March 11, 2020
An Update from Bishop Benfield
The presence of the virus named COVID-19 is changing many ways that we do things at workplaces and in church. I do not want us to be overly anxious or afraid, but at the same time I want us to take precautionary actions now before the virus becomes more virulent than it has so far been.
Again this week I have been meeting with the other bishops of the Episcopal Church, along with our infectious disease advisors, and we are trying to respond to this virus responsibly. Today I am sending our clergy detailed instructions on how to deal with the virus in our congregations. The most obvious response is that through Maundy Thursday, April 9, Holy Communion will be offered in the form of consecrated Bread only; the officiating priest will be the only person to receive the Sacrament in both kinds. On Good Friday, April 10, there will be no distribution of reserved Sacrament. By then, I hope to issue new policies, based on the public health situation we will face at that time. In the meantime, please follow all the CDC admonitions on hand washing, keeping a safe social distance from others (including no handshaking or hugs in church), and not going out in public or to church if you are exhibiting symptoms of a contagious disease.
I fully realize that as I write these instructions, no case of infection has been reported in Arkansas. But I noticed last week as I celebrated Holy Communion that a fourth or more of people at the altar rail chose not to receive the consecrated Wine. I do not want anyone at our altar rails to feel embarrassed about the decision that they make on whether or not to drink from the chalice. When everyone has the opportunity to receive the Bread only, everyone can feel equal. And in not receiving the Wine, all people can be in solidarity with the people who are in communities where the virus has taken a substantial toll—and in some cases, where church services have been cancelled altogether.
What I ask all of us to do is to continue to be in prayer for the health of all people, and to remember in particular those people whose economic livelihoods are in danger due to the loss of jobs or required absences from their places of work. Do not focus on fear or anxiety. Instead, focus on how we might help anyone whose life is affected by this virus. That is our call as Christians who are to love our neighbors as our own selves.