Dear Parish Family,
I continue to pray that you and your families are well as we continue to go through this "New Normal" with the Coronavirus.
The variety of responses by people in the media and the people that I talk with during the week is wide ranging and confusing for all of us. Knowing best how to navigate the information, social distancing, and being isolated from one another is a challenge; and, for some, I know, causing frustration and fear!
In the past week, I have been on a walk on the beach with my wife Meredith, to the grocery store, and to the hardware store. The change in the last six weeks is amazing! I have seen more licence plates from more states than I have seen in over a month. I have seen more people going to the various stores with no masks or gloves; and, the beach was crowded, as are the bike paths!
It is either a desire to move on, Coronavirus fatigue, or just a belief that the Coronavirus has subsided.
But, we still find restrictions with other businesses, with social distancing, and in the restrictions with visiting at the hospitals, nursing facilities and retirement communities.
I have been on several Zoom meetings this week with the staff, with our Bishop and other clergy in our Diocese, with clergy on the Island, as well as the Chamber of Commerce. One question that has been "tackled" during these meetings: When can/should the church be allowed to open for worship? The Governor has said (and, today, being the National Day of Prayer, I am specifically praying for our President, the Governor, and other governmental and EMS workers) churches may meet with certain restrictions. The responses that I have heard vary greatly.
However, our Bishop, Mark Lawrence, has granted us permission to meet as early as May 17th for worship, with a list of protocols on how we might do that. He is also asking the clergy to submit (to the Diocese) their list of protocols. The Vestry will have a Zoom meeting in the next few days to decide when we might open. We are contemplating the possibility of May 17th, or within the next few weeks, depending upon how "ready" we feel we can be.
Let me just say that when we open, I do not expect that we will have a "full congregation;" nor should we! Our wonderful members in retirement communities may not be able to come, based on the rules governing what they are able and not able to do. Anyone who is at risk, particularly those with a compromised health status, should not expose themselves to any risk, if possible. And, some are fearful that if they go to a gathering such as worship, they could contract the virus. I do not want people who would be concerned or at risk to feel obligated or even guilty about coming to worship! Rather, all of us should practice wisdom, discernment, caution. And, let me add, we will continue to stream our worship for any who will be staying at home, as well as for those who live in other places, nationally and internationally, who have been blessed by our worship being streamed.
I have had a number of people ask "when are we going to be allowed to come back to church?" and I am inclined to move forward cautiously to address that need and desire, with the Bishop's blessing.
When we do, we will have many protocols in place: for example, social distancing as you enter and exit; social distancing when you are seated (and, we will hopefully have the Fellowship Hall open as an overflow, with the ability to stream the worship service there as well); bread only for communion, and stations with social distancing as one approaches to receive. Doors will be propped open, and we are requesting that, outside of an emergency, no one use the restrooms. We will be disinfecting the entire church after the worship service.
We are also contemplating resuming the Wednesday Healing Communion Service at 10:00 AM; but will need to make sure that we are able to disinfect in between! And, we will only be doing one worship service on Sunday (10:00 AM) since disinfecting sufficiently between the services would be very difficult.
We hope to make masks available; however, it would be helpful if everyone coming had their own masks (which you can take off while praying the responses, singing, and receiving communion); and, of course, hand sanitizers will be available at all the entry-ways. These are just a few of the protocols that we will have in place.
We are working on a team of ushers and enough sound and video people to help in both the Sanctuary and the Fellowship Hall. If you would like to volunteer for any of these positions, please let the office know, and if/when there is a need, we will contact you. We will probably need to "bolster" these with more volunteers as we progress through this period for the foreseeable future.
I believe that God delights when His people worship Him! Psalms 95 & 100 are great reminders of this! But, I also believe that our Lord does not want us acting irresponsibly nor callously. We need to allow people the grace to live in the way they feel will be a blessing to them and to others, and to treat each other with compassion and patience during this time.
Do I have all the answers? No! Do I know exactly how to proceed during this challenging time? No. Do I know the timetable or the future regarding the Coronavirus? No! Like you, I am trying to navigate this time with caution, wisdom, love, grace and care. And, at the same time, not be immobilized or paralyzed by fear or inactivity (or, as the Bishop warned the clergy, "sloth"!).
Please pray that what we are seeking to do will be a blessing for all. Please pray that the Coronavirus subsides, that the healthcare workers are protected as they do their work caring for others, seeking a treatment, a cure, a vaccine. And, pray for good health for all of your loved ones!
I will be in touch about when we actually choose to begin worship; and, should the need arise, that we suspend worship in the Sanctuary and Fellowship Hall and return to Streaming only.
A challenging time? Yes! One like we have never seen! But we trust our Lord and seek to live in His peace, knowing that He has us now; and by His grace and love and our trust in Him, for all eternity!
With love, in Christ,