A Note to the Diocese: Guidance for resuming inside worship beginning September 6, 2020.
When this pandemic mess started, we committed to making decisions about whether our churches should open or close with two principles in mind: “Let all that you do be done in love” from 1st Corinthians 16:14, and to be guided by the data. We’ve all been following the numbers very closely, and now it seems they are getting better – the daily count of new cases, the rate of transmission and the percent positive numbers are all going down steadily. So, while we’re out of the woods yet, things are getting better, and it’s time for us to carefully reopen our worship spaces, taking the necessary precautions.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force was a featured speaker on a recent Zoom call for bishops in the Episcopal Church, and our hard-working Bishop Coadjutor was on the call while I was on vacation. Bishop Curry reports that Dr. Fauci emphasized three things to the bishops of the Episcopal Church.
- Wearing masks is the single most important thing we can do to stop the spread of this virus.
- We need to keep physical distance away from people not in our household, at least six feet.
- Avoid crowds. (Dr. Fauci said that it doesn’t depend on the size of the gathering as much how it’s set up, so that people are spread out and wearing masks. He said outside is always better but inside is not ruled out if done right, and that four people outside, close together without masks was considered “a crowd,” while 100 people outside, with proper distance, was not. He said that if churches use the proper precautions, inside worship can be done safely.)
We want to invite the congregations to consider how they can invite people to come together inside our naves, starting September 6th. I require that parishes follow State and CDC guidelines – gatherings should be limited to the number of people we can safely put in our naves using every other pew, maintaining at least 6 feet of physical distance, wearing masks, households sitting together. We also suggest that we not have congregational singing (although soloists or ensembles distanced from others should be fine) and no coffee hours or socials after the services. It will be best if we keep the services brief, and each parish will need to work out a plan for how people enter and exit the buildings so that we can maintain our distance. Still we should make outdoor worship our first choice, where and when possible.
Please note: this is permission, not requirement. If you and your folks feel like you’d rather wait a while before reopening your buildings for in person worship, please wait. The life and work of the Church continues whether we can all meet inside a building or not.
The Eucharist, so central to our understanding of corporate worship, can be an option using good sense and proper precautions – I strongly suggest that we use the bread only. Morning Prayer continues to be a solid option. In any case, we should continue to make our services available on the internet, and encourage people who aren’t comfortable coming to the buildings to join us online.
I am especially grateful to the Rt. Rev. Dr. Glenda Curry and her husband Dr. Bill for their knowledge, experience and advice, especially in helping me understand how to read all these numbers. She is offering to discuss your plans and options about reopening; please call her if you have questions or need some help. We will continue to watch all the Covid-19 numbers and if the downward trends start trending back up, we will have to send another direction to suspend indoor worship again.
Please, please be careful. Please wear your masks – to church and whenever you’re away from home. And please continue to pray for those who are sick, those who are grieving, and for all who serve in hospitals and in the laboratories looking for a vaccine or treatments.
Thank you all for your patience and perseverance through all of this. Thank you for sticking to this suspension of indoor worship, even when you didn’t like it. Thank you for your faithful service to our Lord and our part of God’s holy Church. The Lord bless you and keep you and those you love, this day and forevermore.