Welcome to our page of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) regarding safe return to in-person worship.
These principles must be applied to any gatherings, inside or outside, worship or non-worship. Use them as your starting point for developing your safety protocols:
- Wear a suitable mask over your nose and mouth.
- Household groups should maintain a minimum of six feet of distance from others.
- Outdoors is always better (and if indoors, please keep doors and windows open as practicable and safe).
- Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer.
Guidelines for preparing to return to in-person worship
The following guidelines are provided by the Diocese of Los Angeles for its clergy and lay leaders preparing to resume in-person worship in their congregations.
These checklists are provided for congregations to report to the diocese their preparations for in-person worship. They are available as online forms or downloadable PDFs.
Confirmation of Church Building Readiness (PDF checklist)
Confirmación de la Preparación de Reapertura de los Edificios de las Iglesias (Lista de Verificación)
Confirmation of Church Building Readiness (online form)
Confirmación de la Preparación de Reapertura (formulario en linea)
Other Sacramental Rites
Distinction between worship and other gatherings
There is an important distinction between worship and other gatherings. Saturday evening or Sunday worship is a congregational community event where, for the most part, attendees are members of the congregation with a small number of guests. These worship services are conducted by a clergy person or lay leader and are prescribed.
Weddings and burials, while held within a congregational community, are more likely to have a larger number of guests who are not familiar with these protocols. For this reason, the protocols for weddings and burials are more similar to the protocols for gatherings than those for worship.
Group gatherings, on the other hand, are meetings and small groups such as vestry/bishop’s committee meetings, Bible studies, youth groups, board meetings, etc., and are less prescribed and more socially engaged than traditional worship.
Any gathering, whether for worship or other reasons, must not include any preparation or serving of food, unless it is food to go and is part of a ministry. [Return to Topics]
What if someone in my congregation/institution is diagnosed with COVID-19?
- Notify all who were potentially exposed.
- Maintain confidentiality when communicating with others.
- Ensure that all who were exposed have adequate health care options.
- Provide information about home quarantine, symptom monitoring, and testing options. California’s state government provides a website with extensive resources here.
- Each county in the Diocese of Los Angeles also has its own resource web pages:
- Los Angeles County resources
- Orange County resources
- Ventura County resources
- Santa Barbara County resources
- San Bernardino County resources
- Riverside County resources
To manage outbreaks, congregations/institutions need to:
- Identify and track suspected and confirmed cases among parishioners, staff, and others in contact with your church or institution.
- Report confirmed cases to the congregation/institution’s local health department and the health departments of all who were infected.
- Develop a strategy to identify contacts to control further spread.
- Work with the local health department to assist in contact tracing and quarantining of contacts.
- Prayerfully consider whether to temporarily suspend services and other in-person activities.
Please visit the California state “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” webpage to learn your county’s current status. Click here for the state’s guidance for places of worship and here for the state’s checklist.
Guidelines for worship based on county status
- Widespread (purple): Outdoor only and following all general principles and safety protocols.
- Substantial (red): Indoor worship must be limited to 25% of capacity or 100 people, whichever is less, following all general principles and safety protocols.
- Moderate (orange): Indoor worship must be limited to 50% of capacity or 200 people, whichever is less, following all general principles and safety protocols.
- Minimal (yellow): Indoor worship must be limited to 50% of capacity, following all general principles and safety protocols. [Return to Topics]
The permitted size of the gathering is dependent upon square footage and a minimum of six feet between individuals and/or households and following all general principles and safety protocols. [Return to Topics]
Gatherings for events other than worship
- Indoors: 10 or fewer is permissible with the above general principles as minimal safety protocols.
- Outdoors: Size is dependent upon square footage and a minimum of six feet between individuals and/or family groups with the above general principles as minimal safety protocols. [Return to Topics]
Before we can return to indoor church worship, a baptism of an adult or children/infants may take place, preferably outdoors, with the parents/godparents in physical attendance, as well as the celebrant and a videographer or photographer, with no more than a total of 10 people in physical attendance.
The normal liturgical necessities – paschal candle, candidate’s candle (which a family member lights from the paschal candle), water, baptismal shell, and towel – should be available. All items should be appropriately sanitized beforehand.
While there are many forms of baptismal administration – including immersion, dipping, and aspersing – it is strongly recommended that the pouring of water on the head of the baptizand by the celebrant be done at this time. In the case of a child or infant, the parent or godparent must be the one holding the child. All participants will use appropriate face coverings at all times. Chrismation may take place immediately after the administration of the water. Hand sanitizing before and after the baptism is essential.
In order to incorporate this sacramental rite into the life and witness of the community, either:
- The recording of the baptism should be included in an upcoming pre-recorded liturgy, or
- If the liturgy is “live,” the baptism should be incorporated into the livestream. [Return to Topics]
No one knows the physical layout and constraints of your churches better than you. We offer general guidelines that you can incorporate as you work through the logistics with your advisory team on physical presence.
Mandatory practices for in-person Eucharist:
- Offer the consecrated bread only — no wine at this time.
- Wear a face mask while consecrating and distributing communion. All worshippers must also wear masks.
- Wash hands (or use hand sanitizer) in sight of the congregation before beginning the prayer of consecration.
- Do not have an offertory procession of the elements — everything should be preset in advance.
- Do not use the communion rail for receiving the Eucharist.
- Clearly mark the floor with safe distancing positions for all receivers.
- Stations should be provided so that those attending worship and coming forward to receive Holy Communion can sanitize their hands, both as they enter church and immediately before they receive.
- The priest, deacon or lay Eucharistic minister distributing the wafers must be masked and must stand on a marked spot that is six feet from the line of communicants. One person steps forward at a time.
- The person distributing communion may not place the wafer on the communicant’s tongue. Communicants extend their hands, and the presider drops the wafer into them. Other possible means of distribution: Tongs may be used to drop the wafer into the communicant’s hands; communicants may pick up the wafer in a small paper cup from a prepared tray on a side table or on the altar (non-touch trash receptacles need to be provided); distribution of communion may be moved to the end of the service, with people receiving as they leave.
- No votive candles are to be available for prayers before, during or after communion or other services.
- Some churches that are not returning to physical presence during weekend worship may wish to consider using these guidelines and offering to administer bread from the reserved sacrament during a two- or three-hour period on a weekday morning or afternoon. When doing so, please remember the ongoing lively debate about imposing Ash Wednesday ashes without liturgy. We ask that you print takeaway liturgies based on BCP pps. 396-99 (“Communion under Special Circumstances”) and ask communicants to say the prayers before or after they receive. [Return to Topics]
If you would like to offer small home celebrations of Eucharist for pastoral reasons, you may do so as long as all guidelines are followed and a readiness checklist is submitted (see above). [Return to Topics]
Other Sacramental Rites
The laying on of hands by the bishop, the sacramental sign of confirmation, cannot be done at this time by bishops in our diocese in all the church sites where it may be desired.
Many confirmands may have been in preparation for some time and the delay has left them with no formal closure to their time of preparation. We suggest that as an interim step, congregations with classes of confirmands who have been waiting for confirmation, arrange with the bishops’ office to provide for a Service of Adult Affirmation of Baptismal Vows via Zoom or some other digital platform, where these persons may affirm their faith in the presence of a bishop of the church.
A prayer for such an occasion is:
N., may the Holy Spirit, who has begun a good work in you through your Baptism, direct and uphold you in the service of Christ and his kingdom, and we welcome you into the fellowship of this Communion, looking forward to the day when we complete our celebration through the laying on of hands.
While this is not the sacramental rite of confirmation as it has been understood within Anglicanism, it will provide a pastoral response to those eager to officially become part of The Episcopal Church. This may be accompanied with a certificate marking the occasion. At a later date, confirmands may then receive the laying on of hands by a bishop. [Return to Topics]
Pastoral visits, including last rites
- In a hospital or other care facility, if a patient in need of last rites is COVID-19 positive, only chaplains associated with the hospital may administer the rite. If parochial clergy desire to do so, they must obtain the bishop’s permission. Clergy who receive permission will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days afterward.
- In the case of non-COVID-19 positive patients, when last rites are to be conducted at a health care facility, clergy should work collaboratively with members of the administration and/or chaplain staff.
- The bishop continues to discourage home visits. Nevertheless, in the case of acute pastoral need, clergy are permitted to visit the home of a person requiring last rites if the sacrament can be administered in a socially distanced fashion.
- Anything brought into a facility/home should be sanitized before visiting another person OR disposed of immediately.
- Holy oil may be administered by gloved hand or cotton swab. After use, these may be placed in biohazard receptacles, remembering that their contents are always burned, and fire deconsecrates.
- If a deacon or priest is not available, please remember that a lay person may perform the anointing with holy oil (see Book of Common Prayer, page 456). [Return to Topics]
Reconciliation of a penitent
A clergy person may meet with an individual for this sacramental rite in person, inside or outside, provided all general principles are followed. A clergy person may also perform this rite with someone through electronic means (via Zoom, for example) and pronounce absolution. [Return to Topics]
Music and singing
We ask there be no live singing in worship at this time, whether by a choir, a congregation, or a soloist, outdoors or indoors. [Return to Topics]
Small groups other than worship
- Indoors: 10 or less is permissible with the above general principles as minimal safety protocols, with doors and windows open as is safe and practicable.
- Outdoors: size is dependent upon square footage and a minimum of six feet between individuals and/or family groups with the above general principles as minimal safety protocols.
- Small groups: (Bible study, EFM, etc): Small groups are permissible up to 10 people inside with protocols for sanitization being followed and all parties masked and distanced at least six feet. Outside gathering can accommodate as many as the space can hold with social distancing. [Return to Topics]
Third party rentals
Third party rentals are permissible inside if the group has fewer than 10 people, with a certificate of insurance, a signed waiver, and safety protocols. Groups gathering outside may have as many people as the space allows with a minimum social distance of six feet. No onsite food or beverage preparation or consumption, please. [Return to Topics]
AA and similar 12-step groups are permissible inside if the group is fewer than 10 people, with a certificate of insurance, a signed waiver, and following general principles. Groups gathering outside may have as many people as the space allows with a minimum social distance of six feet. [Return to Topics]