“But when are we going to get back to the way things were?”
My dear friends in Christ,
Not quite two weeks ago, I wrote these words to you all:
“The truth is that we will never get back to the way things were. We won’t. Because we can’t. Our world is changed, and it cannot be un-changed.”
I was talking about the prospect of our resuming some form of in-person worship at All Saints—in particular, of resuming the celebration of Holy Eucharist.
As if to drive home the point, as soon as my last message was published announcing that we would be resuming in-person worship in the month of October, the rates of Covid infection in Appleton, in the Fox Cities, in Wisconsin overall, skyrocketed. This latest spike in the numbers, significant by any measure, was the sole subject of the latest meeting of the diocesan Covid-19 Task Force. I’m not sure if the decisions made in that meeting will have been published by the time you’re reading this message, but if not then they very shortly will be.
The good news is that the Task Force did not recommend totally suspending all in-person worship until further notice. The not-bad-but-perhaps-not-wonderful news is that the Task Force did recommend, and the bishop has now directed, that in-person worship services be restricted to no more than four people in the building at one time (including priest & servers), masked and spaced at least six feet apart. These stricter regulations are temporary measures, but they will remain in place until further notice from the bishop.
What that means for us … is a bit up in the air at the moment. We do not, at present, have the capability to live stream from our worship space a Communion service that involves more than one person. One priest, one lector/intercessor, and one server leaves room for only one participant in a Communion service that’s restricted to four people, total. Given that we cannot at the moment broadcast such a service, I imagine some folks might feel there wouldn’t be much point in even holding that service at all. If so few people could actually participate, and nobody else could see it, what’s the point?
On the other hand, it has been weighing heavily on my heart and my soul since the shutdown in March that, for spiritual and theological and pastoral reasons, we should be saying more Masses during a time of great plague, not fewer. That even if nobody’s there to see such Masses, they still ought to be prayed and celebrated on behalf of—and for the spiritual benefit of—the whole parish, our whole community, our state, our nation, and our world. After all, if we really believe what we claim to believe, theologically, about what happens in the Eucharist, then isn’t it our bounden duty as faithful followers and disciples of Jesus Christ to celebrate and enact his life, death, and resurrection, until his coming again?
All of which is to say, the announcement I made in the last newsletter must now be modified somewhat in light of the recent surge in Covid cases—and we know from watching this same thing happen in other states that a surge in Covid deaths will inevitably follow—and that our exact plans for how we will move forward with in-person worship are today a bit more up-in-the-air than they were two weeks ago. I will continue to be conversing with our wardens and vestry, and together we will shape our plans both to conform to diocesan policy and to meet the needs of this parish.
In the meantime, I really would love to hear directly from you all. Let me know your thoughts, hopes, fears, and concerns regarding worshipping together in-person and about celebrating Communion whilst managing the very present risks of Covid-19. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. And thank you all for your continued grace, devotion, faithfulness, and commitment to this blessed parish of All Saints. Even in the midst of crisis, it is an absolute blessing to get to be part of your church and share this journey (however difficult this present stretch of road may be) with you all.