Dear Sisters and Brothers,
The Bishop's office will be working on further guidelines to post on the diocesan website and to send to congregations regarding appropriate responses to potential widespread illnesses, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information.
Until then, some simple guidelines for addressing concerns about contagious diseases in churches include the following:
- Encourage frequent handwashing and provide instruction on proper handwashing technique. Provide plenty of soap and paper towels in restrooms and kitchens. Place containers of hand sanitizer in the pews, near doors, and beside tissue boxes to be used when handwashing is not readily available.
- The Peace. Instruct worshipers to remain in their pews/seats and bow to one another at the Peace, thus indicating a respectful acknowledgment of each other while having no physical contact.
- The Holy Eucharist may be received in one kind, offering the consecrated bread distributed by those individuals who have cleaned their hands. Intinction is not a sanitary substitute for drinking from the chalice. Ask the altar guild to clean handrails and the altar rail before and after each service.
- The receiving line following the service should include conversation but omit physical contact.
- Coffee Hour. Food may be served by individuals who have washed their hands, put on serving gloves, and are using tongs to minimize the touching of food. Either paper plates and napkins or a dishwasher with a water temperature setting hot enough to kill germs should be used for cleanup. Similarly, beverages should be served by individuals who have washed their hands and are wearing gloves to minimize the number of people handling beverage containers.
- When parishioners are not feeling well. Encourage people who are not feeling well to stay at home. The clergy or lay ministers can bring the sacraments to shut-ins and/or provide pastoral care by phone as appropriate. Substitutes can be found for Sunday ministries.
- Large gatherings or events. Consider rescheduling if possible or canceling if necessary.
It is essential that you communicate whatever choices you make with the congregation. Explain what you are choosing to do and why. You can alert people of changes through emails, newsletters, in the worship bulletin, and in announcements.
While many are worried about the COVID19 virus spreading, this is already a bad flu season. If people have not received a flu vaccine, there is still time before the expected second wave of seasonal flu infections.
The Right Reverend Lawrence C. Provenzano
Bishop of Long Island