There has been a good deal of focus and discussion by the Vestry about the future of our worship services and, in particular, the number of worship services Holy Comforter should offer. It has been two and a half years since COVID-19 abruptly disrupted our lives and routines. Thankfully, we now have vaccines, masks, and testing, all of which have helped us to cope with the virus. We know that many of you feel a strong desire to return to the routines that we had before March 2020. At the same time, COVID-19 has brought about changes in our lives, including how we worship. In considering Holy Comforter’s worship schedule, the Vestry has been discussing and considering whether returning to three in-person services on Sundays is the best way forward.
Our congregation is large and vital, but there have been many changes since March 2020 that we can’t ignore. One of the most notable changes is that the number of in-person attendees at our Sunday service is about one-third of what it was before March 2020. Many volunteers are needed to support each in-person worship service, including the altar guild, choir, vergers, readers, acolytes, Eucharistic ministers, ushers, greeters, coffee hour hosts, and children’s chapel leaders. However, many of those who volunteered faithfully for years have retired from serving in these ministries. The work of rebuilding each of these ministries has started, but progress has been slow.
We are so grateful for the tremendous work of the Clergy, church staff, and volunteers in implementing new and creative options for worship during the pandemic, including live-streamed services, Tuesday night Compline, Wednesday Noonday Prayer, and Drive-Thru Communion. These options offer flexibility and have made it more convenient for members of the congregation to participate and worship when and how they choose.
Over the two and a half years, people’s activities have changed. Many families with children now have different routines on Sunday mornings, and we may need to find new and creative ways to engage them. The choristers program peaked at over twenty students before the pandemic, and we now need to rebuild. The acolyte program has fewer participants as well. Holy Comforter is not unique in facing these challenges, though, and we should recognize and celebrate the vitality of our church community as we discern what the “new normal” should look like.
The fall Sunday worship schedule, which began on September 25, will have one in-person service at 9:30 a.m., to be followed by Adult Faith Formation and Sunday School. In January, we plan to add a second service at 11:15 a.m. We are also discussing the possibility of a monthly family-centric service followed by pizza/dinner on either Saturday or Sunday night.
The rationale behind continuing with only one Sunday morning service for the fall is based both on our attendance numbers and the need for volunteer support. The general rule of thumb is that it is time to add an additional service once a church service has reached 80% capacity. In-person attendance has been less than 60% capacity, and we are hopeful in-person attendance will grow as we progress through the fall. Also, many of the same volunteers are carrying the weight across multiple ministries, creating a bit of fatigue. More help across various ministries are needed to implement a second Sunday service. The plan to introduce a second Sunday service in January will give us time to ramp up and find additional support. If you are thinking of volunteering, now is the time!
We understand that there are many considerations, and as a Vestry we are trying to be mindful of our entire congregation’s needs and wants. Determining what is best for the congregation as a whole is a difficult balancing act, and we appreciate your patience and flexibility as we work through this.
Please contact us with your thoughts and feedback, and if you would like to volunteer for one of the ministries supporting our worship services, please don’t hesitate to contact us to find out more about how you can help.