[Episcopal News Service] The partially obscured faces of parishioners in the pews greeted the Rev. Jamie Parsley as he celebrated Holy Eucharist on May 16. Their masks were a fact of pandemic life for the past year under the Diocese of North Dakota’s COVID-19 protocols, but Parsley sensed a change coming.
After the Sunday service at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Fargo, Parsley, the church’s rector, met with the vestry and discussed their plan to allow worshippers who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend services without wearing masks. The change was based on the new guidelines issued the previous week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Similar discussions have taken place in the past week in congregations across The Episcopal Church in response to the CDC’s update and the subsiding threat of the pandemic. COVID-19 cases in the United States have dropped to their lowest level in nearly a year, and millions more Americans are receiving vaccination doses each day. The CDC still recommends unvaccinated Americans wear face masks in public, but vaccinated individuals don’t need to take that precaution. States, communities, businesses and churches followed up by lifting many of their remaining mask requirements.
At St. Stephen’s, the Wednesday night service on May 19 was the first time vaccinated worshippers were invited to leave their masks at home. “It was a unique situation, people coming in for the first time not wearing their masks,” Parsley told ENS. “It feels like we’re coming to the end of the pandemic.”