My dear friends in Christ,
By now many of you have seen the recent recommendations put out by the Wisconsin Council of Churches. But whether you’ve seen that document or not, you’ve likely been keeping track of current Covid trends, especially in terms of Omicron, the latest variant of the virus that’s been causing infection rates and hospitalizations to spike yet again. Questions arise (also yet again) about whether we should modify or revise our Covid mitigation protocols and procedures. With such questions in mind, the Covid Task Force appointed by Bishop Matt in 2020 met again this week. Here is a summary of where we are at the moment.
Both the bishop and the task force agree that decisions about in-person worship, congregational singing, et al., are best handled at the parish level. Bishop Matt has not at this time issued any further diocese-wide directives. That said, some parishes are considering returning to all-virtual worship, suspending in-person services until the current spikes in the numbers start to come back down. Some parishes are not. Infection rates, death rates, and hospitalization rates are some of the metrics being used to make those decisions; for my part, one metric that weighs very heavily on me is the saturation of our hospitals and healthcare infrastructure. While it is true that Omicron ~ in most cases ~ does not seem to result in as severe an illness as Delta or earlier strains of Covid, it is also true that, in our area, hospitalization rates are high ~ back up in the summer 2020 ranges.
That’s a real problem, because it means that even if you don’t get Covid, you’ll likely run into difficulty gaining access to the medical care you might need for other illnesses and issues. People’s chemo treatments, for example, have had to be rescheduled, and hospital beds are not available for other emergencies because they’ve been filled by Covid patients. One of the reasons we shut down in-person worship in the first place was to give our healthcare infrastructure time and space to “catch up” and not be so over-saturated.
All that said, I do not believe that we need to shut down in-person worship at All Saints at this time. The Covid Task Force agrees: an hour, more or less, of worship ~ as long as we are absolutely diligent about masking and about maintaining at least six feet of social distance between households/family groups ~ is probably not any more risky than anything else that we’re all having to do to get by these days. Moreover, I believe that the emotional, psychological, and pastoral risks of shutting down and going all-virtual again, after we’d finally gotten back into our beautiful church and after we’ve worked so hard to be able to worship together safely, are equal to or greater than the risks posed by worshipping together for an hour once a week, masked and socially distanced.
There is something that we do need to change, however: we cannot continue to be as lax as we have been before and after each service. We’re not holding any coffee hour gatherings for fellowship because of Covid … so we’ve slowly developed a habit over the past several months of congregating in the aisles and hallways after church to fellowship, to reconnect, to see each other and to be seen. My friends, I know how hungry we are for that contact with other human beings, with our brothers and sisters in Christ. But these are exactly the kinds of activities that contribute the most to the spread of Covid, and Omicron is more highly contagious than anything we’ve seen so far.
So I am going to have to be much more diligent and consistent than I have been, of late, to remind everyone at the end of the service that, as the famous pop/rock song from the ’90s goes, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” It’s particularly hard now that we’ve gotten into proper Wisconsin winter (that 20 degree stuff weren’t nothin’, am I right?) because we also can’t gather in the parking lots to fellowship there ~ not when it’s 3 degrees or colder outside. Other than simply holding out till the weather breaks towards spring, I’m not sure what we can do. But what we cannot do is continue to clump together after the Sunday services and spend another half hour close together, talking and breathing each other’s air. It breaks my heart, but we can’t keep doing that, y’all. Not right now, with the numbers being what they are. We have to love each other by doing our best to keep each other as safe as possible.
Otherwise, unless things take a sudden turn for the even-worse, we don’t need to change anything else about what we’re doing. We will continue to hold two in-person services on Sundays, live-streaming the later service, which will also include limited choir singing (though still no congregational singing just yet) and music. We will continue to share Communion in one kind (bread only). As for other business beyond worship, most of our committees and ministry teams ~ including the Vestry ~ have been meeting virtually all this time, anyway, but I strongly encourage all of our church groups to meet via Zoom for the duration. The more we can keep the foot-traffic in the building down during the week, the better.
None of this news, of course, is what we want to hear. We want to hear that the pandemic is just about over, that a combination of masking, distancing, immunization/vaccination, and other protocols have gotten us through the worst of it, and that any day now, we’ll be able to get back to life as “normal.” And, two years in, we are weary, weary to the depths of our bones. More than merely tired, it’s an ongoing, constant fatigue that saps a little more of our strength each month, each week, each day. But we are just not there yet. So we must endure. And we will, with God’s continual help.
If you have questions or concerns about All Saints’ Covid policies, or if you just need to vent your weariness and frustration with the whole, entire thing, please send me an email or give me a call. I’m more than glad to listen and talk. So are your wardens and your Vestry members. Let us know how you feel and what you’re thinking. We’ll do the same. After all, we’re all in this together. Always have been. Always will be.
Peace & blessings, y’all,
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