This week Bishop Andy Doyle issued a statement to the heads of congregations in the Diocese of Texas:
As you well know, we have turned the decision-making regarding COVID protocols over to you as heads of congregations and institutions.
I want to let you know that the CDC has changed its guidelines, and I encourage you to take a look.
People are returning to communing at the rail. People are returning to a shared cup. There is no reason to prohibit the common cup as we now know COVID is not passed by touch or in food.
Be aware that the Medical Center in Houston believes another variant may arise later in the spring. We are ready, and we will know how to deal with this in the future, as it comes.
The Regathering Task Force and I have decided to change the protocols regarding masking and gathering for the St. Stephen’s community, while we are experiencing this lull in infection rates and hospitalizations from Omicron. Beginning Sunday, masks will be optional at the 8:30 a.m. Eucharist and we will once again offer the common cup at both services. The reason that we will still require masks at the 10:30 a.m. Eucharist is that children ages 1-5 still cannot receive the vaccine and we have many immunocompromised folks who attend this more crowded service. We will not limit the number of communicants at either service. The staff will continue to mask as will the choir, since social distancing is not possible in the choir loft.
The chalice will be offered at each service. You may choose to dip your wafer in the cup (intinction), drink from the chalice, or refrain from receiving the wine. Any of these choices is a valid form of receiving communion. If you choose to dip your wafer, please do not put your fingers in the cup.
There has been much thought, research, and prayer that have gone into our policies at St. Stephen’s. We have paid attention to the science, to our public health officials, and to the numbers of infections, deaths, and hospitalizations in our community. Now the numbers are in our favor; we have vaccines; we have created a culture of care.
Courtesy and care cannot be mandated. Science is not static and without the need for interpretation and so it is inherently subject to change as we learn more. We are all struggling to allow freedom within constraints while it is safe to do so. For now, we are constrained by love, not law.
If there is a new variant and our community in Houston is negatively impacted, St. Stephen’s policies will return to a more restrictive stance. These decisions announced today will not be enough for everyone in either direction. Some will see them as too lenient, others as ridiculously confining; it is the spring of our discontent. As good Episcopalians, we are seeking a middle way.
-The Reverend Lisa Hunt, Rector