Safe Eucharistic Distribution
Dear diocesan clergy,
St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel…” (2 Timothy 2:8).
As we come to Holy Week and Easter Sunday, this is our goal: remembering what the Risen Lord Jesus accomplished for us and for our salvation.
Please focus on Jesus in your hearts and minds and be determined to worship and serve him even in the midst of the pandemic and its consequences. If ever we needed to remember the promise of eternal life and confidence in the presence of Jesus with us, it is now.
Please see Holy Week of 2020 as a tremendous opportunity for the spread of the gospel and thus for the extension of the Kingdom of God.
After consultation with the College of Bishops, we together want to encourage you to preach the gospel to a hurting world. Specifically I recommend that you have a clear call to faith in Jesus in each Holy week service you are able to hold online.
Here are some specific instructions for your Easter worship:
- Regardless of whether you choose to have a Eucharist or a morning prayer service, please pray for those who are grieving, for those who are sick with COVID 19, and those healthcare professionals and first responders who are putting themselves in harm’s way. Pray especially for wisdom for our leaders in this time of crisis (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
- Local and state directives are not the same throughout the diocese, and they are regularly changing. You are responsible to know what they are, and to keep track of them. Whatever plan you have may have to change if the government directives change. If there is a complete shelter in place order in your area, I expect you to do only online services, including Easter (or direct your congregations to churches which are online). After hearing from our provincial chancellor, it was made clear that this is not a church versus state issue. We should follow the directives of our government leaders (Romans 13:1-3). As Christians, we should be even more concerned and more cautious about the health of both our members and of our neighbors than even our governments are. (I also exhort you to not be involved in the social media blame game on any side of the pandemic issue. If you have posted along these lines, please remove your posts.)
- If you are celebrating the Eucharist on Easter, I ask that you emphasize what has been called “Spiritual Communion.” This is an entirely appropriate response to our inability to worship together as usual during this pandemic. You may not appeal to, nor encourage, your people to drive to receive bread. You may explain that it is an option for those who desire to receive. But you have the freedom to decide not to distribute.
- For those wishing to receive Communion, we will distribute in one kind, namely bread. There was basic consensus among the bishops that there was no way to distribute wine reverently and hygienically given the nature of the virus. We will follow these options (quoted from those Archbishop Foley Beach shared with his diocesan clergy for Easter communion): (a) Give pre-consecrated bread during the week before and the people keep it reverently until Sunday when they partake during the online service; or (b) Offer bread during specific hours in a drive-through the parking lot distribution of communion after the Easter service. Both methods should be done according to CDC hygiene requirements and the state's social distancing practices.
- In particular cases, where giving bread to people driving up in cars is not possible, especially where it could block traffic, you may have a station or two outdoors that people may walk to, no more than one household at a time, in order to receive the bread. The person distributing may say the words of distribution from the Eucharistic rite and blessing (or “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…” if theperson distributing is not a priest).
- During the service itself, after you have received the bread and the wine yourself (and others have received at home if they have pre-consecrated bread), please lead the Prayer for Spiritual Communion, 106., page 677 BCP 2019. Then close the service with the prayer of thanksgiving, blessing and dismissal.
- Those who distribute the bread may not have had contact with a COVID 19 patient or live in a household with anyone else who has had such contact. They may not have been in a hotspot such as New York in the last two weeks. They may not have any symptoms of a viral illness.
- Hands of distributors need to be washed or sanitized between each household and they must wear masks.
- If bread is being distributed, there needs to be a hygienic means, such as clear plastic bags, for people to take bread home to others in their household who desire communion. Entire families do not need to drive to receive.
- Special care must be taken to ensure both that the bread is prepared and distributed in a sanitary way and that there is no physical contact between the person distributing and the person receiving. Assume that any person involved could be carrying the virus.
Three further notes:
I hope to send a short video greeting from me to be used in your online Easter Day services.
I strongly encourage you to shorten your normal Holy Week services. Normal online attention spans rarely are longer than about forty minutes. And you are often broadcasting to households with small children. You have discretion as to how you will shorten the services.
Many parishes are finding Zoom services are preferable to online streaming. It gives the option of having readers and musicians sharing from home. People can be divided into groups for brief sharing and prayer. And people can dial into Zoom from regular phones and hear what is going on if they do not have internet connectivity.
The staff and I have been meeting weekly with diocesan leaders in a recurring Zoom call at 11am EDT on Thursdays. On April 2nd, we will meet again to discuss these updates and to pray together. I am asking all clergy to be present on this call. Contact Jessica Jones to receive the Zoom link.
I very much hope that despite all these instructions, your Easter services will be glorious and a great joy to all involved.
Blessings to you in Jesus our Risen Messiah,
The Rt. Rev. Neil G. Lebhar