March 24, 2022
Dear Clergy and Lay Leaders in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut: Grace to you and peace in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We write in anxious and scary times. Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked and evil war unleashed upon Ukraine is not only bringing death and destruction to the brave and resilient people of Ukraine, it also threatens the possibility of a global war between Western NATO aligned nations and Russia. The bishops of The Episcopal Church in their recent House of Bishops Meeting at Camp Allen in Texas have released a statement regarding Putin’s invasion of Ukraine here. We invite you to read the statement and make it available to the people of your parishes. In keeping with the bishops’ communication, we urge you to pray for the end of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and also give generously through Episcopal Relief and Development and/or the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe to support the millions of refugees fleeing Ukraine. We also invite you to read the pastoral statement/resolution from the House of Bishops regarding the increased targeting of transgender/non-binary people and their families through recently enacted legislation in a growing number of states. As Christians, we believe that each and every person is created in the image of God and is thus to be treated with dignity, respect, and justice. We must not let such hate go unchecked in our nation.
We also write with the acknowledgement, and guarded optimism, that we have entered a new stage in the global COVID-19 pandemic. The levels of COVID infection in Connecticut have not been at such a low level since early last summer, before the incidence of the Delta and Omicron variants. We thank God that we are experiencing a decline in COVID-19 as we move from a global pandemic to an endemic understanding of the virus, appreciating that COVID will be with us now and into the indefinite future. This change from pandemic to endemic status calls us to reevaluate the precautions that we have faithfully followed over the last two years, even as we pray for all who have died and for the healing of all who continue to suffer from COVID.
Before we describe our current recommendations regarding COVID protocols and precautions going forward, we want to restate again behavioral norms that we have continually held up since the beginning of the pandemic. First, the standard for our decisions regarding COVID protocols should not be what we wish for ourselves, for our own comfort and desires. Rather decisions regarding our behaviors with respect to COVID precautions and protocols should always be informed by an attempt to safeguard, as much as possible, the most vulnerable and those at risk in our communities. Following the way of Jesus, who gave himself up as a self-offering for us and for all people, we must always act from a place of love and concern for the other in our midst.
Second, as we have continually emphasized, our reading of Canon III.9.6(a)(1) states that the Rector or Priest-in-Charge (or Wardens if a parish does not have a clergy person) shall have full authority and responsibility for the conduct of the worship and the spiritual jurisdiction of the parish, subject to the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer and the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church and the pastoral direction (understood as godly counsel) of your bishops. While this collaborative and shared model of leadership in The Episcopal Church may not always be easy, we believe that decisions related to the management of COVID-19 in our parishes by the clergy and lay leaders of ECCT, with the support and guidance of your bishops, have exemplified the best of what it means to follow the Anglican/Episcopal way of Jesus. We are deeply indebted to all of you for your wise, loving, and gracious shared leadership in the difficult times we have been living in over the last two years.
Given the reduced risk of COVID in our state at this time, we believe that it is acceptable to reevaluate the use of masks for all worship services and gatherings in our churches. Current guidelines for the wearing of masks can be found on the Center for Disease Control’s website here. If you feel it is safe enough to offer worship where the wearing of masks is no longer required, we will support your decision. We will also support your decision to continue to require masking at all gatherings in your parish. As your bishops, we will continue to wear our masks when we visit your parish, appreciating that we might remove them when we preach. If you do decide no longer to require masks in your worship and meetings, and if your parish has two worship services on a Sunday, you might still require masking at one of the services. Such would allow those who are uncomfortable worshipping without masks to still have a worship service where they would know that masking is the norm helping them to feel safer and more protected. Further if you decide not to wear masks in worship, we continue to recommend that, as much as possible, people sit at a safe distance from one another and that you try to maximize fresh air exchange (by opening windows, etc.). It might also be good to designate a zone in your nave or transepts that is set apart for people who choose to continue to be masked. Once again, the standard for our decisions regarding COVID protocols and precautions should always be the protection of the most vulnerable and at risk among us.
We would like to discuss the question of returning to the Common Cup given the changes in COVID at this time. The rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer say that communion in both kinds shall be “delivered” to the people gathered. While we believe that it has been prudent during the pandemic to communicate only the bread, appreciating that communion in one kind (bread) is a full and sufficient participation in the Eucharistic feast, we know that many among us yearn to return to communion in both kinds. While there is scientific debate as to the amount of risk entailed in drinking from the common cup, it does appear as if receiving from the shared chalice does not cause an elevated risk. As a result, if you believe for pastoral reasons that it is worth the risk to return to the Common Cup, we will support your decision. If you do offer the wine to your parishioners, we ask that you continue to emphasize either in your announcements or in your bulletins that reception of bread only is a full and sufficient communion and that none should feel compelled to consume the wine. As your bishops, will will continue to receive only one kind (bread) and not drink wine from the Common Cup in order to practice the utmost of caution and to underscore that reception of bread only is a full and complete participation in the Eucharist.
This, of course brings us to the question of intinction (the dipping of the bread/wafer into the cup of wine.) If it is the tradition of your parish to offer intinction, or if you have parishioners for whom intinction is their practice, we strongly advise that the person receiving communion not dip the bread into the wine themselves because the risk of a communicant’s fingers touching the wine increases the possibility of contaminating the wine. If intinction is to be offered, we request that the priest or Eucharistic Minister (who is masked) be the person to dip the bread into the wine before communicating the individual, being careful always not to touch the wine. We further request that all Eucharistic Ministers be instructed in these safer practices of intinction before serving communion.
We know that many parishes over the last two years have found creative ways by which wine can be offered more safely in the Holy Eucharist, including such practices as the use of individual cups consecrated on the altar or the placing of drops of wine on the wafers before distribution. We are not, at this time, requesting that you cease these practices. We want to emphasize that the offering of the Common Cup is the liturgical standard in Anglicanism as well as the norm directed in our Prayer Book. We feel that returning to the Common Cup is a practice we should strive for overtime as we move forward living with endemic COVID.
If you are considering returning to the Common Cup, we would like to suggest that you begin with your Maundy Thursday Eucharist on April 14. Maundy Thursday is a most appropriate day to reintroduce the cup as it is the time in our worshipping life together when we recall Jesus’ last supper with his friends the night before his crucifixion on the cross. Reintroducing the cup on Maundy Thursday would also prepare us for a full Eucharistic feast of two kinds (bread and wine) on Easter morning when we joyfully celebrate Jesus’s glorious triumph over death.
Finally, if your lay Eucharistic Visitors are bringing communion to those unable to come to church and who are often more vulnerable to illness, we suggest that all COVID precautions such as masking, hand sanitizing, physical distancing (as much as possible) be practiced and that communion be in one kind (bread only).
Before closing this letter, we would like to emphasize, once again, that the most effective way for us to protect ourselves and our parishes and communities against COVID-19 is to become fully vaccinated and boosted. We encourage you to do all you can to encourage all eligible members of your parishes to be vaccinated to the furthest extent possible. We give thanks for your collegiality, faithfulness, and leadership in these challenging times. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of support to you in any way. Pray for peace.
A Collect for Peace
O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas Bishop Diocesan
The Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens Bishop Suffragan