A Note About Worship During Covid-19
My dear friends in Christ,
We have entered into a fascinating—and unprecedented—time in the life of All Saints Episcopal Church. The shock of having had to close our church buildings and to suspend, for a time, our familiar and cherished practices of in-person worship has begun to fade; the novelty of having to reimagine how we worship, how we connect with each other, even how we “do church” during the Covid-19 pandemic is starting to wear off. And now, as we see that the number of new cases of Covid-19 infection continues to rise, both locally and nationally, it is beginning to sink in that we may be required to live with this “new normal” for quite some time. In other words, we are now transitioning from initial reactions to long-term responses. And that is not an easy thing to contemplate, much less to do.
Since mid-March, I have been a member of the bishop’s Covid-19 Task Force (made up of doctors, clergy, lay people, and health care professionals). The purpose of the Task Force is to recommend policies to the bishop that are both scientifically and theologically sound, based on the best medical information available and the solid foundation of our Anglican tradition. We’re working to safeguard both the physical and the spiritual lives of our parishes. Here at All Saints, your dedicated Vestry and I are discussing plans for the remainder of the summer and for the launch of the fall program year. One thing I must emphasize, though it pains me to say it: we will not resume any form of in-person worship at All Saints until we are able to do so safely.
My instinct, not only as a member of this parish but also as your pastor, is to proceed out of an abundance of caution. We must look to the safety and health of the whole parish, and the fact is that a large portion of our parish comprises folks who are in one or another (or several) of the “high risk” categories. I, too, miss Communion, and I yearn to be able to share Eucharist with you all again. But it’s not the wafer and that sip of wine that I miss. It’s the entire sacrament, from start to finish. Until it is safe for us all to gather and celebrate that sacrament together, we will have to make some very difficult choices about how to nourish the spiritual life of our parish family whilst also safeguarding the physical lives of our congregation.
It is my hope that, given more time, we might start to see some decline in the spread of the virus—perhaps a decrease in the rates of new cases, for example, or some other metrics that would indicate that the situation is improving in ways that could make it safer for us to gather in person again. As much as we long to return to our beautiful building and worship together as the assembled body of Christ, if we can hold out a little longer before we attempt that return, then when we do go back, we might not have to impose such heavy restrictions upon what we can do and how we have to do it.
Current diocesan policy allows parishes the possibility of offering in-person worship under some very strict conditions, including limiting participation to a maximum of ten persons, including celebrant and altar party (lectors, servers, &c.); wearing masks; using hand sanitizer; and maintaining six feet of distance between persons/family units at all times. We would also have to implement certain practices, such as cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and bathrooms in between services and taking steps to improve ventilation (opening windows and doors, as opposed to recycling air through HVAC systems). Full details may be found on the diocesan website, under the “Back to the Buildings” link.
If we can manage to wait it out until the numbers indicate that the pandemic is receding, then when we do go back, perhaps we’ll be able to return to something that’s actually much closer to what we remember from before. On the other hand, if we push to come back together sooner rather than later, then for safety’s sake the way that we gather and the way that we worship will have to be very different that what we’re accustomed to.
In either case, “normal” is almost certainly going to remain a long way off, for now. We need to prepare ourselves—mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—for the fact that it may actually be harder to return to in-person worship than it has been to get used to worshipping “virtually” online. Harder, in the sense that we’d be back in the building, but the experience won’t be anything like what we’re used to. Not for a while.
In the meantime, we will not only be continuing, but also expanding our online, “virtual” worship services and opportunities. The brand-new Digital/Online Ministry Team is up and running and will be exploring lots of ways to enhance All Saints’ online presence. Stay tuned for exciting updates in the very near future!
I would very much like to hear your thoughts about in-person worship during this time of pandemic. Specifically—what are your hopes, and what are your fears, when it comes to returning to the church building and worshipping together?
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org; or to reach out by phone: 920.266.9262 (be sure to leave a voicemail if I happen to be on another call). You can also contact any of your Vestry representatives (listed in the front of the current parish directory).
As I said the last time we all gathered to worship together before the shutdown, God is still here with us, and God will remain with us as we move through this time of trial. In the words of St. Paul, “ … I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-9).
I look forward to hearing from you as we chart our course together moving forward.