Bishop issues new directive to combat COVID-19
The Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith, in consultation with Bishop-elect Deon Johnson, issued a directive today for all clergy in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri to end all worship gatherings inside their church buildings, including livestream and recorded services. He is also asking all clergy and staff to work from home. This directive comes in response to the growing number of COVID-19 cases throughout our area and takes effect at the end of the workday, Thursday, April 2.
Bishop Smith made the announcement during his regular weekly Zoom meeting with diocesan clergy. He said he wants to offer clear direction as we move forward for the health and safety of everyone in our diocese.
Bishop Smith and Bishop-elect Deon Johnson ordered the suspension of in-person worship throughout the Diocese on March 16. That suspension is in effect until May 31, when it will be reevaluated. They now want our clergy members to join our congregations in their eucharistic fast. “We need to be in this together,” Bishop Smith said.
Since the suspension of in-person worship, many clergy members have been offering live or recorded services from their churches via social media channels. The events have served as a way for parishes to stay connected. Although all have been following physical distancing guidelines during those recordings, Bishop Smith says gathering even small groups in the buildings poses too much of a health risk right now.
The bishop acknowledges that there can and will be pastoral exceptions to these new directives. Clergy members should speak directly with him and Bishop-elect Johnson about those cases. Feeding ministries can continue to operate out of the buildings, as long as previously outlined safety protocols are followed.
In the second part of his directive, Bishop Smith encourages all clergy and staff to take the materials and equipment they need from their offices to work at home. “We need to eliminate physical contact as much as possible,” the bishop said. If there is work that can only be done from the office, he urges everyone to minimize their time and physical contact in the church as much as possible.
The Bishop’s office will be following these new orders, with all staff members working from home. Everyone can be reached through email and cell phones. The office phone has been forwarded to receptionist and administrative assistant Tracy Grisby, who will take messages and redirect calls.
Bishop-elect Johnson said he and other priests are working on plans to offer a live Easter service to the Diocese, likely using a Zoom webinar format that will also be available on Facebook. More details will be announced soon.
During the conference call, several priests and deacons said they have members who have tested positive for COVID-19 and many others who are waiting for test results. Some are hospitalized. Bishop Smith said he has been urging Missouri Governor Mike Parson to issue a statewide stay at home order, which the governor has yet to do. The city of St. Louis and St. Louis County have been under a stay at home order since March 23.