By Kirk Petersen

The Diocese of Washington has announced in a letter to clergy that all public services and gatherings are suspended until May 16. Easter is April 12.

The move came after the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommended March 15 “that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.”

Most of the cancellations announced by dioceses have been for two or three weeks, to be reassessed later.

The two dioceses comprising the state of Washington – where the disease originated in the United States – have canceled all public services through March 22 (Olympia) or March 31 (Spokane).

In Westchester County, New York, the city of New Rochelle has a cluster of more than 100 cases, and the state has sent National Guard troops to enforce a one-mile-radius containment area around a synagogue linked to many of the cases. Bishop Andrew Dietsche told the Diocese of New York “our circumstances are just too different across our geography and 200 churches for a blanket policy,” but all churches had permission to close if they saw fit.

The dioceses of Washington and Maryland appear to have been the first to cancel public services, after a priest in Georgetown was hospitalized with a confirmed case of the virus.

Bishop Daniel Martins has taken a contrary approach. “I call on the clergy of the Diocese of Springfield to fulfill their obligation to conduct services on the Lord’s Day, for and with those who come,” he wrote, acknowledging that this may create some risk. Martins is secretary of the board of directors of the Living Church Foundation, Inc., which publishes TLC.

Episcopal News Service is maintaining a web page with links to diocesan policies throughout the Church.

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At least six people have tested positive for coronavirus who attended the February 19-22 annual meeting of the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes in Louisville, Kentucky, according to Executive Director Joe Swimmer.

Health officials are reaching out to attendees “out of an abundance of caution. Since it has been more than 20 days since our conference ended, we are well outside the incubation period,” he said in an announcement updated March 14.

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Two teachers at an Episcopal school in Maryland have been confirmed with coronavirus infections, and all 230 students at the school are being asked to self-quarantine. Holy Trinity Episcopal School is in Glenn Dale, Maryland, a Washington suburb.

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The Church Center is developing guidelines for parochial report information during the pandemic, Public Affairs Officer Nancy Davidge told TLC. The gold standard of church size is ASA – average Sunday attendance. The figure is a useful comparison and is used in a wide variety of contexts throughout the Church, and the totals are reported each year, diocese by diocese.

But attendance is starting to crater. Depending on how long the crisis continues, the benchmark may become significantly less useful over time.

TLC recently published an article about the 10 fastest-growing Episcopal churches – as measured by ASA – and announced plans to run brief individual articles on each church. Those plans are being reassessed.

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In addition to Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry’s March 15 sermon as part of the Washington National Cathedral’s virtual service, many churches and dioceses are offering live-streamed services. Behind the scenes, members of Episcopal Communicators have been having lively discussions on Facebook threads about relative benefits of the various platforms, including Facebook Live, YouTube, Zoom and others.