Some Episcopal cathedrals and churches begin requiring proof of vaccination to attend services

by dpaulsen |
Grace Cathedral evensong

The opening procession is seen in a video of the Sept. 9 Evensong at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, California. The cathedral begin requiring proof of vaccination to attend worship services on Aug. 29.

[Episcopal News Service] Sunday worshippers who attend one of the three services at St. Luke in the Fields Episcopal Church in New York’s West Village will face new pandemic protocols starting Sept. 19. In addition to wearing a face mask, they now will have to provide proof that they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Though far from common, across The Episcopal Church some congregations are requiring proof of vaccination, now that vaccines are widely available and easily obtained and have been demonstrated to be effective and safe. Churches that are limiting in-person worship to the vaccinated cite another factor: the recent surge in COVID-19 cases nationally due to the highly contagious delta variant.

“This is an evolving situation, so we’re trying to evolve with it,” the Rev. Caroline Stacey, rector of St. Luke in the Fields, told Episcopal News Service. She sees in-person worship as a core mission of the church, and church leaders should make attending those services as safe as possible.

“The rights of individuals to choose not to get vaccinated ends where the responsibility to safeguard the worshipping community begins,” she said.

New York’s Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine established a similar vaccination requirement for anyone entering the building starting on Sept. 1. Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, California, began Aug. 29 checking for proof of vaccination at Sunday worship services. The cathedrals allow unvaccinated children to attend worship services with parents who show their own proof of vaccination. In mid-August both New York and San Francisco, the two most densely populated cities in the United States, mandated proof of vaccination to enter certain indoor spaces, such as restaurants and concert halls, though such measures are optional for religious facilities.

Individual Episcopal congregations, with diocesan input, generally are setting their own safety protocols for reducing the transmission of COVID-19 at in-person worship services. Last month, several dioceses, including Maine and Long Island, began requiring clergy and staff members to get one of the authorized COVID-19 vaccinations. That workplace measure also is being adopted by many secular employers, and the Biden administration soon will require most American workers to get vaccinated or produce weekly negative test results before clocking in.

Community access is another consideration that church leaders face when setting vaccination status as a condition for entering houses of worship. Some have questioned whether such policies strike the right balance for churches that are striving to welcome all and exclude none.

The Very Rev. Malcolm Young, dean of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, said he is a longtime supporter of efforts to expand public access to Episcopal churches, so adding a vaccination requirement “wasn’t an easy decision to make at all.” He defended it by suggesting that some worshippers felt excluded before vaccines were required since they didn’t feel safe attending a service open to people who are eligible but have chosen not to get vaccinated.

“I think we may actually have more people coming to church as a result of the vaccine requirement,” Young told ENS. The requirement shouldn’t catch anyone by surprise, he added. “If you’re coming to San Francisco on vacation, you should probably know that having a vaccination card is essential to do pretty much anything.”

Other Episcopal leaders have voiced caution about putting up medical barriers to entering churches, especially months ago amid early concerns about disparities in vaccine access for low-income Americans and people of color.

“We know that early access to the vaccines was often a matter of privilege,” New York Bishop Andrew Dietsche said in a May 27 message to his diocese. At that time, his COVID-19 guidelines stopped short of making “blanket requirements for all of our churches,” but he added, “the church should not be in the business of creating yet another caste system separating those who are vaccinated from those who are not.”

Since then, racial disparities in vaccination rates have diminished, according to data tracked by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Hispanic recipients of the vaccines make up about 17% of the U.S. total, equal to their representation in the population, while 10% of vaccinated individuals are Black and non-Hispanic, slightly lower than the 12% of the country that is African American.

In mid-April, Massachusetts Bishop Alan Gates and Bishop Suffragan Gayle Harris issued guidance to the Boston-based diocese that both urged all church members to get vaccinated and opposed vaccination requirements for participation in worship services. At that time, only Americans ages 16 and older were eligible for one of the vaccines. Eligibility has since been extended to everyone 12 and older, but Food and Drug Administration authorization has not yet been granted for vaccination of younger children.

In mid-August, the diocese repeated its guidance.

“We strongly urge vaccination against the coronavirus for all our members as soon as they are eligible,” Harris said in an Aug. 16 update. “We reiterate, however, that our congregations must not require vaccination, nor documentation thereof, for attendance at worship services.”

The diocese has chosen to implement other safety precautions instead, the Rev. William C. Parnell, Massachusetts’ canon to the ordinary, said in an interview with ENS. Clergy and staff members must be vaccinated, and congregations must ask worshippers to wear face masks and maintain physical distancing. The bishops also have advised congregations to refrain from serving wine from a common cup and issued other recommendations to slow the spread of the virus.

“They have tried to continue to make the church a place of welcome for everybody, but also to implement the safety protections to ensure that people are gathering safely,” Parnell said.

Congregations are making these decisions within the context of stark regional, state and county differences in COVID-19 case counts and vaccination rates. The United States now is averaging about 150,000 new cases a day after dropping nearly as low as 10,000 a day in June. Some of the worst outbreaks in recent months have been in Southern states where large portions of their populations haven’t been vaccinated.

The Northeast, on the other hand, has some of the country’s highest vaccination rates. In Massachusetts, 67% of residents are fully vaccinated, compared with the national average of 54%. The state also has the second lowest rate of hospitalizations, behind Vermont, according to data tracked by the New York Times.

Maine’s vaccination rate also stands at 67%. Last month, the Diocese of Maine was the first to require clergy and staff members to be vaccinated. The diocese’s churches are considering whether to require the same for worshippers. For example, to enter St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Rockland, worshippers now must bring their vaccination cards or show photocopies or cellphone photos of the cards, or else email copies to the church in advance.

California’s 57% vaccination rate is slightly above the national average, but the rates in the counties that make up the San Francisco-based Diocese of California are the highest in the state. In San Francisco County, 72% of residents are fully vaccinated, including 79% of all adults. Even so, Grace Cathedral’s vaccination requirement has been a target for critics.

“We’ve definitely heard from people who are not happy with this policy,” said Young, though many of the most vocal critics of the vaccine mandate, especially on Twitter, are not from the congregation. Members of the congregation aren’t uniformly in agreement, he said, but most have been supportive.

California Bishop Marc Andrus has recommended that all 75 congregations in the diocese implement a vaccination requirement at worship services, and the diocese estimates about a third have done so.

“All have acted to keep themselves and their neighbors safe,” Andrus told ENS in an emailed statement. “Grace Cathedral has been in the lead in terms of safe practices and has been an inspiration to all our congregations. Their decision to require proof of vaccination is the right thing to do, and in accordance with our strong recommendations.”

Potential ethical questions raised by such policies can be answered by focusing on congregations’ efforts to maximize the sense of community that in-person gathering fosters while also maximizing the safety of those who are gathering, said Scott Bader-Saye, academic dean at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.

“You can feel the tension in this,” Bader-Saye said in an interview with ENS. Churches are taking different approaches to striking that balance, and for some to include proof of vaccination among their pandemic precautions “seems to me a position that has ethical credibility.” Others may see that as too high a barrier. “I think all of those can be faithful responses to what’s going on at this point,” he said.

Bader-Saye, who teaches Christian ethics and moral theology at the Episcopal seminary, suggested that the new vaccine requirements would be more problematic if access to the vaccines was as uneven as it was earlier this year. As for the seminary, vaccinations are required of all students, faculty and staff members to appear on campus.

“That’s allowed us to get to about 98% vaccination rate in our community,” he said. “Because of that, we feel a pretty high comfort level.”

St. Luke in the Fields, the New York church, also offers unvaccinated adults the option of showing a recent negative COVID-19 to enter the church. Most of the 200 or so people who regularly attend worship at St. Luke in the Fields on Sundays are vaccinated, said Stacey, the rector. With the testing option, “there is no absolute barrier to attending worship, even for unvaccinated persons.”

New York was one of the first cities in the United States to require proof of vaccination for common indoor activities. Starting Aug. 17, that requirement applied to indoor dining, indoor fitness and indoor entertainment. Enforcement was scheduled to begin Sept. 13. With religious services not included, most places of worship in the city have chosen not to ask for proof of vaccination, according to a New York Times report.

On New York’s Upper West Side, Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church will not check vaccination status at the door for the 50 or so worshippers who attend services on a typical Sunday. “As a church we cannot require proof of vaccination to participate in public worship,” the Rev. Andrew Blume said in an online summary of the congregation’s pandemic precautions, though that may have been more a practical decision.

In an interview with ENS, Blume said that decision mostly came down to staffing. Larger congregations have more resources to enforce a vaccination requirement, and he didn’t feel comfortable putting Saint Ignatius’ volunteer ushers in that position.

He and his congregation still support vaccination efforts, he said, and the church has implemented other standard precautions, including a mask requirement. “We’re doing a lot of things that are designed to maintain people’s safety and security and their sense of feeling secure and protected and safe in church.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

Springfield announces candidates for diocesan bishop

by lwilson |

[Diocese of Springfield] The election committee for the 12th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield is pleased to announce the nine nominees for the diocese’s next bishop.

The nominees have come from across the country, and together have decades of experience serving Christ and parishioners.

“It is our prayer that our next bishop, under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, will help us write the next chapter in the story of our diocese,” the election committee said in a Sept. 14 statement. “With God’s help, the next chapter of our story will be greater than our past – for in Jesus the best is yet to be.”

In alphabetical order, the nominees are:

  • The Very Rev. Sheryl Leonard Black, Diocese of Springfield;
  • The Very Rev. Brian Kendall Burgess, Diocese of New Jersey;
  • The Rev. George Arthur Munger Conger, Diocese of Central Florida;
  • The Rev. Mark E. Evans, Diocese of Springfield;
  • The Rev. Michael P. Greene, Diocese of New Hampshire;
  • The Rev. Mary Ann Hill, Diocese of Oklahoma;
  • The Rev. Scott Allen Seefeldt, Diocese of Milwaukee;
  • The Rev. Jonathan (Jon) Robert Stratton, Diocese of Missouri;
  • The Rev. Gregory Allen Tournoux, Diocese of Springfield.

You can learn more about the nominees here.

With God’s help, the clergy and lay delegates to the nominating synod will narrow this field of nominees to three final candidates on Saturday, Oct, 16 at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Springfield, Illinois.

The next bishop will succeed Bishop Daniel Hayden Martins, who was elected in 2011 and retired June 30, 2021.

The Episcopal Diocese of Springfield, established in 1877, is comprised of 33 congregations and nearly 4,000 members across central and southern Illinois.

Working group recommends streamlining Church of England governance

by emillard |
[Church of England] A Church of England Governance Review working group, established by the archbishops of Canterbury and York to explore options for simpler and more effective governance, has recommended changes to the church’s national governance structures. These recommendations will be considered by the church’s governance bodies during the autumn.

The main recommendation of the Governance Review Group is to reduce the number of the national governance entities by merging the oversight of most of the church’s national activities into a single body.

The review, led by Bishop of Leeds Nick Baines, became one strand of the Emerging Church of England initiative, which together will help leaders in every diocese to discern the shape, life and activity of the church in the 2020s.

Read the entire article here.

Fire damages Diocese of Long Island’s St. John’s Episcopal Hospital

by emillard |

[Episcopal News Service] A fire broke out on the roof of St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in New York City on Sept. 10, damaging the building but causing no injuries, according to the Queens hospital, which is affiliated with the Diocese of Long Island.

“[The New York City Fire Department] was able to extinguish the fire very quickly and there were no fire-related injuries. For that we are extremely grateful. The roof, however, was destroyed and there was significant damage to tower eleven,” said the Rt. Rev. Lawrence Provenzano, bishop of Long Island and chairman of the hospital’s board of directors.

Firefighters quickly evacuated patients and staff, said Renée Hastick-Motes, the hospital’s vice president of external affairs, in a statement the day after the fire. The cause was not yet known, Hastick-Motes wrote.

St. John’s is the only hospital providing emergency and ambulatory care in Far Rockaway, which the federal government has designated as an area with a shortage of medical providers. The neighborhood has been hit especially hard by COVID-19; according to the hospital, Far Rockaway saw the second highest COVID-19 death rate in New York City during the peak of the pandemic.

St. John’s, which identified the first COVID-19 patient in Queens, was the subject of a May 2020 New York Times video documentary about its role on the front lines of the pandemic. Proposed state budget cuts that would have reduced the number of beds from 257 to as few as 15 were put on hold in March after community opposition.

Provenzano shared the news of the fire in an email to his diocese commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, noting the eerie timing of the fire. Provenzano served as a chaplain at Ground Zero in the weeks after the attack.

“Yesterday evening, as I saw the thick, black smoke billowing from tower eleven of our hospital, I vividly recalled the scene in lower Manhattan twenty years ago,” he wrote.

“I am grateful today for the many brave men and women of the FDNY, and all the first responders, who risked everything in the aftermath of that horrific event. My prayers are with them and for all those—including the many in our diocese—who suffered loss that day.”

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

Presiding Bishop preaches at Trinity Church Wall Street as nation marks 20 years since 9/11

by dpaulsen |

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached Sept. 12 at Trinity Church Wall Street in New York during the church’s Sept. 11 Requiem Holy Eucharist, part of a weekend of commemorations marking 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“We observe this solemn occasion at a perilous moment in our national life and history,” Curry said. “The seeds of self-centeredness and hatred will inevitably yield a bitter harvest.”

The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, killed nearly 3,000 people and prompted the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda was based. That 20-year war ended just last month with the Taliban returning to power as the U.S. military expedited its withdrawal from the country.

Curry sounded a hopeful note in his sermon, urging Christians to “go to the mountain” and recommit to “a love that gives and does not count the cost.”

“Let us not forget that after 9/11, we joined hands and cared for each other,” he said. “Let us not forget that even if it was for one brief, shining moment, we loved each other. Let us not forget that hope is on the way. What we did then we can, by God’s grace, do again — and discover who we truly are.”

Episcopal Church, Philippine Independent Church to celebrate 60th anniversary of full communion

by emillard |

RIP: John Shelby Spong, former Newark bishop who pushed for LGBTQ+ inclusion, dies at 90

by dpaulsen |

[Religion News Service] Retired Newark Bishop John Shelby Spong, a bestselling author and cleric known for his progressive theology and his support of LGBTQ+ clergy in The Episcopal Church, has died. He was 90.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the death of the Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong. He died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday morning,” St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, where Spong had once been pastor, announced on Sept. 12 in an email to the congregation.

Bishop John Shelby Spong

Spong made headlines as the bishop of the Diocese of Newark, where he served for more than two decades and in 1989 ordained the first openly gay male priest in the Episcopal Church. He would later go on to ordain about three dozen LBGTQ+ clergy in the diocese by the time he retired, Religion News Service reported in 2013.

He also championed women clergy, making sure that any church in his diocese that was searching for a new priest interviewed at least one woman candidate, said Bishop Bonnie Perry of the Diocese of Michigan. That put him lightyears ahead of leaders in the Episcopal Church, said Perry, who was ordained as a priest by Spong in 1990.

“He was part of a pivot to this idea that we are not your grandfather’s Episcopal Church,” she said. “He drew a line in the sand about that.”

Spong was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1931 and attended fundamentalist churches as a child. After his father died when Spong was 12, he found a mentor in an Episcopal priest named Robert Crandall, under whose influence he attended Virginia Theological Seminary, graduating in 1955. He served Episcopal churches in North Carolina and Virginia until being named head of the Newark diocese in 1979.

Perry recalled Spong as a “wonderful, amazing Southern gentleman” who used his position and privilege for the benefit of others and believed in both inclusion and fairness.

“We worship a man who was all about including — the son of God who was really clear about being incarnate in this world and including everybody,” said Perry. “If we are trying to construct denominations that are about excluding people, we are screwed.”

An author of more than a dozen books, Spong had a knack for communicating complex theology to lay readers, said Kelly Hughes, president of DeChant-Hughes & Associates public relations and a longtime book publicist specializing in religious thought.

Hughes worked with Spong on a number of books, starting with “Living in Sin: A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality,” Spong’s breakout book in the late 1990s, and “The Sins of Scripture,” which earned a blurb from cable television host Bill O’Reilly.

On book tours, Spong would draw crowds of hundreds of people, said Hughes, many of them LGBTQ+ Christians and seekers or their parents.

Bishop John Shelby Spong is seen in an undated photo.

A pastor at heart, Spong would spend time talking with people at those book events and making them feel seen and welcomed, said Hughes. He also connected with readers who were Christian but “did not want to check their brain at the door,” as Spong often put it.

“They felt able to remain in the church because of him,” said Hughes.

Spong’s liberal views on theology were met with anger and dismissal by critics, who saw him as preaching something different from Christianity — which was seen as a betrayal of his role as a bishop charged with defending the faith.

He was part of a movement of writers who felt the Christian faith needed to adapt to a changing world in order to have a viable future and who often rejected miracles or other spiritual parts of the Bible.

“We’re space-age people,” he told RNS in 2013. “All I’m saying is that the world the Christian church was born in is not the world we live in, and if you confine it to the world it was born in, Christianity will die, because that world is dying.”

While some of his views about the roles of women and LGBTQ+ people in the church have become mainstream in some Protestant denominations, his theology has not.

He did see himself as a Christian — even if others saw him as a heretic.

“With all my heart I think I’m a Christian,” he told RNS in 2013. “But I see a Christianity in the future that is so radically different from the Christianity I grew up with that I think there are people who will say the two are not connected. But I think they are connected.”

Spong’s more than two decades as bishop coincided with a prolonged period of decline in The Episcopal Church. Conservatives criticized the kind of liberal theology promoted by Spong, who denied Christian doctrines like the virgin birth or the resurrection of Jesus.

Author Diana Butler Bass said the denomination’s decline was more likely the result of factors such as declining birthrates and distrust of organized religion, pointing out that the losses in attendance affected all mainline Protestant churches and other predominantly white denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention.

Bass said that things might be worse in The Episcopal Church if it were not for Spong.

“Jack spoke powerfully to a generation of people who came of age in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. And his work led many of those people back to church,” she said.

Besides his criticism of conservative Christianity, Bass said, Spong should also be remembered as a church leader who championed the idea of accepting all people.

“One of the things that Jack always did is he was constantly trying to make religious institutions accept people who were unacceptable,” she said. “And even when people talk about him rejecting conventional or traditional doctrine, what he was really trying to do was to get people to accept a different future. He was looking ahead and saying that the way we tell the stories probably won’t work as we move into the future.”

In a 2013 interview with Religion News Service, Spong spoke about his own spirituality and beliefs, which he said had grown deeper as he aged.

“The older I get, the more deeply I believe but the fewer beliefs I have,” he said, citing an adage once relayed to him by an older bishop. “And I think that’s probably where I am. I have a sort of mystical awareness (of God) that’s indescribable, but I can’t avoid it. When I’m asked to define God I’m almost wordless.”

Spong is survived by his wife Christine and three daughters. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Church in Wales approves blessing service for same-sex partnerships

by emillard |

[Church in Wales] Same-sex couples will be able to have their civil partnership or marriage blessed in Church in Wales churches for the first time after new legislation was passed Sept. 6.

A bill to authorize a service of blessing was approved by members of the Church’s Governing Body at its meeting. It was passed by the necessary two-thirds majority in each order of the three orders – bishops, clergy and laity.

The service will be used experimentally for five years and it will be up to individual clergy to decide whether or not they wish to lead it.

The service is for a blessing only, as same-sex couples are unable to marry in the church.

Read the entire article here.

Prayer vigils, services of remembrance planned as churches mark 20 years since 9/11

by dpaulsen |
Tribute in Light 2020

From Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, people look at the Tribute in Light installation marking the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York City on Sept. 11, 2020. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians were among the large crowd of people who turned out Sept. 9 for an interfaith peace walk in New York’s Midtown Manhattan to commemorate 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as dioceses and congregations across The Episcopal Church prepare for local events this weekend marking the anniversary.

The evening peace walk featured stops at Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh places of worship, a show of interfaith solidarity in the fight against ethnic and religious prejudice related to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The 19 attackers, affiliated with the terrorist group Al Qaeda, hijacked four airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in suburban Virginia, and a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, killing 2,977 people and injuring thousands more.

“As followers of Jesus, and with our siblings in other faith traditions, we place great value on the act of remembrance,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in a pastoral message released earlier this week. “As we reflect on the solemn anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, we remember many loved ones lost and first responders who put their lives at risk, modeling the sacrificial love of Jesus, who said: ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’”

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York will hold its annual ceremony to read the names of the victims, starting at 8:30 a.m. It is expected to finish at 1 p.m., and the “Tribute in Light” will begin at sundown.

Curry is scheduled to preach at the 11:15 a.m. service Sept. 12 at Trinity Church Wall Street in Lower Manhattan, near the World Trade Center site. The church’s St. Paul’s Chapel became a focal point for pastoral outreach to Ground Zero after the attacks, with hundreds of volunteers ministering to first responders and workers who were tasked with sifting through the ruins of the towers.

For the 20-year commemorations, Trinity Church is inviting the public to “A Time and Space for Remembrance and Healing,” which will span the weekend, starting with a service at 8 p.m. Sept. 10. After the service, St. Paul’s Chapel will remain open to all who “are seeking a place to pray, reflect, mourn, or simply sit with their memories,” according to the church.

At St. Paul’s, clergy from the Diocese of New York will be present to offer prayers, and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 11, brief musical interludes and readings will be offered each hour on the hour. The chapel also will host an exhibit of 9/11 artifacts and other displays.

The diocese also developed liturgical propers that congregations can follow on Sept. 11, along with other resources available online.

In the nation’s capital, Washington National Cathedral offered a Morning Prayer service on Sept. 10 from its War Memorial Chapel, led by the Rt. Rev. Carl Wright, bishop for the Armed Forces and Federal Ministries. The cathedral will hold a memorial service at 11 a.m. Sept. 12, including the tolling of the cathedral’s funeral bell. The images of the 343 New York firefighters who died in the attacks will be displayed on the cathedral’s West Lawn.

“In the two decades since, we’ve learned many lessons — about hope, perseverance, healing and loss — but none so profound and searing as the courage and heroism of those first responders who rushed to aid in the aftermath of the attacks,” said the Very Rev. Randy Hollerith, dean of the cathedral. “Today, we mourn them, grieve their loss, and reflect on their sacrifice, even as we give thanks for the countless lives they saved.”

In addition to being open to the public, the service will be livestreamed on the cathedral’s YouTube channel.

The 2001 terrorist attack remains the deadliest in history, and the catastrophe has had an indelible influence on two decades of American foreign policy and domestic politics. The United States and a coalition of allies responded a month after the attack by invading Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda was based, and toppling the ruling Taliban. That 20-year war ended just last month with the Taliban returning to power as the U.S. military expedited its withdrawal from the country.

The following are some of the other 9/11 commemorations scheduled for this weekend involving Episcopal dioceses and congregations.

  • Boston, Massachusetts: The Cathedral Church of St. Paul has scheduled a compline service at 7 p.m. Sept. 10 to mark the 9/11 anniversary. The Rev. Stephen Harding, who served as a chaplain at Ground Zero, will preach. The service can be viewed on Zoom with registration in advance.
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The Diocese of Milwaukee invites volunteers to a neighborhood clean-up event as part of the National Day of Service that coincides with the 9/11 anniversary.
  • Trenton, New Jersey: The Diocese of New Jersey will livestream a prayer vigil with Bishop Chip Stokes from the 9/11 Memorial at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral starting at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 11.
  • Chestertown, Maryland: Emmanuel Episcopal Church will offer a Prayer Service of Remembrance starting at 8:45 a.m. Sept. 11. The church bell will ring 30 times, in memory of the nearly 3,000 who died in the attacks 20 years ago.
  • Newark, New Jersey: Trinity & St. Philip’s Cathedral will open from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 11 for those seeking a quiet place to pray. The diocese will post a prerecorded Service of Prayer & Music, with a message from Bishop Carlye Hughes, on its YouTube channel at 10 a.m.
  • Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Washington Memorial Chapel will hold a Morning Prayer service at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 11. The chapel’s bells will toll throughout the morning, marking the times of the plane crashes 20 years ago. After the service, those gathered will process to the churchyard and the gravesite of Louis Nacke II, one of the Flight 93 passengers who died in the attacks.
  • Jacksonville Beach, Florida: St. Paul’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church will host a community prayer service commemorating 20 years since 9/11. The interfaith service will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 11.
  • Memphis, Tennessee: West Tennessee Bishop Phoebe Roaf will preach at a Service of Healing and Remembrance at 5 p.m. Sept. 11 at St. Mary’s Cathedral. The service will honor local first responders and is part of the cathedral’s Martyrs’ Weekend, an annual event that recognizes the nuns and priests who ministered to the sick during the deadly 1878 yellow fever epidemic. Sept. 9 is the feast day of the Martyrs of Memphis.
  • Oakdale, New York: St. John’s Episcopal Church on Long Island will host a 7 p.m. candlelight vigil on Sept. 11 “in remembrance of those lost on Sept. 11, 2001.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

Hospital chaplain develops system that helps loved ones speak for patients who can’t

by emillard |

Medical staff at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, use TIMS to log audio interviews with patients’ loved ones. Photo: Johns Hopkins Medicine

[Episcopal News Service] Amid all the bodily suffering that hospital workers have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, Elizabeth Tracey was bothered by another kind of suffering: the dehumanization of care for patients who were intubated and could not speak. Wanting to restore a personal connection between patients and medical staff, she developed an audio system that helps doctors and nurses get to know their patients through the voices of their loved ones.

Even before the pandemic, Tracey – an Episcopalian and lay chaplain at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland – had been witnessing burnout and frustration among doctors and nurses. Burdened with growing workloads and dealing increasingly with computerized processes, many medical workers were feeling demoralized and disconnected from their patients.

COVID-19 dramatically escalated that phenomenon. Hospital staff have been stretched to their limits, treating unprecedented numbers of patients who are on ventilators and unable to speak. On top of that, the relatives and friends who normally would communicate on behalf of nonverbal patients and give doctors personal insights have been unable to visit for much of the pandemic.

A conversation with a critical care physician in Johns Hopkins’ medical intensive care unit in April 2020 impressed upon Tracey the gravity of this particular aspect of the pandemic.

“All of my patients are intubated, sedated and often prone, and there’s no family telling me their story. I have no idea who they are,” Tracey recalled him saying.

Other doctors and nurses told her the same thing. The lack of personal connection not only contributed to their sense of dehumanization in medicine, but also made it harder to make the right decisions. Getting some sense of the patient’s personality and lifestyle can help doctors determine appropriate care and avoid putting the person through unnecessary procedures.

“I told him I could reach out to the designated contact person listed in patients’ medical charts and find out a bit about them,” she recalled.

That conversation was the genesis of the program now known as This Is My Story, or TIMS. Tracey and other hospital staff members begin by identifying patients who can’t speak – because of intubation or another reason – and who are expected to stay in the hospital longer than three days. She calls their listed contacts and has 10- to 20-minute recorded conversations, asking questions from open-ended to specific. To get the conversation going on a light note, she often asks the relative or friend whether the patient has any pets.

“Most people really love their dogs or other pets and are happy to describe their wonderful qualities, so it helps begin the conversation, usually on a very positive note,” Tracey told Episcopal News Service.

She asks about personality traits, relationships, hobbies, even favorite foods. Then she’ll ask the friends or family members what they would like to say to the patient and what they’d like the medical team to know. She edits the interview down to about 2 minutes and embeds the audio file in the patient’s electronic record so any member of the care team can listen to it.

Elizabeth Tracey, director of Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Newsfeed and chaplain for special ministries at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Photo: Johns Hopkins Medicine

Tracey, a member of St. James Episcopal Church in Monkton, Maryland, has worked as a broadcast journalist for decades and is the director of Health Newsfeed, a brief daily podcast from Johns Hopkins Medicine that’s syndicated on national radio stations.

“Clearly this helped me a lot in creating TIMS, as I was already very familiar with the format of brief, informative audio,” she told ENS. “Audio files work really well because the clinician can multitask while listening. They can chart, for example, while they hear the patient’s story. Clinicians are already deluged with text-based material.”

Despite some initial skepticism, doctors and nurses have responded positively to TIMS. One doctor, who at first wasn’t convinced it would have any impact, agreed to try it with his patients, and within a few days, he was requesting it for all his eligible patients, Tracey said. Nurses have told her they feel more connected to the patients after listening to the clips, sometimes discovering things they have in common, and giving them something to talk about with their conscious patients, even if they can’t reply with anything more than a smile.

“Sometimes listening to a file brings a tear to someone’s eyes, because they’re so raw and human,” one nurse told Tracey.

The TIMS program has taken on a life of its own, with the help of a $50,000 grant from Johns Hopkins. The chaplaincy department has expanded the program to other units and hospitals in the Johns Hopkins system, and it is now available in languages other than English. Chaplains – including those doing clinical pastoral education training – do the phone interviews, and medical students help edit them down.

Although more family and friends are able to visit in person now, TIMS still serves a valuable function, Tracey said.

“Visitor restrictions are relaxed a bit, relative to how they were when we had a lot of acute COVID in the hospital, but TIMS is still very useful since even when loved ones are present. They don’t want to be telling the patient’s story again and again,” she told ENS, “and the hospital operates 24/7, so other shifts also get a chance to learn about the patient.”

Initially developed with intubated critical COVID-19 patients in mind, TIMS is now used for a variety of patients, from an elderly woman on a ventilator dying of COVID-19 to a middle-aged man recovering from a risky liver transplant to a 33-year-old with cerebral palsy experiencing respiratory trouble. Those who recover are often comforted to learn that their medical team knows more about them than just a name and a diagnosis, Tracey said.

For Tracey, TIMS was an example of one concrete way to improve medical care during a time of so much suffering and uncertainty: by making sure the human connection between caregiver and patient was not lost.

“Watching the everyday heroism of the medical staff, I hope and pray that TIMS files will help support them,” she said.

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.