On Monday, May 4, 2020, Bishop Marty issued a new pastoral direction to the clergy and lay leaders of the churches of West Missouri. The pastoral direction acknowledges that we are moving into the second phase of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, hence the document is titled: “Phase Two Pastoral Direction for Clergy and Parishes of The Episcopal Church in West Missouri”.
Commenting on the new Pastoral Direction, Bishop Marty said, “The Episcopal churches of West Missouri are diverse and serve diverse contexts. A single Pastoral Direction could not hope simultaneously to address the needs of inner-city, suburban, and rural churches, plus the widely varied requirements imposed upon them by their local authorities. Following consultation with the office of the Presiding Bishop, other Bishops Diocesan, and the clergy of our diocese, I have elected to provide basic criteria for returning to in-person worship, and to complement this with a set of guidelines. The requirements are few. The guidelines are meant to ensure that all leadership cohorts think carefully and thoroughly through a complex situation before resuming in-person activities. The guidelines will allow individual churches to consider and to adopt smart plans adapted to their needs and circumstances.”
In his letter to the clergy, Bishop Marty emphasized that: “Phase Two will be characterized by a gradual return to in-person ministries. This cannot be done quickly,…” and that, “…the most prudent action I can take is to delegate decisions about when to resume in-person worship, as much as possible, to local clergy and lay leaders.”
Three criteria for re-opening churches are given in the document:
- COVID-19 cases have been on the decline for 14 days in the church’s city or county.
- Local testing is available for those showing symptoms.
- A plan to safely resume in-person worship and other in-person ministries has been submitted to and approved by the Bishop’s office.
The Direction makes it clear that the intention of the plan is not to burden the churches with additional work, so these are the only criteria that parishes must follow. Its purpose is to ensure that due-diligence and planning have taken place to minimize the possibility that clergy, church staff, and at-risk members will not be impacted by outbreaks of COVID-19 originating from our churches.
The guidelines are intended to ensure that leaders around the diocese have given comprehensive thought to the wide range of considerations and circumstances arising from the reality we face. It is divided into three main sections, the final of which, ‘Worshiping Together’, provides details on general considerations, and identifies seven specific areas to be considered:
- The schedule and location of worship.
- Options for principle liturgies.
- Greeting and handouts.
- Singing and choirs.
- Passing the Peace.
- Offering plates & giving, and
- Other rites, rituals & Episcopal visitations.
Bishop Marty stated that he and the diocesan staff are on-hand to answer any questions clergy and lay leaders might have.
If church members have questions, they should approach their clergy and church leadership first. If their question cannot be answered locally, they should contact The Canon to the Ordinary, Steve Rottgers – firstname.lastname@example.org, who will ensure their question is answered.
The full Phase Two Pastoral Direction, with the accompanying guidelines can be read here.
Update: on Wednesday, May 6, Bishop Marty issued an email to clergy clarifying points in the Pastoral Directive. That email can be read here.