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Messages from Bishop Hollingsworth regarding the Coronavirus Crisis

A Message from Bishop Hollingsworth: Reflections on Ambiguity and Isolation

Tuesday, March 24, 2020
3:00 p.m.
 
 
It is hard to live with ambiguity, especially perhaps for us who have so great an access to certainty in our scientific and technological age. Between Google and the Weather Channel, we can get answers to many of the questions that cause us even the slightest bit of anxiety. Our current health crisis takes this challenge to a new level, even for those who have experienced the ambiguity of a serious health diagnosis or an extreme loss of emotional or financial security.
 
Perhaps because signs of uncertainty are currently ubiquitous, we cannot help asking ourselves, one another, and God questions that have no ready answers. How long will this last? Am I carrying the virus? Is the tickle in my throat serious? When will we be permitted to go out, to congregate, to give or receive a hug? When can we go back to church? Will I have enough money to get food and other essentials?
 
It may not so much be specific answers that I am looking for, as it is some semblance of certitude that I crave, some bit of normality for which I yearn. When I wake up in the morning I take my temperature to see whether it, at least, is “normal.” Sometimes, I have checked it later in the day, just to see if it has abandoned me yet. When I take a walk with one of the dogs, I carry my phone in case I am needed, and it takes more discipline than I care to admit to keep from pulling it out simply to see if there is some new and unimagined piece of information that might provide the slightest security.
 
The Gospels are full of stories about people yearning for some certitude in the midst of ambiguity. And Jesus consistently responds to them and to us that life is uncertain, but the love of God is not. Indeed, it is the love of God in the companionship of Christ Jesus that leads us to live creatively amidst the vicissitudes and vagaries of our earthly existence. To be sure, in the coming days and weeks some of our questions will be answered. Some of those answers will be welcome, some disappointing, some discouraging, and some, perhaps, devastating. We will, nevertheless, continue to be faced with ambiguity, as that is largely the nature of this life. And we will always have the Gospels to turn to for the companionship of Jesus and those into whose ambiguity he walked time and again.
 
This morning, on my walk with Rascal the Uberhund, we heard a woodpecker high in the trees and saw a young hawk take flight. We came upon a red-winged blackbird in the bulrushes on the bank of Horseshoe Lake, which has been drained for a coronavirus-delayed dam repair. The little, black bird with his red and gold epaulets allowed us to walk within a couple of feet of him, defying all expectations of “social distancing.” I wondered whether he had recently returned from his winter migration to some southern state, and the thought of that regular, instinctual journey gave me a lift. Later, after hearing a woodpecker high in the trees and the plaintive song of a mourning dove, we passed a fellow walker going in the other direction. Greeting one another from opposite sides the street, I remarked on how quiet it was. She replied, “It’s desolate.” It made me wonder whether she was referring to the absence of foot and automobile traffic or to how she was feeling.
 
Living in a desolate moment does not necessarily lead to desolation of the spirit and soul. It may increase our vulnerability to it, but need not leave us in despair. In this uncertain time, surely St. Paul’s words to the church in Rome speak with all the certainty we need:
 
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
 
You are in my prayers.
 
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio
 
 

A Message from Bishop Hollingsworth: Latest Updates Regarding the Coronavirus Crisis

Monday, March 23, 2020
7:45 p.m.
 
 
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
 
In the wake of yesterday’s directive from Governor DeWine that all but essential personnel must stay at home, we continue adjusting to this dramatic change in pace, connectedness, and emotion. The Fourth Sunday in Lent revealed a great range of online, live streamed, YouTube, Facebook, Zoom, and podcast worship events across the Diocese of Ohio, witnessing to the tenacious desire for Christian community that we share and to the remarkable creativity of so many in meeting it.
 
Thanks to the efforts of lay and clergy parochial leadership, all day long there were options available: services of Morning Prayer, Holy Eucharist, and special devotions, concluding with Zoom compline for youth and young adults, arranged by the Rev. Anna Sutterisch. I join your gratitude to all who have collaborated in this work.
 
With the increasingly restrictive health guidelines, particularly the stay-at-home instruction, some have asked about adjustments in providing worship opportunities. While I leave the decisions about what and how to offer worship on Sundays and weekdays up to each congregation, I encourage us to move toward fewer participants being in the same physical place. For those live streaming or prerecording a service, this may mean reducing the number of musicians or using previously recorded rather than live music, and limiting the number of liturgical participants or linking in contributors from separate venues. Perhaps Jesus’s words in Matthew 18:20 will provide a helpful target, “Where two or three are gathered together…” Remember that of equal importance to continuing this rich collection of worship options is the responsibility to model the behaviors we have been instructed to employ.
 
We have set up a new Basecamp page for clergy, wardens, and parish administrators which is beginning to be populated with helpful information, listed chronologically and by topic. To make certain that we have accurate names and emails for your wardens and parish administrators, please fill out the JotForm linked here.
 
Clergy should have received this afternoon an invitation from Betty Kondrich to attend one of three Pastoral Response to Crisis sessions with Jane Freeman, LISW, scheduled for this Wednesday, March 25, at 1:00, 3:00, and 7:30 pm. Please sign up for one on a first come basis, as directed in the email.
 
I reiterate that you are each other’s greatest resource. Reach out to one another for guidance, support, and companionship with online meetings in your parish and Mission Area. I have received inspiring reports of Zoom coffee hours, vestry members and volunteers calling parishioners to touch base, and coordinated card writing campaigns.
 
Finally, some have spoken of feeling guilty and helpless when hearing of friends, loved ones, and others who have been laid off or are suffering more than they. Of course, the power of evil wants to further isolate us with such feelings. Remember how Jesus taught that the sun rises and the rain falls on the just and the unjust equally. The faithful response to these inequities of life is to feel compassion, not guilt, and to reach out generously in both word and deed. To paraphrase St. Paul, nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, nor from one another, if we remain one in Christ and live into our vocation to be his body in the world.
 
With every blessing and prayer,
 
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio
 
 


A Message from Bishop Hollingsworth: Updates Regarding the Coronavirus Crisis

Friday, March 20, 2020
2:30 p.m.
 
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
 
Many thanks to all of the senior wardens, clergy, Diocesan Council members, Trustees, Commission on Ministry members, staff, and others who have participated in the last three days’ diocesan Zoom meetings. More than 150 diocesan and parochial leaders participated. I understand that in a variety of Mission Areas, clergy and laity have been gathering similarly to share companionship, resources, best practices, and hope. I encourage you to continue knitting the fabric of the diocese strong in these ways. The bishops of Province V (the 14 dioceses that constitute the Province of the Midwest) have instituted a standing weekly Zoom meeting to do the same.
 
The virtual gatherings provided much helpful information and many creative ideas for continuing worship, pastoral care, and service to those in need in our communities. That information is being gathered and curated by members of the diocesan staff to be disseminated on our website and social media vehicles. Technological resources and support are being provided by Jessica Rocha and Beth Bergstrom in the Communications Office. The Rev. Brad Purdom and the Rev. Anna Sutterisch continue to provide materials for online formation and parish vitality. The Rev. Margaret D’Anieri, our Disaster Preparedness Coordinator with Episcopal Relief and Development, monitors their and other webinars and information portals and will continue to make that information available. We are currently working with an increasing number of health providers, physicians, and hospital chaplains to provide as accurate information as possible in the swiftly changing landscape of testing, results, and response.
 
We are currently setting up a new Basecamp page for clergy, wardens, and parish administrators. Please make certain that we have updated and accurate names and emails for each, especially as some wardens have changed with recent annual meetings. Contact information should be sent to Jessica Rocha at jrocha@dohio.org.
 
While I know you will find the list of curated resources helpful, I want to remind you that you are each other’s greatest resource. Reach out to one another for guidance, support, and companionship. Consider hosting online meetings in your Mission Area. Continue to build, sustain, and deepen relationships in your parish in new and creative ways, such as having Zoom “coffee hours” or by simply setting up phone trees and checking in with one another.
 
In response to a request in one of the Mission Area Zoom meetings for guidance to clergy about pastoral care issues specifically inherent to this pandemic and how they might best be addressed, we are collaborating with Jane Freeman, LISW, to provide direction via Zoom sessions. Jane is a communicant at Trinity Cathedral, past member of Standing Committee and Commission on Ministry, General Convention Deputy, licensed social worker, and therapist who teaches medical school students and physicians. Clergy will be notified as soon as the times and dates are determined.
 
We are beginning to learn of communicants, here in the Diocese of Ohio and across the church, who are testing positive for the coronavirus. This will clearly become more common as reliable tests are made available and processed. Some will be regular Sunday attendees and participants in parish ministries. Most, if not all, will have been asymptomatic the last time they were in church. Given what we are learning daily about the level of contagion with the coronavirus, if this has not already happened in your congregation or community, it is hard to believe that it won’t. Issues of pastoral sensitivity and confidentiality, HIPAA regulations, and the responsibility of keeping one another informed, make disclosure of such cases complicated. I encourage all of us to be careful and sensitive in sharing such information. In some cases, it may be appropriate to disclose with language such as, “A member of the congregation who is regular in attendance and active in parish ministries has tested positive for the novel coronavirus (or has developed COVID-19, if so). Please be aware that this virus is present in all of our communities and practice recommended hygiene and physical distancing as if you were a carrier, as any of us might be.” In other cases, the parishioner might desire to be identified in order to be prayed for by name. Our pastoral sensitivity and social responsibility need not be in conflict as we move forward.
 
It is very likely, as the Presiding Bishop pointed out in his letter of last Tuesday, that we will not be gathering in person for Holy Week and Easter observances. The work we are all doing now in developing and providing online worship in a variety of forms will stand us in good stead for staying connected and providing corporate, if not in-person worship for those principal fasts and feasts. We will try to inform you of extra-parochial online worship services as we become aware of them. It may be useful to some to participate in a diocesan or denominational offering, then to gather online with fellow parochial communicants for reflection and prayer. Our online worship might provide opportunities to be in greater touch with our identity as members of the wider body of Christ in these times when the power of evil will be relentless in fostering isolation. As Bob Schroeder of St. Timothy’s, Massillon, wrote me, “Being apart is bringing us together.”
 
The economic implications of this pandemic are becoming more evident by the day. With employment layoffs, particularly of hourly and part-time workers who do not have unemployment benefits, personal resources are stretched. That, combined with the absence of Sunday worship when many make their pledge payments and other contributions to the church, will doubtless put pressure on parochial cash flow. As I wrote earlier in the week, we will need to mail in our support. It may be particularly helpful to pre-pay as much as we are able, in order to cover any delay in giving that others may incur due to their own work situations. And please be attentive to those in your parish and community whose incomes will be reduced or who have become unemployed. An informative article from The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS) is attached here.
 
I have heard wonderful and inspiring stories about parish feeding programs carrying on their important meal and food pantry distributions on a take-out or drive-by basis. As communities learn that the restrictions on dining in do not stop these services, and families of school-age children who have depended on government-funded school meals lose that valuable resource while schools are closed, numbers may well increase. Please consider including in the bag or taping to the box a prayer card with the church name, contact information, and perhaps virus safety tips so that recipients will know of your spiritual companionship with them. In the same vein, you might consider distributing “Palms to Go” on Palm Sunday, as well as Saturday and Monday of that weekend, and include a prayer card with that. Remember to wear gloves, both as a precaution and as a reminder to all to be safe!
 
Yesterday, we celebrated the Feast of St. Joseph, the defender and protector of the Blessed Virgin and the infant Christ. This is one of only two major feasts we celebrate during Lent, the other being the Annunciation on March 25th. It seemed a timely reminder of our responsibility to care for the body of Christ, the church that comprises all of us, always and especially in this time. The Rev. Sarah Shofstall, Interim Rector at Christ Church, Oberlin, offered the brilliant suggestion during one of this week’s Zoom calls that we collaborate with our neighboring churches, synagogues, and mosques to ring our bells every day at the same time. It might be in the morning as people are getting up and about their day or in the evening, when they are feeling the burden of isolation, to remind one another that we are all in this together and holding each other in prayer. I encourage you to call your neighbors and colleagues and, as Bob Dylan urged in his classic folk hymn, “Ring them bells!”
 
Know that you are each an inspiration to me and in my every prayer.
 
Gratefully,
 
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio
 
 

A Message from Bishop Hollingsworth Regarding the Suspension of Public Worship and Other Responses to the Coronavirus Crisis


Sunday, March 15, 2020
8:00 p.m.
 
Sisters and brothers in Christ,
 
I write to you at the end of this Third Sunday in Lent instructing all congregations of the Diocese of Ohio to suspend services of public worship until further notice. As well, I ask you either to cancel or find virtual ways of gathering for all nonessential parish meetings.
 
It is particularly difficult to have come to this decision following a wonderful visitation this morning at St. Matthew’s, Ashland, with candidates for Confirmation and Reception and a congregation of parishioners and visitors who took care to follow all the steps for safety that were asked of them. A number of our parishes have reported similar experiences, welcoming visitors from other churches whose services had been suspended and strangers who simply chose today as the day to come to church.
 
As well, I have received messages of gratitude from people who worshiped from home via YouTube, Zoom, Facebook, and internet downloads. I share their appreciation for all who continue laboring to provide the comfort and companionship of Christian community through worship at a distance.
 
Governor DeWine’s news conference this afternoon, however, made it clear that the COVID-19 contagion is advancing at an unknown rate. Of the 11 counties in Ohio with confirmed cases, eight are in our diocese. As reported by Dr. Amy Acton, it is uncertain whether those reflect counties where the patient lives or where the diagnosing hospital was located. Thus, even these cases may represent a wider geographical spread. After consulting this afternoon with members of my staff, and speaking this evening with Bishop Breidenthal in the Diocese of Southern Ohio, who is of the same mind, I am certain that this is the next right thing for us to do.
 
We will continue to monitor the progress of the Coronavirus pandemic day by day, and regularly assess our options as we approach Holy Week and Easter, giving as much time for planning as is possible.
 
The following are items to which I ask your attention:
 
1) Online worship options:
Please continue to report opportunities that your parish is offering for live streamed, online, or downloadable worship, as we will attempt to make that information available to all. You can do that via this new link.
 
2) Non-worship meetings:
It will be important to review what meetings of communicants are essential to be held in-person during the next few weeks. I suspect they are quite few in number. For some whom we serve, however, time spent at church for a variety of purposes provides the majority of personal contact they get every week. For bible study, prayer groups, committee meetings, and others, please explore by what other means they might be held (Zoom, FaceTime, phone, etc.) in order to continue both the good work they do and the pastoral connectedness they provide. Jessica Rocha, Diocesan Communications Director, and Beth Bergstrom, Communications Coordinator, are available to assist in exploring helpful technology. As well, time otherwise spent in church might be used to keep in touch with a phone call or note.
 
3) Feeding ministries and other assistance programs:
Those served by food and clothing ministries of our parishes will be particularly vulnerable as both health services and the economy are negatively affected. Please do whatever you can to continue providing the essential services your parish offers, if possible. This will doubtless mean adjusting distribution methods (take-out rather than dine-in) and finding volunteers outside of the high-risk demographic to replace those regular volunteers who should absent themselves because of age, illness, or immunodeficiency.
 
4) Self-help groups:
The space we offer to self-help groups is very often essential for the mental, spiritual, and physical health of those they serve. To every extent that you can, please continue to make that space and time available to them. Do not hesitate to ask AA and other groups if they would sanitize tables, counters, and chairs at the conclusion of their meetings. (Some will be happy to provide wipes, etc. You might also offer to have some cleaning supplies on hand.)
 
5) Finances:
Of course, many of us fulfill our financial commitment to the church by pledge payments and other contributions on Sunday mornings. During this period of suspended in-church worship, we will need to mail in our support. It may be particularly helpful to prepay as much as we are able, in order to cover any delay in giving that others may incur due to their own work situations. And please be attentive to those in your parish and community whose incomes will be reduced or who have become unemployed by the economic impact of this pandemic. An informative article from The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS) is attached here.
 
6) Clergy and Senior Wardens:
Tomorrow, we will distribute a schedule of Zoom meetings for Tuesday and Wednesday for parish clergy and Senior Wardens by Mission Area, to give us all a chance to check in with one another and see how we can provide mutual support and share helpful resources. We will also schedule a similar meeting with non-parochial clergy and deacons. Please keep an eye out for it and participate if available.
 
As always, do not hesitate to contact me or members of the Bishop’s Staff if you have questions, and know that you and those whom you serve are in my prayers.
 
With every blessing,
 
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio
 
 


A Message from Bishop Hollingsworth Regarding Live Stream and Worship Options

Saturday, March 14, 2020
11:00 a.m.
 
Sisters and brothers in Christ,
 
As we each make decisions about what places we will visit and gatherings we will attend in the coming days, including whether or not to go to church, I want to keep you as informed as I am able as to available options for worship.
 
The majority of our congregations intend to hold services tomorrow (March 15), though I suspect and hope that those parishioners who are feeling unwell, are particularly vulnerable due to suppressed immune systems, or believe that they may have already been exposed will not attend. The decision as to whether to hold services remains, at this point, up to each parish’s clergy and lay leadership. Having communicated with a great number of you, I know that those decisions are being made thoughtfully and with great concern for the pastoral, spiritual, and physical needs of those you serve.
 
For those of you who are not attending public worship in the coming days, either by personal choice or the suspension of services in your parish, here are the options for live streamed and online worship for which we have received URLs:
 
The Washington National Cathedral will live stream a service of Holy Eucharist at 11:15 a.m. on Sundays March 15 and 22, with Presiding Bishop Curry preaching this Sunday. These services can be accessed via www.cathedral.org.
 
Trinity Cathedral will live stream a service of Holy Eucharist at 10:00 a.m. on March 15, 22, and 29, accessed via www.trinitycleveland.org and their Facebook page.
 
Christ Church, Shaker Heights, will provide services of Morning Prayer with homily by the Rev. Peter Faass on YouTube for Sundays March 15 and 22. These will be accessed via their website, www.cometochristchurch.org, and their Facebook page for use at anytime.
 
Trinity Church, Toledo, will provide Sunday Morning Devotions for March 15, 22, and 29, that can be viewed on and downloaded from their website at www.trinitytoledo.org.
 
St. Thomas, Berea, will broadcast Morning Prayer at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday March 15, 22, and 29, on their Facebook page.
 
Clergy and Wardens, if your parish is suspending worship services or you are offering live stream or online worship, please be certain to notify us by reporting here, so that we can share your resources with others.
 
I ask all congregations to make sure your phone answering message contains clear and accurate information as soon as possible. For those able to update your websites, please do so. If and when you do suspend public worship, please use that wording rather than "closed."
 
Wherever we are, we are always connected by the spirit of holiness in the Body of Christ. Please continue to hold one another and all of God’s beloved in your prayers.
 
With every blessing,
 
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio
 
 

An Update from the Bishop regarding the Coronavirus

Thursday, March 12, 2020
4:00 p.m.

Sisters and brothers in Christ,
 
I write you again concerning the current COVID-19 pandemic and to offer additional encouragement, suggestion, and direction as we move further into this increasing health crisis and adjustment. Every day the landscape changes with regard both to the coronavirus and to our responsibility in serving our communities, both ecclesial and social. Since my last writing, I have had virtual and in-person meetings with physicians, epidemiologists, staff members, episcopal colleagues, school heads, and others, seeking helpful insights and practices to guide us moving forward. Staff members have likewise been in contact with resources and colleagues particular to their work. What follows are items of information and direction to assist you in your own decision-making.
 
1) Happening:
 
This weekend’s Happening, scheduled to be held at Bellwether Farm, has been postponed to a time uncertain. The Rev. Anna Sutterisch has informed participants and parents today. When details about rescheduling this valuable annual event are available, they will be distributed to all.
 
2) Worship:
 
The Presiding Bishop has given all bishops permission to suspend the use of the common cup, if deemed necessary for reasons of public safety. Therefore, I direct you to cease now from distributing wine, either by common cup or intinction cup, at any celebration of the Holy Eucharist or distribution of the reserved sacrament. The Eucharist must include consecration of both bread and wine, but only the celebrant should receive the wine (or it should be disposed of appropriately if the celebrant does not receive). Distribution of bread should be in the hand, not on the tongue.
 
At all services and other gatherings, diligence in personal hygiene – 20-second handwashing, use of sanitizer, observing social distance – must be practiced. In exchanging God’s peace, physical contact should be avoided. Those who are experiencing any symptoms of a cold or flu should refrain from attending church.
 
It is acceptable to gather for Morning or Evening Prayer, in lieu of celebrating the Eucharist.
 
For those in your congregation who choose not to attend Sunday services, Trinity Cathedral will live stream a 10:00 a.m. service of Holy Eucharist each Sunday, beginning this Sunday, March 15. The link for this will be on the Cathedral’s website, www.trinitycleveland.org.
 
As of this afternoon, Governor DeWine has banned assemblies in excess of 100 persons, excluding worship services, at least at this time. He has also required closure of all K-12 schools, public and private, for the next three weeks, beginning this Tuesday. While preschools, childcare centers, and church services are not included, this reflects the seriousness of the situation.
 
With this writing, I give parish priests and congregational leaders permission to suspend public worship on Sundays and weekdays through Sunday, March 29. Before the end of the month, we will reconsider this permission with regard to Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter observances. The decision whether to gather for common worship is, for now, left up to the individual parish and should take into account the realities of its particular context and community. If your parish intends to suspend public worship, the priest or warden must notify me via this link, so that we will be prepared for correspondence from your communicants and the press.
 
While I will continue to attend and participate in public worship for the time being, I leave the decision for individual congregations up to their own clergy and lay leadership. Each parochial context is different, and until I find it necessary, I will not issue a plenary directive, but rely on the thoughtful discernment of each congregation as to what will best serve their community. For those considering a temporary suspension of public worship, it may be helpful to begin after March 15 and use this Sunday to strategize with communicants about how to remain pastorally connected in other ways.
 
3) Non-worship meetings:
 
It will be important to review what meetings of communicants and others are essential during the next few weeks. For some whom we serve, time spent at church in a variety of meetings provides the majority of personal contact they get every week. If in-person bible study, prayer groups, committee meetings, and other gatherings are reduced, please explore by what other means they might be held (Zoom, FaceTime, phone, etc.) in order to continue both the good work they do and the pastoral connectedness they provide. Jessica Rocha, Diocesan Communications Director  and Beth Bergstrom, Communications Coordinator  are available to assist in exploring helpful technology. As well, time otherwise spent in church might be used to keep in touch with a phone call or note.
 
4) Outreach ministries:
 
The church plays a critical role in supporting the wider community with food and clothing ministries, as well as providing space for 12-Step and other groups. During emergency situations like this, many whom we serve are particularly vulnerable. To every extent possible, we should continue to provide these ministries and services. If your parish provides feeding ministries to your community, perhaps considering take-out rather than dine-in meals will be helpful, or serving cafeteria style rather than family style. Using gloves is essential.
 
Volunteers for these ministries are often older and in the vulnerable demographic for this virus and ought not be involved as they regularly are. It will be important to encourage younger communicants to step up and help in their stead. 
 
Please do not hesitate to ask AA and other groups if they would sanitize tables, counters, and chairs at the conclusion of their meetings. (Some will be happy to provide wipes, etc. You might also offer to have some cleaning supplies on hand.)
 
The Rev. Margaret D’Anieri is our designated Disaster Preparedness Coordinator with Episcopal Relief and Development. She participated in last week’s COVID-19 Episcopal Relief and Development webinar, and will attend tomorrow’s webinar, Faith-based Response to Epidemics, regarding outreach to the communities we serve. It begins at 3:00 p.m. and is open to all. Please register here. Margaret will send out minutes of this meeting at its conclusion.
 
Please do not hesitate to contact me or members of the Bishop’s Staff if you have questions, and know that you and those whom you serve are in my prayers.
 

With every blessing,

The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio
 

Letter from the Bishop regarding the Coronavirus

March 4, 2020
3:30 p.m.

Dear clergy and lay colleagues,

As a follow-up to Canon Brad Purdom’s email of last week, I write to offer an additional word of caution and direction about the safety of those in our congregations and communities in this time of heightened concern about the Coronavirus.

While COVID-19 has yet to be manifested in our diocese, public health officials are clear that its spread is inevitable. Information about how the virus is transferred is changing on an almost daily basis. It is important to take sensible precautions and make reasonable adjustments to pastoral and liturgical practices, as you and your congregation deem appropriate.

After conversation with bishops in dioceses where COVID-19 has been spreading, I suggest that you and your communicants should consider:
  • suspending the practice of intinction, both in the common cup and intinction cups;
  • refraining from drinking from the common cup when experiencing any symptoms of cold or flu, or if you have any suppression of your immune system (the Doctrine of Concomitance assures us that the sacrament is efficacious in one kind) - dioceses where the virus is spreading broadly are considering consecration of bread and wine at the Eucharist but suspending distribution of the cup temporarily and distributing only the host;
  • not placing the host on the tongue of communicants, but only in the hands;
  • exchanging God’s peace without making physical contact (perhaps by holding one another’s gaze for a moment rather than bumping elbows or other actions that might reduce the seriousness and solemnity of the exchange);
  • emptying fonts and other vessels of holy water used when blessing or crossing oneself;
  • making hand sanitizer available to all, in obvious places;
  • restricting Eucharistic visiting to priests for the time being, and being particularly careful when visiting those whose immune defenses are compromised or who reside in communities where that is common.
It is important to recognize that, for some, the physical contact experienced at church and in parish ministries may constitute the majority of personal contact they receive during the week. Refraining from embracing and other intimate contact may be a genuine loss for them. Consider other safe and appropriate means to respond to this pastoral need.

With fear of pandemic often comes a vulnerability to associate its source with people of particular geographical and cultural backgrounds. This has been tragically so with other previous contagious illnesses. Please remember that, in God’s loving community, the response to illness is to draw together with compassion and care, not to be separated from one another.

As we learn more about this illness, its mode of contagion, and how to protect one another most effectively, we will keep you informed.

I join you in keeping all those affected by this illness, and those ministering to them, in our prayers.

Gratefully,

The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio
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