From Bishop Gutierrez: Covid Guidance Through Christmas
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
During this Advent we continue to wait and to watch. Although the days grow shorter, we watch for the light. That light of hope is coming. It is on the horizon, both in the promise of Christmas and in the vaccines, which should start to be administered in the near future. For now, we must continue to exercise the utmost caution and ground ourselves in our holy obligation to love and care for one another.
I believe that the Church must be the Church. As you know, the numbers in our region are rising and are now much higher than they were in March and April. From the beginning of this pandemic we have known this was a possibility. Throughout the summer and fall I have repeatedly warned that in the event of a surge we would have to prayerfully consider moving back to an earlier phase of the protocols as a short-term measure.
As your shepherd, I have a sacred obligation to care for each person in our diocese. Therefore, after prayerful deliberation, I have determined that for the remainder of Advent all churches in our diocese will return to our newly updated Phase I Protocols. This means that only virtual worship should be offered with a maximum of 10 people physically present. If additional persons, such as musicians, are desired, this may be considered on a case-by-case basis. Exceptions for weddings, funerals and other pastoral services will also be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The diocesan services of ordination and confirmation will proceed as scheduled but with additional precautions in place. The service of Lessons and Carols in cooperation with the Diocese of Bethlehem will proceed following the Christmas protocols.
But I also know that Christmas is one of our holiest days on which we celebrate the birth of our Savior. Therefore, remembering that the safest option is always not to gather, churches that wish to hold in-person worship for Christmas may do so in accordance with the guidance issued in my last update. This includes limiting attendance to 5% in Philadelphia.
If a church wishes to offer in-person worship for Christmas they should first evaluate their capacity to do so in a way that minimizes the risk for all participants. As you seek to make this determination ask yourself how will you minimize the number of people in attendance and the length of the service while at the same time maximizing spacing between individuals/families and increasing ventilation? How will you instruct visitors who have not previously been introduced to your safety measures? Do you have sufficient volunteers to assist and guide them? If a church cannot come up with a plan to address all these concerns, they should remain virtual. If you decide to hold in-person worship please notify me via email, copying Canons Wamsley and Berlenbach.
Whatever you discern we encourage you to be creative. While our traditions are ancient, we know that Jesus is always doing new things and offering new life. So, find new ways to offer those traditions. Be resourceful, be creative. A workshop and list of resources to assist you can be found here. If you have any questions please contact Canon Shawn Wamsley at firstname.lastname@example.org or Canon Kirk Berlenbach at email@example.com.
Looking ahead, because we expect numbers to again increase after Christmas, all churches should then plan to revert to Phase I through January 3. I will review the numbers and issue an update during the week of January 4 so that churches may make plans for Epiphany.
To recap, the next several weeks follow this schedule:
· 12/8/2020 – 12/23/2020: Phase I protocol in effect
· 12/24/2020 and 12/25/2020: Updated Phase II protocol in effect
· 12/26/2021 – 1/3/2021: Phase I protocol in effect
As you journey through the remainder of Advent, continue to hold firm in your faith and to the knowledge that Jesus Christ is with us always. As one people and one diocese we have persevered through so much, I have faith that together we will continue to do so. Let us press on and offer hope, not only for ourselves but for the world around us, a world filled with fear, division and pain. This year our Christmas celebrations may not take the form we expected but none of that can limit the power of Jesus Christ that will come powerfully and beautifully into our hearts and shine a light into the darkness once more.