In a letter sent to clergy of the diocese on January 4, Bishop Smith clarified some points from the latest set of COVID guidelines, following up on questions he had received. Text from the letter follows:
Just before Christmas, I sent you an updated set of pastoral guidelines for facing the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. This is a nasty bug, trying to infect everyone in sight and succeeding far too often. I recognize that many locales in our diocese have seen how contagious this disease can be. I have heard such accounts directly from some of you, and via my staff, indirectly from others.
During this continuation of a hard season, I have a few words of pastoral counsel intended to fill in some of the blank spaces within the December guidelines. These words of counsel address some of the questions for clarification that I have heard from some of you.
- It is permissible to return to virtual worship. In some places, and for some parishes, the risk of contagion may be so great that this becomes the responsible option. Rectors and priests-in-charge have this decision to make, sensibly in consultation with other leaders. My job is not to second-guess your decision; mine is to have your back.
- It is sensible to limit social gatherings. In our meeting last month, our experts on the diocesan Medical Task Force expressed their greatest apprehension about people eating and drinking together. Unmasking during social time to eat and drink by its very nature leaves people vulnerable—and makes anyone with the disease, symptomatic or not, a potential vector for infecting others. Limiting or cancelling coffee hour may be a good choice during this season.
- It is reasonable to curtail contact in the workplace. In many places, the only person in the parish workplace during the week is the priest. Others will have a few others around, either occasionally or all the time. In my office there are a dozen-plus people, some full-time, some part-time, some who always work from a remote location. Ministry is by its very nature a collaborative work, and some of that work is difficult to accomplish in the virtual world alone. For the time being, I have asked my staff to work from a remote location and only do what must be done by in-person meetings.
- There is no one-size-fits-all. A genius of Christian ministry, maybe especially in its Anglican expression, is that it is always contextual. You know that already, but I want to emphasize that I understand the principle as it works out in our seventy-three parishes.
- Self-care. I can’t stress enough the importance of self-care during this ongoing pandemic.
Most of all, know that I pray for all of you. Every day.
Bishop Smith meets regularly with a Task Force of medical professionals from around the diocese to assure that any diocesan guidelines are in line with CDC recommendations and current data. The guidelines are only updated if recommended by the Task Force. Current guidelines can always be found on the diocese’s COVID resource webpage.