Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Greetings in the name of our Risen Lord!
As we continue this journey through the Covid-19 Quarantine, we do so walking with the Risen Christ more fully into Easter, the Great Fifty Days. I pray we can walk in joy and on the right side of Easter. The French writer Louis Evely observed that the disciples before meeting the risen Jesus “were sad because they believed he was dead—and we [too often] are sad even though we believe that he is alive.”
We continue to make this journey with our people in a time of unusual uncertainty: uncertainties regarding the novel coronavirus with confusing, seemingly contradictory statistics, predictions, and interpretations of where we are in this unfolding crisis both as a nation and as South Carolinians; uncertainties also about the flattened economy and of how a financial depression will affect our people and our congregations. Hardly a deanery clericus zoom conference ends without the question being asked just when I think we will be back in our buildings. My answer continues to be that the medical and social state is fluid and it is not realistic for me to predict an answer at this time. My commitment to you is that I will continue to keep in regular communication with you regarding this and other developments and attempt to give you advance notice whenever I can.
For now, we continue to be out of our buildings for public worship. That means for most of you the online services are the primary means of congregational worship. I am however permitting those who believe it will be beneficial for their people the opportunity to administer the pre-consecrated sacrament. Please note this is permissible not required.
In many of our larger congregations, the logistics of offering the sacrament in this manner may only add to the burdens of ministry and therefore will not be helpful or even advisable at this time. Indeed, many of our larger congregations will choose to wait and continue with the present methods of ministry. This may be true for smaller congregations as well particularly where the priest is in the immune sensitive category. Others may find it a welcome “loosening” of a prior restriction.
One final observation for us all. As our nation moves into state and regional models of reopening, we may well be faced as a diocese in realizing that “one size” or model of adapting and reopening will not do for all, at least for all at the same time. I will do my best to protect our unity even as we may not have complete uniformity in the timeline. This may be but one early example. Realistically, of course, all should understand that this has already happened in the shutdown and even continues. Some of our smaller congregations were not able to adapt as quickly or as well as our larger churches to the online worship service models. Frankly, they had the hardest time hearing my Episcopal Directive in closing their churches particularly as attendance isn’t much larger than what others have in order to do a live online service.
Now, for those who are planning to offer the pre-consecrated sacrament to your people these are my directives and recommendations. I will want to have a conference call with those who choose to distribute the sacrament on April 26 early in that week to learn from your experience. We will then evaluate this moving forward.
Directives. The first Sunday this is permitted will be April 26, 2020. You will need to consecrate the bread and, where in prepackaged individual cups, the wine well in advance of the Sunday worship. If you have not already purchased the individual cups, please do not try to construct or assemble your own. Also, please recognize this is not an abandonment of the common cup. It is a temporary allowance for our current crisis. If you do not have the pre-packaged sealed hosts, you will need to package this in sealable plastic bags. You or those doing this shall have thoroughly washed their hands and used disinfectant (and if you so choose, plastic gloves). However, the gloves do not make up for washing with soup and water. Please also use facemasks when packaging. How you distribute this to your people will be determined by your local systems but please instruct those involved to use every precaution of recommended social distancing.
Recommendations: Those parishioners who receive the sacrament should store the sacrament in a respectful place in their home perhaps placing it in a vessel and then putting it in a china cabinet or other respectful, protected place. On the Sunday of the communion, they should place the sacrament on a plate removing the bread from the prepackaged wrap or plastic bag prior to the service. Creating a reverent atmosphere is encouraged. After participating in the online service—the gospel read and preached, creed, confession and absolution, words of institution and Lord’s Prayer, the priest leading the service and the parishioners at home will receive the sacrament. For those who will be viewing the service but without the sacrament please include the prayer for “Spiritual Communion” as a means of including everyone. You may have parishioners participate who choose not to receive the preconsecrated sacrament, who live in a retirement community, or out of town and are viewing your worship service.
Drive by pickup for same Sunday Communion. As you know from the Deanery Zoom calls I’m less sanguine about this but should you choose to do it on the Sunday of April 26 you will need to allow for sufficient time after the service concludes to package the host for distribution for those driving by the church to pick it up. All the precautions noted above shall be employed. This applies to those distributing to the parishioners who drive by the church. Practice the best patterns of social distancing.
I remain grateful for you and your faithful ministry to our Lord and his people and confident we shall be more than conquerors through Christ who strengthens us!
May the Peace and Joy of the Risen Christ be with you and the people of God you serve in Him,
–The Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence is Bishop of The Anglican Diocese of South Carolina