Second Update on Regathering
Last Friday we had a webinar between our Diocesan Bishop and all clergy and heads of congregations of the Diocese. After an excellent presentation by Bishop Doyle, he began to answer questions sent to his office in advance of the webinar. After these, he answered questions sent to him via the “comment/chat” button on Zoom. The people on the webinar did not have access to these questions, or the folks asking them, but the Bishop read them to us before giving an answer.
At some point, a funny exchange took place: Question, “I gather there is a mandatory expectation that folks will have to wear masks during services. Is this correct?” Bishop Doyle, “This is correct. We have to wear masks to protect our brothers and sisters who may be at risk, and to protect our clergy. (I am paraphrasing here.)” Question, “So, we have to wear masks?” Bishop Doyle looks at the camera, holds his gaze for a second in disbelief, and responds, “Yes, there is an expectation that we will wear masks.” Several questions later, he looks at the camera and smiles, a mixture of annoyance and sadness on his face. “I am not going to repeat this again. Yes! masks are required. Wear your masks. Masks need to be used. I hope this is clear. Wear your masks!”
The repetition of the question points to a very human reaction to trauma: Denial. Many of my colleagues and I share a mild sense of denial. “Maybe we can find ways to avoid wearing masks during the service. Perhaps, if we distance enough for the majority of the service we won’t have to wear them! Perhaps the cleaning of the space will be good enough to kill the virus in the air, even if someone walks in who is carrying the virus...” More serious forms of denial go like this, “This virus never really existed. This is just a common cold, which has been exaggerated for political reasons. All we need to do is take medicine “A” or “B,” as certain news outlets are telling us, and we will be fine. The church is just trying to take our rights away!”
The cure for denial is acceptance. Our lives have changed and we are in transition. The new normal will not be revealed for a while. In the mean time, we need to find safe and responsible ways to gather because not gathering is simply not a solution. We crave community and we need each other. A healthy body needs the working together of all its organs and members to fully function. The real question is, “How do we embody a new community that worships together, while protecting those among us who might be at risk?” Another way to ask this is, “How do we embody the body given the reality of COVID-19?”
Our re-gathering committee has been answering these questions for almost a month. We have measured the church and we now know that we can have as many as 65 people safely distanced, allowing for at least 6-feet between groupings. This number does not include our Altar and choir areas, which provide more than 15 feet of distance between church members and musical/service personnel. We have made a decision to limit musicians and service personnel to the minimum, out of an abundance of caution. And we will have trainings with our ministry heads as early as this week.
We have decided to use an online-reservation system to allow parishioners to sign-up for a specific service. We have hired DeDe Johnson to manage this reservation system, under the supervision of the Rector. There is an expectation of an average attendance per service of fifty or less, but Bishop Fisher might revise this demand after our plan is submitted to him. We have decided to have three services only and not the five services originally proposed. Saturdays at 5:00 pm will cater primarily to families with children under the age of 18. Sundays at 9:00 am will have a specially designated section of the church for those in at-risk categories who wish to come to a church service. The last service will be at 11:00 am. We encourage all of those who are at risk, or think they might be at risk, to continue to worship at home as we have done for the last 8 weeks. These online services will continue in the current format until we are able to live-stream from the church. A technology committee is working on this issue, and we will report on the results of their work very soon. We are thinking about using Rite-II language for these services, but I believe we can do a Rite-I service once or twice a month at 9:00 am, in anticipation of the return of our 7:45 am service in Phase Three.
The cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting of the church between services has been one of the most difficult issues to resolve. The initial idea was to hire additional cleaning staff, create checklists of best practices, train on these practices, and supervise the careful compliance with these checklists. This would have created additional administrative tasks for an already busy staff. At the vestry meeting of 5/20/2020 we decided to hire the Paul Davids Company, partly owned by Robbie Organ. They will use “CDC and EPA-registered industrial strength disinfectant products with broad spectrum kill claims to eliminate viruses via electrostatic fogging machines.” The entire process takes about 45 minutes and can easily be done after all services. The chemicals used in these foggers also help keep air-conditioning duct work disinfected in the church. We will also have use of the bathrooms, which will be throroughly cleaned after each use.
We have decided to do Holy Communion using a single line at the center isle, which will be clearly marked at six-foot intervals. Please wear your masks coming down the isle. You will come to a marked landing, at the base of the Altar steps. At that point, please stretch your hands to receive the communion from the priest. Bring your young children with you in one group. The priest will give you the communion for yourself and the children, and you will move either to the left or to the right about six feet to the next landing. You will then lower your mask, commune yourself and your children, place the mask back on, and continue walking back to your pews. If you are unable to walk down the isle, raise your hand at the end of communion and a Eucharistic minister will commune you from the empty pew in front of you. A brief video of how communion will work will be produced and distributed soon.
For the duration of Phase Two we discourage physical shows of affection, like hugging, shaking of hands, or kissing for anyone not in your family group. Remember that we will not have a recession line, coffee hour, or live Sunday school. All of our Zoom classes will continue until we enter Phase Three. There will be no books of any type in church, as recommended by medical personnel. We are exploring ways of creating a digital bulletin for all to follow. More about this soon.
Please join me in expressing our gratitude to our Regathering committee for all their careful work and deliberations over the last few weeks. Finally, the implementation of this plan will be costly, but necessary. If you are in a position to make a special contribution towards technology expenses or cleaning, please prayerfully consider doing so now.
Blessings to you and yours,