or (2) the priest intincts all wafers and offers the intincted wafers to congregants, either by dropping them into their hands or placing them in individual containers to hand to people. The priest should NOT place wafers directly on people’s lips.
  • Baptisms are permitted, as long as the priest approaches within 6 feet of the baptismal candidate only for pouring water and for chrismation. The priest should thoroughly wash or sanitize hands before doing a baptism. Small children should be held by family members rather than by the priest. Multiple baptisms should not use the same water, but have new water poured over each candidate.
  • I am doing confirmations and will consult with you about them prior to my visitation.
Congregational Singing, Spoken Responses and Choirs
  • Spoken congregational responses are permitted if participants are masked.
  • Choirs can practice indoors if all are vaccinated, but should maintain 6-foot distancing and limit time in one space to one hour maximum.
  • Masked congregants may sing outdoors. Congregational singing indoors is still not permitted, but attendees may hum quietly behind their masks.
  • Masked choir singers must be 6 feet apart outdoors and 12 feet apart indoors.
Indoor Worship Guidelines
  • You may fill up to 50% of the seating capacity of the church.
  • Each household group should be spaced at least 6 feet from any other household group. Please note that the distancing requirements may mean that your attendance limitation is actually less than 50%.
  • All participants must wear masks. Please have extra masks available for people who arrive without one. High-risk unvaccinated individuals are encouraged to double-mask.
  •  Please provide the best ventilation possible for indoor worship.
  • Please keep indoor worship services to 60 minutes or less.
Pastoral Care
  • Anointing of the sick is permitted with handwashing or sanitizing before and after.
  • Vaccinated eucharistic visitors may meet in small groups indoors without masks IF all the people they are visiting are vaccinated.
  • If all people being visited are NOT vaccinated, a vaccinated eucharistic visitor may enter a house, do a brief traditional service while remaining masked and then depart.
  • Unvaccinated eucharistic visitors are limited to delivering the communion bread outdoors with a very brief prayer and then departing.
Small Groups Meeting Indoors
  • Small groups of church members can meet indoors. If everyone is vaccinated and all agree, masks may be removed, but a 6-foot distance should be maintained.
  • AA and other external groups are allowed to meet if masking and 6-foot distancing is maintained.
Outdoor Sunday School and Youth Group Guidelines
Utilizing the CDC guidelines for schools
  • All children must wear masks.
  • Children must use hand sanitizer at arrival and before returning to their families.
  • 3 feet of spacing between participants is required.
  • Individual supplies should be provided for participants.
  • If food is part of the program, participants must be 6 feet apart and individually packaged food and drink must be provided. Masks may be removed only for eating and drinking.
Indoor Sunday School and Youth Group Guidelines
Utilizing the CDC guidelines for schools
  • All children must wear masks.
  • Hand sanitizer must be used at arrival and before children return to their families.
  • 3 feet of spacing must be maintained between participants.
  • Individual supplies should be provided for participants.
  • NO food or drink as part of the program.
  • Refreshments may be served outdoors only. Congregants may remove masks to consume food and drink, but should maintain 6-foot distancing between family groups.
  • Refreshments should be served either (1) in individually wrapped portions, or (2) by a masked and gloved volunteer onto a disposable plate held by the congregant. Refreshments should NOT be served buffet-style with shared utensils.
  • Drinks may be served in individual bottles (e.g., water bottles) or poured by a masked, gloved volunteer. Additions like sugar and cream should be supplied in individual packets or served by a masked, gloved volunteer.
Church Offices
  • Offices may reopen when all staff members are fully vaccinated or have had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated, and two weeks have elapsed to gain full immunity.
  • Masking and distancing should be maintained when visitors are present.
  •  If two or more staff members are not vaccinated, please take precautions to protect them from each other.
As church leaders, you have a strong voice in your communities and influence within your congregations. I hope you will strongly promote vaccination as the pathway to public health and a return to normalcy. And if the opportunity arises, I encourage you to offer your church spaces as locations for vaccination clinics.
As always, I am praying for you all as you lead your congregations through this challenging time. I know that our congregations will continue to worship, celebrate the sacraments, and follow Jesus, while we do our share to protect public health and love our neighbors.


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