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
Dear Clergy and Wardens,
Continued suspension of in-person gathering for worship, governance, and formation
In-person gathering will continue to be suspended until further notice. This includes drive-by Imposition of Ashes and Ashes-to-Go.
The Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
stated this past week that we are entering the worst period yet in COVOD-19 contagion, and all metrics for Ohio confirm that reality.
Therefore, we will continue to model safety for ourselves and others by limiting exposure from gathering for worship and Christian formation.
We are all weary of isolation and yearn for the companionship and presence of our fellow communicants.
It is impossible, however, to estimate when it might be safe again to gather in person and what the real effect of vaccination will be. Please know that we monitor the data continually and evaluate our protocols weekly. The safety we model and provide to others is an essential element
of loving our neighbor.
The Ash Wednesday liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 264) is easily adapted to online devotion. The rubrics permit that, in the absence of a bishop or priest, every aspect of it may be led by a deacon or lay reader with minimal adaptation (see rubrics on p. 269).
The imposition of ashes, while an optional devotional act on Ash Wednesday, is for many a meaningful spiritual discipline. Ashes may be prepared at home in advance from any available source and worshipers may impose them on themselves or members of their household at the appropriate time, using the prayer and words of imposition (p. 265).
It may be particularly meaningful for some parishioners and families to prepare ashes in advance using palms from a previous Palm Sunday. If the parish has dried palms available, you might offer to mail a small piece to any communicant who requests one, along with a word of instruction (they may want to add a drop of olive oil to the ashes to make them stay when imposed) and a prayer. Feel free to provide your own prayer or use this:
Most gracious Savior, as we prepare these ashes to be a sign of our willingness to die to this life in order to find new life in you, grant that we may likewise prepare ourselves for the Lenten journey of self-sacrifice, to the end that we might each become a sign to the world of God's undying and eternal love. Amen.
Music and singing
Singing for Zoom, live-stream, and recorded online worship will continue to be limited to one singer, alone in a room, and accompaniment must be pre-recorded or offered from a separate room. We are currently preparing to record hymns with a virtual choir for use in Lent and Easter. Please encourage your parishioners to participate. Information on how to do so will be sent out soon.
Sermons for both the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
and the Last Sunday after the Epiphany
In conjunction with this year's Winter Convocation, I will provide sermons for February 7 and 14, based on the Propers for those Sundays. These will be available for download on Monday, February 1. Please feel free to use one or both in your online worship for those Sundays. The text of each will also be available for distribution to those parishioners who receive printed worship resources in lieu of online participation.
Please do not hesitate to contact me or others on the Bishop's Staff with questions about any of this. I and your parishioners are thankful for all you do as clergy and lay leaders to provide companionship, hope, and encouragement during this time of challenge and opportunity.
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio