St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Stockbridge, Massachusetts
The Rev. Samuel J. Smith, Rector

March 2020

Dear Friends –

Right now the most important story is the spread of coronavirus around the world and here in the United States. Since this disease appears to be even more infectious than the flu, there is considerable concern about how to keep people safe. This is a highly fluid time and there is much we do not yet know about this disease, and we should all continue to pay attention to experts and medical professionals as recommendations evolve. (I am indebted to Father Michael Tuck of Trinity Church, Lenox, for this clear and helpful information.)

According to the experts, older folks and folks with compromised immune systems are most at risk from this disease, so we have many people in our congregations for whom we need to take extra precautions. It’s also important to note that, while coronavirus may be the reason we are paying close attention now, these are issues every year in flu season. It is a good idea for us to be a little more thoughtful about what we do as a congregation to keep everyone safe and healthy.

In addition to heeding all of the good advice we’ve seen about handwashing and being careful about door handles, etc., there are a few changes we will make in our worship, at least temporarily:

  • Taking care of ourselves – the first thing for each of us to consider is whether or not we are sick. If you’re not feeling well or you think you might be contagious, please stay home and rest! Don’t worry, St. Paul’s will be here when you get better.
  • Exchanging the peace – for most people, the custom has been to shake hands. Unfortunately this is one of the easiest ways for us to spread germs. While we are in this heightened moment of concern, I suggest we refrain from shaking hands and look for other ways to share God’s peace with each other. The Diocese of California has suggested “a nod, a wave, or touching our hands to our hearts are among the many ways we can acknowledge Christ in one another.”
  • Using hand sanitizer – Hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds remains the best way to clean our hands, but hand sanitizer is another way for us to be careful. I and any Eucharistic ministers will be using sanitizer at the offertory (as is already our regular practice). We also have sanitizer at the back of the church for your use.
  • Intinction and the Common Cup – sharing the common Communion Cup has been part of our tradition since the Reformation. The CDC has not been able to trace a single documented case of illness being transmitted through the common cup. So while the CDC says that sharing the cup is probably safe, there are things we can do out of an abundance of caution.
    • Intinction – the practice of dipping the host into the cup – is clearly the highest risk practice with the common cup. Despite our best efforts, t people’s fingers do get into the wine. According to the research, taking a sip from the cup and wiping the lip with the cloth is actually somewhat safer. If you do not want to drink from the cup, hold out your wafer and the clergy person or Eucharistic minister will dip the host and give it to you. This way, there is only one person (who has taken extra precaution to sanitize the hands) who might put their fingers in the cup and reduce exposure.
    • And it’s important to remember that Jesus is fully present under both the bread and the wine. If you have concerns during this time, please feel free to only receive the host. God’s grace is overflowing, and we will always get what we need.

We enact these recommendations in order to make things safer for our friends in the congregation. Refraining from coming to church if we might be sick is a loss for us, but it helps keep others safe. Handshakes are normal and comfortable, but refraining from them can help keep others healthy. Many of us practice intinction, but changing the way we receive communion will slow the transmission of viruses. In Christian communities, we care for each other’s spiritual lives as well as our own.

There are many things today that might tempt us to fear but such anxiety certainly has no place in our Church. We are a people of hope and love. No matter what we do, let us do it in hope and love.

Blessings to you all as we continue our Lenten journey,