Updated COVID-19 Guidelines: Phase 2(d)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
You will find below significant revisions to the Diocese of West Texas COVID-19 Guidelines that have been in place for more than a year, reflecting changes to pandemic protocols for fully vaccinated individuals announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last Thursday, May 13, 2021.
These changes do not quite bring the “full return” to normal church life that we have long envisioned and worked toward, but we are close. The CDC announcement states that masks and social distancing are optional, in most cases, for people who are fully vaccinated. The highest risks remain for unvaccinated individuals interacting with others who are unvaccinated. As congregations consider changes to local church protocols, keep in mind that children under the age of 12 make up a significant portion of each local community, and many of our churches, and at this time no vaccine is available for this age group.
I hope that everyone will receive these revised Guidelines with relief and joy. However, I also know that after 15 months of limitations and restrictions, we are likely to experience some degree of discomfort, awkwardness, and anxiety as our Guidelines are eased further. How we respond, how we choose to treat one another, during this phase will have a lasting impact on the recovery and renewal of congregational life.
Local circumstances and the well-being of the whole parish or mission must be taken into consideration. Therefore, how and when these revisions are implemented in your congregation will be decided by your clergy and lay leadership. I have called upon Vestries and Bishop’s Committees to meet this week to carefully consider the new CDC recommendations and Diocesan Guidelines, then review the local protocols that each congregation adopted early in the pandemic.
From the start, I have tried to entrust much of the implementation of health and safety practices to local leadership, and they have responded with great care and seriousness. Now, I ask that they do the same thing as we continue removing restrictions. I also ask that all our congregations pray for their leaders, that they may be led by the Holy Spirit to wise decisions and right actions that honor all and strengthen the whole Church.
The CDC announcement did not address church life or how the masked and unmasked, the vaccinated and unvaccinated, are to live together in peace as children of the same Father. But Jesus has a great deal to say about how we shall live: Live so that God is glorified and the Kingdom is proclaimed.
There is an old Anglican/Episcopal saying regarding private Confession that seems appropriate as we put the new Guidelines in place: “All may; some should; none must.” It reflects a gracious and restrained care for others, encouraging what is good for each and for all.
The Feast of Pentecost is this Sunday, when we celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit and the birth and sending out of the Church into the world. May our actions and our attitudes be shaped and guided by the Spirit’s refining fire. As we move into this next step may we, in all things, be led by the Spirit into newness of life: “For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:22,25)
We have come so far, and through so much, together. It is grace that’s brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home. May God’s grace and mercy free us to walk this way together.
Love in Christ,
David M. Reed
Bishop of West Texas
Phase 2(d): New Options for Vaccinated Individuals
The Episcopal Diocese of West Texas presents revised Diocesan Guidelines for Phased Reopening of Churches: Phase 2(d): New Options for Vaccinated Individuals.
Churches and congregations may implement Phase 2(d) protocols as determined by local church leadership and only following a discussion and plan of action formed by clergy and the Vestry or Bishop’s Committee. That plan must be communicated to the congregation prior to any in-person gathering that will incorporate Phase 2(d) guidance, but does not need to be submitted to the diocesan office prior to implementation.
As of Tuesday, May 18th, the following Phase 2(d) guidance may be considered by Vestry or Bishop’s Committees for implementation:
- Fully vaccinated* individuals are no longer required to wear a mask or physically distance indoors or outdoors on church premises. This includes worship services, fellowship, bible studies, formation, meetings, etc. Leadership should re-evaluate maximum capacities and space limitations for indoor gatherings of all kinds, with careful consideration of the activities taking place, size of space, ventilation, estimated number in attendance, and percentage vaccinated in each local context.
- Masks and 6-feet distancing are expected and strongly encouraged for individuals who are not fully vaccinated indoors, for the sake of people who cannot be vaccinated. Clergy, staff, and lay volunteers may not require proof of vaccination of any individual.
- Church staff and lay leaders who facilitate or lead formation offerings or provide childcare for children under the age of 12 must continue to wear masks and maintain 6-feet physical distance, regardless of that individual’s vaccination status.
- Fully vaccinated staff members experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should be clinically evaluated and tested for SARS-CoV-2, and quarantine for 10 days if a positive test is returned.
- Clergy and Lay Eucharistic Ministers are required to wear masks during the distribution of Communion, regardless of that individual's vaccination status.
- As soon as Trinity Sunday, May 30th, Communion may be offered in both kinds, with wine by intinction only , using one or more chalices to administer wine to communicants. The use of the common cup to administer Communion is still not permitted under Phase 2(d) guidelines.
- Informal fellowship gatherings, such as coffee hours or luncheons, may return indoors.
After Vestries/Bishop’s Committees and clergy consider how and when to implement Phase 2(d) revisions, it is critical that leadership communicate the new congregational guidelines and expectations to congregants prior to any gathering, using multiple communication methods, if available. Further, signs should be present and visible with guidance for anyone entering church buildings. Greeters and ushers should prepare to explain the new guidelines as participants enter a worship service, and updated expectations should be shared verbally by clergy members during announcements or at the beginning of each service.
We do not advocate requesting vaccination status of any person, or requesting documentation of vaccination, as a requirement for participation in church worship or events. However, clergy and lay leaders should continue to communicate clearly that the practice of the church is for those not vaccinated to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Clergy and lay leaders should also continue to encourage people to receive the COVID-19 vaccination that is available to them.
The diocese is not changing the existing guidance for schools or camps at this time.
*People are considered fully vaccinated: 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines; or 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine. If an individual doesn’t meet these requirements, they are NOT fully vaccinated.