Thursday of the Second Week of Lent
Dear Good Shepherd Church,
I greet you in the Name of and in the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ!
There is no escaping the amount of attention that COVID-19, aka, the coronavirus is getting these days. While the threat still remeans relatively low at this time, there is no denying that more cases are being diagnosed in our country, a trend that epidemiologists predict will continue until Spring.
Furthermore, the U.S. Centers For Disease Control (CDC) has been very vocal about taking reasonable precautions to limit potential spread of COVID-19 and has also been very vocal regarding certain segments of the U.S. population that are more at-risk for this virus and the flu virus. These populations include those over the age of 60 and anyone with underlying, pre-existing health conditions.
What is Good Shepherd Church doing?
On Thursday, March 5, 2020, Bishop Clark Lowenfield of the Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast sent out a pastoral letter encouraging local churches to adopt some common-sense approaches to worship experiences, much of which revolves around the distribution of Holy Communion. These included requiring clergy to wash their hands prior to the start of each service and the use of hand sanitizer by clergy and Eucharistic lay ministers immediately before the start of the Eucharistic prayer during the service. At Good Shepherd Church, we immediately incorporated those modifications into our worship beginning on Thursday evening, March 5 at our midweek Holy Eucharist.
I have heard from multiple members of our church family—some younger, some older, some perfectly healthy, some with underlying medical conditions. All who have spoken with me were candid and offered intelligent, well-founded feedback and food-for-thought about concerns surrounding this winter cold-flu-virus season. I am very appreciative of your concerns and thankful for your communications.
After much prayer, conversation with fellow clergy, personal research, and conversations with the flock, I have made the decision to move forward with modifications beyond the minimal requirements of the Diocese. Allow me to spell those out for our church family.
During passing of the peace, I am encouraging all present to consider continuing with verbal greetings but forgoing handshaking. Please be creative—wave, nod, wink, flash the two-finger peace sign, etc., just make an effort not to touch hands.
Prior to the start of each service, I will continue to wash my hands with hot water and antibacterial soap. During Holy Communion, I will continue to use hand sanitizer at the start of the Eucharistic liturgy. For the foreseeable future, I will be the only person who prepares the Eucharistic elements before the service in order to minimize the number of people in contact with them. I assure you that I will thoroughly wash my hands and use sanitizer prior to preparation. I will also be the only one responsible after the service for securing the remaining elements.
Furthermore, for the foreseeable future, we will only offer Holy Communion at the Altar (as we historically have done at all services other than the first Sunday of the month). By doing this, we will preclude the use of the communion trays which are passed from one person to the next for distribution, therehby drastically diminishing the number of persons touching the vessels. When you receive Holy Communion, only my sanitized hand and your hand will have touched the bread. Additionally, only the bread will be offered to communicants. The Church Universal has always taught that reception of the Blessed Elements under one species (i.e., either bread OR wine) is fully sufficient to benefit from the grace of the presence of Christ in the Sacrament. While the Eucharistic liturgy will continue to use the Cup, it will not be distributed for the foreseeable future.
I want to also assure you that in between uses of the Holy Communion vessels, each will be appropriately washed and dried in advance of their next use.
Finally, the holy water font at the entrance of the nave will be regularly changed and cleaned. It is my intention that after each day of worship, the water remaining in the font will disposed of reverently, the glass basin will be thoroughly washed and sanitized, and fresh water will replenish the font and be blessed before the next day of worship.
All of these modifications will remain in effect until further notice.
What should you do?
You should do exactly what your personal healthcare provider recommends you do. If you have underlying medical conditions that place you in a higher at-risk category and you have not communicated with your healthcare provider about what if any modifications to your lifestyle may be appropriate for you, you should contact them to find out what they recommend and you should, without exception, follow those recommendations.
If you are otherwise healthy, then continue to use common sense. The CDC has been extremely vocal about hand washing practices and staying home if you develop cold or flu-like symptoms. Please heed their advice.
The CDC has a very informative, easy-to-understand section of their website set up specifically for the American public with great information and advice. It may be viewed here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/index.html
That agency also has an area specifically dealing with best practices for your individual household. It may be viewed here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/home/index.html
If you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.
In service to our Lord and His Church, I remain your humble servant,
The Reverend Randall M. Graf
While we may not be able to worship together at this time, we do not cease being the Church. Please check this page for ongoing updates concerning how Good Shepherd Church will continue operations during this challenging time.