March 1, 2021
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Thank you for sustaining your heroic efforts to maintain parochial community as we continue to combat the coronavirus. I share everyone’s longing to return to in-person gathering. The numbers are finally trending in a positive direction, as a result of adherence to the protocols requested and required by federal, state, and local government agencies. Just last Thursday, the first four of the 48 counties in the Diocese of Ohio have turned from red to orange, one of which is home to an Episcopal congregation. At the same time, a number of epidemiologists are expressing caution about a potential surge at the end of March from the variant strains currently being diagnosed across the country. While we monitor that possibility, we can begin to consider the possibility of return to in-person gathering for worship, formation, and governance.
To that end, the decision of whether in-person gathering for worship, formation, and governance is safe and appropriate will return to parish leadership for services and events beginning on the 5th Sunday in Lent, March 21. This will give every congregation time to consider carefully and thoughtfully what will be best in their specific context.
No congregation is required to return to in-person gathering and no communicant is expected to participate if and when it does. The parochial responsibility for making this decision in no way implies that in-person gathering is necessarily appropriate. The decision of whether to participate is an individual obligation that concerns one’s own health and that of others.
No member of the Clergy is required to participate in in-person gathering for worship, formation, or governance at this time. Members of the Bishop’s Staff will not be expected to visit parishes for gatherings of any sort until the county in which they live and the county in which the parish is situated are at Level 1 or 2 (Yellow or Orange, respectively) and the staff member has received a COVD-19 vaccination or otherwise feels secure.
To every extent possible, all vehicles for “virtual” participation (Zoom, Facebook Live, YouTube, etc.) should be continued and enhanced.
In carrying out this responsibility, it will be critically important for clergy and lay leaders to give serious consideration to a range of available data and guidelines. These include:
Beginning the 5th Sunday in Lent (March 21), parishes resuming in-person gathering must:
A pre-recorded, online worship service for the Second Sunday of Easter (April 11) will be made available to all congregations by the end of this month. The hope is that this will provide a modest break in responsibilities following Holy Week and Easter.
Finally, if any vestry, clergyperson, or lay leader is experiencing difficulty in making these decisions, please do not hesitate to contact me or any member of the Bishop’s Staff for assistance. There is a wide diversity of perspective on every aspect of COVID-19 response, and I know that when decision-making about gathering moves from me back to parish leadership, so, too, will move some of the division and divisiveness that accompany it. The challenges of this time need not threaten our unity, rather may they bring out the best in our vocation to be Christian and exhibit, within our congregations and beyond, what it means to be the Body of Christ.
Know that you remain always in my prayers and affection.
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio
bISHOPs & fATHER MIKE