Thursday, May 7, 2020


Bishop Lawrence has told clergy of the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina they can resume in-person services in their churches on May 17. Apparently, the clergy will have a good deal of latitude on how they go about the re-opening. In an email message sent today, the clergy of Old St. Andrew's (St. Andrew's of West Ashley) outlined their plans for resuming public worship on the 17th. 

OSA says it will continue its live-streaming and will allow a maximum of 100 persons in the building in each of its two morning services. Overflow will have to remain outside. Five people will be allowed at the altar rail at a time. As for communion, "Only the celebrating clergy will touch the wafer and then will intinct (dip) the wafer into the wine before placing it into the palm of the recipient." There was no mention of other stipulations such as choirs or congregations singing, common handling of prayer books and hymnals, passing of collection plates, and attendees wearing face masks.

The description of communion here is problematical. Intinction of the wafer into the chalice is known to be unsanitary because germs from the hands are transferred to the wafer and into the wine. I for one would not take a wafer that had been dipped into the cup even by an officiant who had used hand sanitizer. Another caution is that the wafer, wet with wine, will be placed into the palm. No residue of consecrated wine should be left on anyone's skin. The commonsense solution to these problems is to administer communion to the laity by wafer only.

Although the recent CDC proposed guidelines for churches to re-open has been shelved by the White House, their recommendations still make a lot of sense and should be seriously considered by church authorities before they re-open the churches to in-person services. Here are the main points of the CDC guidelines for re-opening churches:

---disinfect common surfaces before and after services.

---attendees should wear face masks.

---seating distance of 6 feet apart except for family groups. Consider seating every-other pew.

---no use of common prayer books and hymnals. Provide service guides in disposable form.

---no commonly touched collection plates. Collection should be in a stationary place.

---no choirs.

---no physical touching, as passing peace.

---at times of food service (coffee hour and meals), items to be consumed should be individually served, as in bags and boxes.

Re-opening church under any set of stipulations is risky business in South Carolina as new cases and deaths from COVID-19 continue to spiral up in the state. As of today, SC is reporting 7,142 cases and 316 deaths. One week ago, there were 6,258 cases and 256 deaths. Thus, in just the last week, some 900 people in SC have fallen ill of the virus and 60 people have died of it. Looking back over the last month (Apr. 7-May 7), numbers in SC climbed from 2,417 cases to 7,142, while deaths went from 51 to 316. As churches re-open this month, they will be doing so as the highly contagious and deadly virus is relentlessly spreading in the state and claiming more and more victims.

It behooves the church officials to consider carefully the conditions for re-opening. Surely, it is better to err on the side of caution and take all the precautions possible to keep worshipers from exposure to the virus.