“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?” I Corinthians 6:19
Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12
Watch the video address from Bishops Goff, Brooke-Davidson and Taylor.
It is almost eleven months since COVID-19 changed nearly all our habits, including the ways we worship. Almost eleven months, which is longer than most of us non-scientists ever imagined. We are beyond ready to regain some semblance of normalcy. The isolation, separation and loneliness have taken a toll. After all, we are made for community in the image of God who is community, the Trinity of three Persons.
Yet, the virus continues to spread at alarming rates. In this time, staying faithful to our current guidelines and practices is a matter of faith; it is love made concrete in sacrifice for the sake of our own bodies and especially the bodies of others.
Here is what we know, based on meetings your bishops have had with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health and the sources that we regularly consult. As of January 28, the risk of contracting COVID-19 is extremely high in all counties in our diocese except for Albemarle, where the risk is very high. In a report issued on January 27 and cited in the New York Times, public health officials at Johns Hopkins University say that, given the severity of the outbreak, spending time inside with people from other households puts us at risk for contracting the virus or spreading it to others. Therefore the report recommends avoiding nonessential travel, weddings, funerals, concerts and sporting events, as well as gyms, places we shop for anything more than essentials, and restaurants and bars, whether inside or outside.
The report does not specifically address worship activities, but it requires no stretch of the intellect or the imagination to conclude that, since gatherings of people indoors or outdoors are not safe at this time, then worship in person indoors or outdoors is not safe at this time.
Based on the scientific consensus, Governor Northam has extended restrictions in the Commonwealth of Virginia through at least the end of February.
Given all that we have heard from researchers and medical experts, we in the Diocese of Virginia will continue our fast from public, in-person worship, indoors and outdoors, for at least the next six weeks. During this time,
- Livestreaming worship from the church building with no more than ten persons present and following all other protocols may continue.
- “Drive in” worship, in which members of the same household remain in their cars with the windows closed, may continue.
- Exceptions may be made for funerals with fewer than ten persons present and, under extraordinary circumstances, for weddings.
We anticipate that we will have more information in mid-March, based on research that is still being done on the efficacy of the vaccine. Once we learn of the results of that research and based on the infection and death rates in our Diocese, we are hopeful that we will be able to revisit our guidelines then.
As we continue our fast with watching, waiting and praying,
- Get the vaccine against COVID-19 as soon as it is available to you. This is a matter of faith and for the sake of your own body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and for the sake of other people, whose bodies are also the temple of the Holy Spirit. We have been praying for nearly a year for an end to this pandemic; the vaccine is one answer to our prayers.
- If you have any hesitancy about the vaccine, talk with your doctor and trust her/his advice.
- Continue to wear a mask outside of your home. Even those who have been vaccinated must continue to mask up. While it has been proven that the vaccine prevents people from getting sick, it is not yet known if it prevents people from carrying and transmitting the virus.
- Do all you can to be a trusted bridge between public health officials and the people of your congregation, including those who are vaccine-hesitant.
To help everyone in the community get vaccinated, consider:
- Sending vaccination updates for your health district in official church communications.
- Promoting vaccine updates at places like food pantries, homeless shelters and other outreach ministries that your church provides or in which it participates.
- Helping connect individuals with poor internet access and/or limited transportation to vaccines.
Resources for addressing vaccine hesitance are available. Please don’t hesitate to consult and share them.
Let us pray:
A Prayer for Our Community or Church in This Time
by Kathleen Staudt
Loving God, we pray for this church community in this time of crisis. Deliver us from simply desiring to go “back to normal,” and give us grace instead to be open to the opportunities that your Spirit brings in this time of separation. Grant that we may come out of this crisis with open eyes, more fully available to the needs of those most vulnerable and those whose labor we have always depended on. Give us creative hearts to embrace and carry forward the new ways we have found to connect with one another; and in your good time bring us safely back together as a people renewed in the knowledge of your faithfulness and abiding love and strengthened for the work ahead. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
A Prayer for Receiving the COVID Vaccine
By Rabbi Naomi Levy
I have been praying for this day and now it is here!
With great excitement, a touch of trepidation
and with deep gratitude
I give thanks for all the scientists who toiled day and night
so that I might receive this tiny vaccination.
That will protect me and all souls around this world.
With the pandemic still raging
I am blessed to do my part of defeat it.
Let this be the beginning of a new day,
a new time of hope, of joy, of freedom
And most of all, of health.
I thank you, God for blessing me with life
For sustaining my life
And for enabling me to reach this awe-filled moment.
More Prayers and Liturgies for the Covid-19 Pandemic, compiled by Isaiah Shaneequa Brokenleg for The Episcopal Church and Forward Movement