CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — The Episcopal Church is putting practices in place across West Virginia to start reopening its buildings for in-person services in the coming weeks, with some services set to begin Sunday. Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia Rt. Rev. W. Michie Klusmeyer says 16 of the Diocesan’s 67 parishes have applied to begin in-person services this summer.
“We have talked for decades that the Church is not the building,” says Klusmeyer. “But, we recognize people are longing for physical and social connection. We want our family to be able to do that, but in a safe manner.”
Klusmeyer says specific guidance to allow for in-person service while protecting parishoners was provided to the parishes several weeks ago. Before any parish can begin to meet in-person, he says the parish’s leadership must be in complete agreement and submit a plan to the Bishop for review and approval. No in-person service can be held until the Bishop has completed the process and given his endorsement.
Once approved, initial gatherings will have very strict guidelines, including limits on attendance and a mandate to follow all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Klusmeyer says while guidelines are now available, parishes are not required to begin making plans to reopen if the leaders do not feel ready to host in-person services just yet.
“No parish is required to take this step,” Klusmeyer says. “The leadership must be comfortable; several have said they are not at this time, which is okay.”
Expanded services will come in phases and must follow specific protocol and government guidelines regarding social distancing and healthcare guidance, the Bishop says. The Diocesan guidance booklet outlines the various steps that must happen before services can be at 100%. Klusmeyer says it is better to open a month late than a day too early, and timing must be appropriate.
“Unfortunately, we just cannot flip the switch and return to what we had before,” he says. “I think we recognize this. No matter how challenging it is to accept, we must. It’s our reality.”
During the pandemic, the Episcopal Church has provided virtual options for service, including daily prayer services and Sunday Eucharist through various platforms. The Bishop says this type of service will continue indefinitely. In West Virginia, the Bishop hosts noon-day prayer each weekday and Sunday morning service via Zoom and Facebook. Parishes also host online services.
The Bishop says the connection across the country, and even the world, has been remarkable. During one virtual service from the National Cathedral in Washington, also known as The Episcopal Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, more than 8,000 people were watching.
“I believe we are more connected than we were before the pandemic,” the Bishop says. “This challenge has helped us find new and creative ways to be reunited. In the Diocese of West Virginia, thousands are “stopping by” to worship with us from around the country.”
The Bishop says anyone wanting to learn of an individual parish’s plans, should contact the parish directly. For more information about the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of West Virginia, contact 304-344-3837 or visit www.wvdiocese.org.