By David Paulsen
Episcopal News Service

One of an Episcopal priest’s most solemn duties – praying the Ministration at the Time of Death, also known as “last rites” – is particularly difficult to fulfill during the current coronavirus pandemic because hospitals have tightened access restrictions to prevent further spread of the virus.

“You can’t reach and touch someone’s hand, even through bedsheets, as they’re dying,” the Rev. Alice Downs said, “because they are alone.”

Downs, a former hospice chaplain now living in Maine, is one of 87 Episcopal priests and deacons who have volunteered to minister by phone to people dying of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, which has infected more than a million people worldwide. The phone ministry is called “Dial-a-Priest” and was created in a matter of days by the TryTank Experimental Lab, a joint project of Virginia Theological Seminary and General Theological Seminary.

“What we’re doing is a pastoral response to a need, which is that there are people who are dying and we know we have words of comfort,” said the Rev. Lorenzo Lebrija, TryTank’s director.

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