Guidelines Regarding COVID-19

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Guidelines from Bishop Doyle Regarding COVID-19 within the Episcopal Diocese of Texas

March 27, 2020

Watch the Bishop's message of hope, and read his full message below:

Good News of Hope: COVID-19 Message

March 26, 2020

Almost every county across the Diocese of Texas has moved the restriction of gathering 10 or more people to Sunday May 10th, 2020. As of today, many counties are moving to “shelter in place” or “stay at home – work safe” type guidelines.

3 clergy, 1 spouse, and over 10 parishioners in the diocese have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Many more are presumed cases and are in quarantine. Still more are in quarantine for exposure – with the vast majority of clergy and parishioners now joining them to flatten the curve.

“Shelter at home” or “stay at home - work safe” measures have now been put into place.

After reading the guidelines in the differing counties we believe the following is true:

You may continue to go to church, work with less than 10 people, 6 feet apart, for worship only.

Essential personnel can go to the office to do what is needed regarding finance and correspondence on an “as needed basis.”

The closure of offices and suspension of public services until May 10, 2020 in accordance with the local and statewide guidelines remains in affect. Most counties have made it clear there are to be no public gatherings of 10 or more until May 10th. Your county may be different. It appears that these guidelines will continue even after the “shelter at home” and “stay at home – work safe” measures are lifted.

We will address this weekly.

If we can return to public worship sooner we will do so.

And, if we have to extend the self-quarantine in accordance with health and state leadership guidance we will do so.

March 20, 2020 
Bishop’s Message to the Diocese 

As we begin another weekend living through our self-quarantine, and our virtual worship, one of the things that's come to me, and really been thinking about this all week, is a passage from Hebrews chapter 10, verses 32-34, in which the author of the book reminds those who have been going through a trial, a persecution, that they have a hope-filled faith, and that is this hope-filled faith that has allowed them to respond to the difficulty in their own life. 

The wordplay that is going on in that passage is one about the difference between substance, those earthly things, and basis, that which all things come from. As he's playing it out, what he talks about is how those who have been persecuted let go of the worldly dimension of their life, the regularity of their life, their possessions, all of these kinds of things, their substance, if you will, and relied instead upon the God of their faith, their basis, Jesus Christ, the foundation, the cornerstone.

As I was thinking about that and realized how we, all of us, are going through this trial and this time in which things feel like sand is moving under our feet and the regularity and normalcy of a daily schedule, routine, work and family life has all been changed as we come to be confined in our homes, we need to remember that it's actually not any of those things, the regularity, the normalcy, the substance, the work, the wealth, all of those things. Actually, we have a hope-filled faith that buoys us up at moments like this.

I've been amazed over the last couple of weeks as I've watched you and your leaders, the clergy of the diocese, reach out to people to re-engage on phone trees and video calls and video conferencing, to pray, to worship, to do Bible studies, to live out the life of Christianity in our homes. We need to remember that we come from a long line of individuals, of Christians, who prayed in caves and homes and huts as persecution and plagues and war ravaged their land. They, too, were filled with this hope that buoyed them up past the kind of substance of things, and they found that they could rely on the basis of all things God in Christ Jesus.

So I encourage you in this time. I don't know what the next few weeks will bring. I don't know how this virus will continue to spread across the United States or even in our own diocese or in our own towns, but I know that it will not defeat us, that we have an amazing faith, a hope in God that will deliver us through this time, and that nothing can separate us in this moment.

I want to leave you with one last vision from scripture. That is the disciples who were huddled as a stormy sea raged around their boat. Can you imagine that in that moment they were feared for their lives, that everything was over, that the boat was surely to sink, and in the midst of that great storm Jesus appears to them across the stormy sea and calms their fears and their anxieties.

This is the kind of basis for a hope-filled life that we rest upon. More than that, as we reach out, as we call people, as we gather in all of the different ways that technology allows us to in this time, facing this virus and all that's being thrown at us, let us realize that we, as C.S. Lewis said, are the little Christs, We are the ones being sent across the stormy sea to calm the fears and anxieties of those around us, those who even fear for their life, and to offer them the hope-filled faith that we have.

May God bless you, God make His face to shine upon you. Blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be upon you and remain with you this day and forevermore. Amen.

March 19, 2020

 

The Episcopal Diocese of Texas is suspending group worship until March 30, 2020, until further notice. Please continue virtual worship practices and stay tuned to this page for further updates from the diocese, as this process remains a fluid one.

This is what I see occurring across the U.S. at this time. The United States continues to lag in testing so we do not know yet the spread of the outbreak. As of the writing of this communication the US has 10,442 cases and 150 deaths. Texas has 95 of cases.

We have wide community spread and are presently in a 14-day invited self-quarantine for the churches of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. Our schools are closed as are many offices and we have moved into administration and ministry through virtual means. The U.S. - Canada boarder is now closed except for essential travel.

Cities and health officials across the state are requesting that no more than 10 people gather together at a time. Many cities have already requested that we should leave our homes only as necessary. Restaurants are open for delivery only.

No clergy in the diocese have been diagnosed with COVID-19 yet. We do have parishioners who are quarantined because of exposure at work. We also have a parishioner who has COVID-19 and is in the hospital. This individual was not in church during the infection time so no notice was necessary. As testing becomes more widely available, we will know more about who is infected and the level of community spread. We will not be out of those woods after 3 weeks of quarantine.

We recognize that big cities, towns, and rural areas are having a different experience of this virus. We are attempting to be mindful of this fact and create guidelines for you use as needed. 

New Guidelines

We are officially extending closure of offices and suspension of public services until March 30th.

However, you should begin to prepare for and think about 8 weeks of suspended in-person gatherings.

As stated above, cities and health officials across the state are requesting that no more than 10 people gather at a time. This is a very wise precaution. Also be prepared for “shelter in home” or “stay at home” policies coming from city governments.

Churches may allow employees to work in the office as long as social distancing guidelines are followed, but we encourage as much work to be done from home as possible.

Is this only for 2 weeks?

No. You should follow the public health protocols set down in your area regarding office closures, distancing, and worship.

Does this mean a virtual Holy Week and Easter?

 Yes, it most likely does.

We are putting together liturgies for home and online resources which explore how to do Holy Week liturgies as families and with friends at home. Virginia Seminary is offering a set of webinars on this topic.

We need to remember that during war, plague, and persecution we as Christians have discerned ways to worship and live as the church without gathering for the Eucharist.

What are other churches doing beyond virtual worship?

Leaders are creating:

Online Sunday school for adults and children on a variety of platforms Prayer groups, small groups, and bible studies are moving to virtual.

We are encouraging a high communication, strategic contact, regiment for the duration of this outbreak. Moreover, the length of time the epidemic is expected to impact our communities is estimated at an 18-month horizon. Therefore, these practices need to be paced and taken on as long-term ministries for the church.

How often will we evaluate our own “quarantine”?

Weekly. We will be watching this every day and advise and provide counsel weekly.

It is highly likely that we may receive a “stay at home” or “shelter in place” situation. In this case we would think that you would decrease participation by other members of your congregation but that you would continue to provide regular worship virtually. That might mean going to your church in order to film; but our recommendation would be to film from home.

March 13, 2020

 

The Coronavirus continues to impact the world and communities across the United States. The W.H.O. has declared this a pandemic, and the United States government followed, declaring “a national emergency.”

It is impacting life within some of our Episcopal Dioceses in the wider church. The outbreak of the virus within the general population may be greater depending upon what part of the country you live. The bishops of those dioceses are acting appropriately, given the level of concern and direction of their health officials.

In addition to Bishop Doyle’s requirements and recommendations from last week, we have included the following guidelines for this week and reiterate that until further notice:

Bishop Doyle is asking all parishioners to worship with us from home for the next two Sundays.

He is asking all clergy to organize virtual opportunities for worship, bible study, and small groups. If you are not able to provide virtual worship this Sunday, the Cathedral will be offering online worship (www.christchurchcathedral.org). His expectation is that churches will organize their own offering by next Sunday and the Diocesan office will continue to provide resources to help with that. Click here to learn how to livestream events and meet virtually.

He is not requiring you to cancel every event on your campus; you must use your best judgment for support groups and other small gatherings. However, experts are recommending no gatherings of more than 10 people.  Bishop Doyle would encourage the use of virtual support groups for those in recovery.  A.A. has communicated alternatives on their website, including the use of intergroup, which offers online gatherings. 

The bottom line is that churches will need to figure out how your work continues in your context.  Take the necessary steps to put safety first. 

Clergy can go to the church to lead, record, and livestream virtual services with our people and may continue to go into the office if necessary. 

It is Bishop Doyle’s Godly counsel that we refrain from gathering for worship and in large groups at our churches during this time of COVID -19 outbreak - enabling us to slow the spread.

  1. If members travel to foreign countries, self-quarantine is recommended for a period of two weeks; refraining from coming to the church and/or school for that time period. Check the guidelines from CDC here.

 Please be aware that you can find the CDC updates here

You can find the current CDC risk assessment here.

The CDC basic guidelines (as updated today) regarding prevention of the spread of any disease and COVID-19 can be found here in English, Chinese, and Spanish.

 As mentioned last week, remember the basics to minimize the risk of being exposed to, or exposing others to, COVID-19 or other illnesses:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
  • The use of hand sanitizer is a good practice for the season. 

March 6, 2020

Due to the incredibly contagious nature of COVID-19 and to practice an abundance of caution, we are requiring the following common-sense steps and practices for your church operations and liturgies.  Until further notice: 

  • Discontinue intinction (dipping the bread or wafer in the cup). You may offer the common cup, but no intinction is permitted as it increases the chance of spreading germs.  Please remind worshipers that as an option, they may partake in communion without receiving the wine at all.  While the BPC page 407-408 states, "Sacraments may be received in both kinds simultaneously,” it is subject to the bishop's approval.

March 5, 2020

The Coronavirus continues to impact the world and communities across the United States. It is affecting life within some of our Episcopal Dioceses more so than others, and each diocese is acting appropriately, given the level of concern and local outbreak.

 The Episcopal Diocese of Texas has a deep desire to care and lead in this situation. We are suggesting initiatives that will lower the risk of COVID-19 spreading in our communities.  Although we are aware that the virus is now within the geographical area of our diocese,  it is important to note that these cases are travel-related, and it does not change the fact that the immediate risk to most Texans is presently low.

 Our goals are to:

  1. Continue to provide to our people and communities with the very best pastoral care and service - now and in the months to come;
  2. Provide the continuity of safe and open churches where people may pray and worship;
  3. Protect the most vulnerable among us by initiating practices to keep the spread of infectious disease down, including COVID-19;
  4. Communicate and reiterate the importance of best practices regarding illness; and
  5. Be attentive to the COVID-19 emerging context in Texas, within the wider church, and globally.

We recognize that, like you, heads of congregations will have to make personal decisions related these guidelines, how comfortable they are with them, and how to lead appropriately given the immediate context.

 We wish to allay fearful, and often anxious, environments.

 We will follow updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  and our local health authorities and follow their suggested preventative measures. We ask you to do the same. Most health organizations are communicating to the public daily, so please be proactive in obtaining up-to-date information and follow instructions from your local leaders.

 We urge you to follow the fundamental guidelines regarding prevention of the spread of any disease, and COVID-19 especially:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
  • The use of hand sanitizer is a good practice for the season.

 Please remember that cutting down on influenza and other illnesses is an integral part of responding to the COVID-19 virus. Freeing up hospital beds and promoting a healthy populace is proactive. As of the date of this message, the CDC reports 32 million flu illnesses, 310,000 hospitalizations, and 18,000 deaths from flu in the US. This puts a drain on resources needed in other parts of the public health system.

Due to the incredibly contagious nature of COVID-19 and to practice an abundance of caution, we are recommending the following common-sense steps and practices for your church operations and liturgies.  Until further notice: 

  • Bishop Doyle is requiring the discontinuation of intinction (dipping the bread or wafer in the cup). It may be important to remind us all that "Sacraments may be received in both kinds simultaneously" but this is subject to the bishop's approval, according to the BCP page 407-408.
  • Drain and empty all baptismal fonts and stoups, and for the time being, the practice of dipping the hands in the water of a font should be discontinued. If you perform a baptism, please use fresh water each time.
  • Avoid physical contact with others, including during the exchange of the peace—a simple bow or verbal exchange is appropriate.
  • Place hand sanitizing gel at the credence tables and ask all who are involved in the distribution of communion and chalice to sanitize before the distribution.

Should the outbreak grow in Texas, you need to know that we will follow the best practices of other dioceses where the risk has become higher of spreading the virus.

We will be monitoring updates and communicating with you directly as things change, through this webpage, and if necessary, through the dissemination of e-publications. 

Should you have any questions regarding this communication, your church operations and/or liturgies, please contact the Rev. Canon Joseph M.C. Chambers at 713.353.2145.