Bishop Thomas Brown of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine. Credit: Willis Ryder Arnold / Maine Public

The Episcopal Diocese of Maine is mandating that all of its diocesan staff and clergy must be vaccinated for COVID-19 by the end of September.

Bishop Thomas Brown said the decision was reached after consulting with several other spiritual leaders for about 10 days.

In a letter to priests and deacons on Monday, Brown said that with COVID-19 continuing to spread, now is the time to “safeguard each other’s health, love our neighbors by getting vaccinated, and to pastor our communities accordingly.” Brown said that spiritual leaders have a “moral obligation” to protect others, and that vaccination is the clearest way to end the pandemic. He also asked clergy to encourage their congregations to get a shot.

Brown hopes the new mandate will also offer comfort to parishioners returning to in-person services.

“Especially those of us who celebrate communion — to know that the person presiding at the eucharistic altar is fully vaccinated — that will be a great assurance to several people,” Brown said.

Brown said that if a clergy member with fewer responsibilities, such as a deacon, refuses to get vaccinated, the church may ask them to step aside for a period of time. And for clergy with larger roles, Brown says he would consider asking them to leave.

“I would come across as wanting to honor the fact that a local church has called her or him or them to serve their church. So I would do this in consultation with lay leaders,” Brown said. “But the fact is that, ultimately, I may in fact have to ask someone to step down.”

The church will exempt any staff or clergy that have been directed by a physician to not get the vaccine.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.