Episcopal churches in Georgia can reopen for indoor services

Episcopal churches, schools and other ministries may resume indoor worship, Rev. Robert C. Wright announced Wednesday.

Wright, bishop of the 117 Episcopal worshiping locations located throughout middle and north Georgia, had in March 2020 limited worship and other gatherings to online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indoor services are being added to in-person outdoor worship which has been allowed since July 2021.

The following announcement by Wright authorizing indoor gatherings was emailed to clergy and parishioners and shared on diocesan social media.

“Brothers and Sisters, greetings to you in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

“It has been almost one year since our worship has moved out of our sanctuaries to online and outdoor expressions. 

“I write today to announce the addition of an indoor option to our worship.

“This announcement comes because COVID cases are declining, hospitalizations due to COVID are decreasing and those receiving vaccinations are increasing.

“Based on that data, every congregation may add an in-person indoor worship option effective immediately based on Diocesan protocols and subject to the discretion of your Rector and Vestry. 

“That said, the danger of COVID-19 still prevents us from gathering for worship in full measure and with full confidence, so we resume worship indoors, honoring spacing protocols and in numbers not to exceed seventy-five persons.

“There are a universe of details to be attended to in due course, and I and my staff stand ready to support you as we embark on this transition to the next normal.  

“But this announcement is not about details. This announcement is about me giving God thanks for our COVID task force, my staff and every priest, deacon and layperson of this Diocese for making the sacrifices that make the love of Jesus and the love of neighbor real.”

Indoor and outdoor worship and formation classes are now authorized for up to 75 people if safety rules are followed, according to diocesan guidelines also issued Wednesday.

The guidelines emphasize continuing to provide online options as they have proven “vital to reaching all members of our communities,” especially those in poor health or are in high-risk of infection. Routine meetings should continue to be held online and for staff to work remotely as possible or in rotation, according to the documents.

A diocesan COVID-19 advisory group of experts in infectious diseases, worship, and the law formed by Wright at the beginning of the pandemic issued a statement about the new diocesan gathering protocols. 

“Public health data is indicating positive trends in Georgia, including declining case counts and positivity rates in testing, and a lowering rate of hospitalizations. An increasing rate of vaccinations is also encouraging. We believe that our shared sacrifice and efforts around masking, social distancing, limiting in-person gatherings, and adjusting worship protocols as our witness to loving God and neighbor have contributed to these improved public health conditions in our communities. 

“We offer the expanded indoor gathering options of these Phase 3A protocols in light of this data. We believe the revisions to the safer standards herein provide a path towards a more familiar in-person gathering experience as we take the next steps on the journey through the global COVID-19 pandemic. These protocols are designed to offer safer gathering options for all members of our community equally. Acknowledging inequities in access and differing abilities to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, we have not created a separate category for the vaccinated.

“While it appears we are exiting the crisis stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, we know the global COVID-19 pandemic is not over. We must remain vigilant in doing our part to ensure community spread remains on the current downward trajectory. We ask parish leaders to join us in remaining aware of current Georgia COVID conditions in your county and to exercise additional caution if case numbers or positive tests are increasing. Our continued vigilance will be key to helping to keep our communities safer.”

The Diocese of Atlanta is one of two Episcopal dioceses in Georgia. Information about COVID-19 protocols within the Diocese of Georgia can be found at https://gaepiscopal.org/covid-19-resources/

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