From Bishop Dabney of the Diocese of Southwest Florida
Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida
To the Clergy on the Feast of the Ascension
Thursday, May 21, 2020
From the Collect for Ascension Day
“Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages….”
My dear friends,
As I said on our clergy Zoom call on the 19th of May, I was not making any changes regarding congregational gathering guidance but that the information could change the very next day: It did!
Yesterday the CDC released information regarding reopening of a variety of institutions and, of course, faith communities were omitted from the release. Yesterday was also the day of the meeting I had with a number of Florida Judicatories including other Florida Episcopal Dioceses, multiple Presbyterian Church Presbyteries, the Florida Catholic Conference, the Lutheran Church, and the United Methodist Church. There was a great deal of commonality regarding the greater reopening of in person worship. The dates were everything from May 31 to the month of August. My two favorite takeaways were “Don’t be stupid” and “We love our neighbor by flattening the curve.” There was much more but you would find our own conversations well represented.
Therefore: Today I make these guidance recommendations recognizing that the requirements and recommendations from the Federal Government and the State of Florida could change and/or the local information about the COVID-19 could change and accelerate.
May 31 – In person worship may be expanded to 25% of the Fire Department’s safe number certificate for the Sanctuary. This is not a requirement. You may continue your current cautionary practices. The 25% continues the maintenance of 6 feet of physical distancing.
Make very clear plans for facility cleaning and disinfecting before and after any and every function. Remove and store all hymnals, Books of Common Prayer, and other worship books and printed materials.
Create carefully designed worship traffic patterns for gathering through the dismissal to help people avoid personal contact
Masks are highly recommended.
No hand shaking or hugs. Monastic reverent bows to one another are elegant gestures.
Do not pass the collection plates. Provide specific places where offerings may be made without touching anything. Encourage online giving.
Morning Prayer is still a recommended “no touch” service. Offer it with beauty. If offering Holy Communion, only the presiding priest should receive from the cup. Communicants will receive the blessed bread while standing. Hands must be washed and sanitized before the administration of communion.
Be very careful about congregational singing. Use an extremely limited choral presentation from a very safe distance. No singing close to anyone else. You might choose to offer one verse of a hymn and invite humming or just listening.
Pay attention to your buildings. The 25% guideline will not work if safe physical distancing will not work.
You may always add more worship opportunities or provide out-of-doors opportunities.
Finally, be careful for the vulnerable. Some should be encouraged to remain at home. This may include some of the ordained. Look out and take care of each other. Remember: we still do not have all the facts regarding the future unfolding of this pandemic. These guidelines can be changed at any time! I ask you to consider your own health. If you are feeling depleted and need a break do not soldier on! You will not be able to continue ministering by burning out. Call me!
Thank you for your loving service. Remember, Christ always abides with us.
Yours in Our Lord,
The Rt. Rev. Dabney T. Smith Fifth Bishop of the Diocese of Southwest Florida