Saturday, May 16, 2020


On yesterday, May 15, 2020, the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina issued "Best Practices for Planning a Return to In-Person Worship," to guide parishes and missions as they plan the resumptions of public worship in their church buildings. Find the EDSC announcement, and the guide, here . Local churches of the diocese may resume services after the First of June.

There is no official, national directive for the re-opening of places of worship. However, the people in lower South Carolina now have three guides that they can, and should, consult as they plan the re-openings. In late April, the Centers for Disease Control sent out a proposed guideline that was detailed and stringent. Find it here . The second is the guideline of the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina, dated May 7, 2020. Find it here . The third is the new EDSC guideline published yesterday.

One should bear in mind that the dates for resuming public worship are only suggestions. No local church is required to re-start public worship. ADSC churches may re-open tomorrow while EDSC churches may re-start on Sunday, June 7. Of course, this means they may choose not to re-open. 

The only one of the three that actually demands compliance is the ADSC guide. In it, the bishop lists "Requirements" and "Recommendations" for resuming indoor and outdoor public worship. The requirements in the ADSC guide are more restrictive and detailed than in the CDC guide which was shelved apparently because it was too restrictive. Thus, ADSC puts the burden of decision making on the diocese.

The EDSC guide does not require or demand anything. It only suggests points local churches should consider as they make their own plans for re-opening. Its recommendations are couched in wordy reasons and explanations. Thus, EDSC, in contrast to ADSC, puts the burden of decision making on the parishes and missions.

(Note. 5-17-20. As someone rightly pointed out to me, the EDSC does require communion in one kind only so it is not quite right to say the EDSC guide does not require or demand anything. "Communion of One Kind in the Bread is to be practiced until further notice.") 

Otherwise, the ADSC and EDSC guides are quite similar in specifics for re-opening. ADSC suggests a 25% occupancy while EDSC offers 20%, not a significant difference. However, neither really provides for how this is to be administered. Exactly what is to be done with the overflow? (The Church of England is considering giving out tickets for admission.)

As for music in church, all three guides are unclear. The CDC says no choirs but ignores congregational singing. ADSC says no congregational singing but says nothing about choirs. EDSC says consider doing without a choir but skips congregational singing. At any rate, all three say attendees should wear face masks. Common sense would mean no congregational singing through masks. The guides should have been clearer on the best ways to incorporate, or not, music into the new worship formats. 

As for the grand old institution of the coffee hour, all three disagree. The CDC guide says food and beverage may be served but in individual containers. The ADSC says outright "no coffee hour." The EDSC suggests they may be a social hour but without food and beverage. Thus, ADSC churches have no choice but EDSC churches may decide to combine CDC and EDSC and have coffee hour with individual servings although consuming food and drink while wearing face masks and talking to people six feet away presents another problem.

It is no wonder that some churches are hesitant to reopen with all the confusing and complex issues at hand. My quick survey of four large ADSC parishes yesterday found that none of them will be resuming public worship this month. It remains to be seen when they will resume services and when the EDSC parishes and missions will re-open.

ADSC churches have no choice about stipulations of re-opening. They have "requirements" that must be met. EDSC churches do have choices. My advice to them is to study all three guides and make the most sensible specific provisions suitable to the local circumstances. The ADSC guide is the easiest to follow while the EDSC guide gives the better reasons for doing these things. 

Re-opening churches is serious business and should be approached with the utmost of care and caution. The coronavirus is highly infectious and we know churches are places of public interaction that can spread COVID-19. Keep St. Andrew's of Mt. Pleasant in mind. 

Churches should continue their live-streaming which has proved to be a popular alternative to in-person worship. They should also warn, perhaps discourage, vulnerable populations about attending: over 65, heart problems, lung issues, diabetes, cancer. 

This unwelcomed disruption of our old church lives will go on for a long time to come, at least until a vaccine appears. All indication is at least another year of this. Churches will have to reconfigure worship services and, no doubt, revise as they go along. There is no easy answer. There is not even agreement on exactly how to do things, as evidenced by the three guides. There will have to be a lot of experimentation ahead, but all should be done with one great thought in mind, the health and well-being of the people of the church.