An update from Bishop Logue on re-opening churches for in-person worship
Last week, I announced Phase 1 guidance that will permit rectors (and priests-in-charge) and vestries to make a decision for whether some in-person worship following strict guidance is right for their community at this time. In-person worship may last no longer than 40 minutes. There will be no singing, and all participants must wear masks at all times, and keep more than six feet away from persons not in their own household. As of today, July 1, Phase 1 guidance is now in effect.
You will recall that on March 13, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued a statement in advance of declaring Georgia’s first public health emergency saying it is appropriate for faith-based organizations to consider canceling public events. Though not an order, the request by the governor led Bishop Benhase to suspend gathering for worship. Since then, our clergy and lay leaders have responded faithfully to stay in touch with their parishioners, to find ways to still serve their communities and to offer new options for worship online. We have kept Jesus at the center of our common life while experiencing very different ways of being a community.
Suspending in-person gathering began with a request from the governor’s office; however, that guidance changed in late April. Bishop Benhase and I had worked together on guidelines stating “the number of new COVID-19 cases must have declined for at least 14 straight days” before we would return to in-person worship in any form. This approach was shared with other denominations and may still provide a basis for a congregational decision.
While many areas in the Diocese of Georgia are experiencing a troubling rise in cases and deaths, this is not equally true in every community. Beginning in late May, other denominations in Georgia and elsewhere began a return to in-person worship following strict guidelines. After discussing such a return with other bishops and subject-matter experts, I see that a shift in our practice could allow some churches to gather under new restrictions.
The Anglican Communion is organized using the principle of subsidiarity, rather than a strict hierarchy. The principle of subsidiarity emphasizes that many decisions should be handled at diocesan or congregational levels rather than as church-wide matters. One result of this principle is that the Episcopal Church as a whole did not choose to end worship across the Church, leaving such decisions to individual dioceses. In Georgia, our Phase 1 guidance shifts the decisions about whether to offer some smaller gatherings to individual congregations who, through their canonical leadership, will make the best decision for their local circumstances, within the context of the Diocesan guidance. No church must resume in-person worship now, and for many congregations, the situation is such that the safest route will be to continue online worship exclusively. This choice also has my full support.
What your bishop will do
Other than Ordinations, I will not lead in-person worship in July and August. My travel schedule could otherwise make me a vector for spreading the virus if I contract it. I will record and stream worship from churches around the Diocese as I have done in recent weeks from Albany, Hawkinsville, and Thomasville. I will be in smaller congregations that have for the most part not been able to offer many online worships from their church. In this way, your Diocese will offer an option for the many Episcopalians in the Diocese who cannot return to worship for the sake of their health.
Each day I remember our parishioners, lay leaders, and clergy in my prayers. I continue to stay in contact with colleagues in order to learn from other dioceses. And I seek to remain faithful in the spiritual disciplines that feed me, as we are all taxed by these unprecedented times.
Pax et Bonum,