Dear Saint Markans,
Grace and peace to you on this beautiful Minnesota morning on which, predictably, the sun has risen yet again. With so much in flux and so many regularly-scheduled events set aside for the sake of each other's health and safety, we can still be grateful for nature's slow, eternal turn from one day to the next, from one season to another. To begin each new day with a simple word of Thanks! is its own act of resistance, its own affirmation of Life. So, I pray you'll join me in this modest discipline of deep solidarity and daily sanity, slowly bending our hearts and minds to God, just as our gardens slowly bend themselves to the sun. (For a little extra inspiration, try this or this.)
I write today with a very brief update on this fall's COVID-19 re-opening plans. To begin, please review again the tentative timelines below, which have been in circulation since this past spring:
Cathedral Timelines Through 2020 (Tentative & Evolving)
- Phase I (March to June 1): Strict distancing; Church bldg closed; All worship & program on-line from home;
- Phase II (June 1 to Sept 13): Modified distancing; Church bldg open to Staff, Clergy, Council individuals on as-needed basis; No groups scheduled; Program on-line from home; Sunday worship live-streamed from Saint Mark's;
- Phase III (Sept 13 to Nov 29): Modified small groups per CDC guidelines; Church bldg open to Staff, Clergy, Council, and small groups on case-by-case basis; Groups over CDC max continue to meet on-line; Bookstore open w/ strictly limited traffic; Worship live-streamed from Saint Mark's with possible small group on-site participation per CDC guidelines;
- Phase IV (Nov 29 to thereafter): Modified large groups, w/ precaution; Church bldg open to small and large groups, w/ precaution; Bookstore open w/ limited traffic; Possible return to large group worship & program, w/ precaution; All of Phase IV per evolving CDC and ECMN guidelines.
Just Tuesday, Bishop Loya gathered on-line with leaders from across ECMN to discuss updated guidelines for moving from one Phase to the next (*note: ECMN phases are numbered differently than Saint Mark's - our Phase II is their Phase 1.5, our Phase III is their Phase 2, and so on). As you know, Saint Mark's is presently functioning in Phase II (see description above) of our re-entry plan, and we've been anticipating the possibility of transitioning to Phase III (see description above) on Sunday, September 13th - what would normally be our 'kick-off Sunday.' In order to transition from Phase II to Phase III, however, we need to see positive trending in certain key public health metrics. Yesterday's conversation with the Bishop was to clarify THE key metric by which all of ECMN will measure the safety of conditions for our return.
As a diocese, we will base our re-opening timelines on both statewide and county COVID-19 positivity rates, and no further re-opening will be considered until both the state and county in which a faith community exists demonstrate at least 7 consecutive days of 5% or less positivity rates for new COVID tests (Saint Mark's will base our re-opening on at least 14 consecutive days at or below 5%).
A small miracle notwithstanding, this unfortunately means that our transition to Phase III - and its modest return of small group program and worship to the building - are not likely to happen on September 13th, as previously hoped. However, if we continue to exercise caution and care in our short-term physical distancing, the transition to Phase III needn't be delayed in perpetuity. Please understand, though, that these timelines may continue to be extended or even reversed if our re-emergence is exacerbated by further waves of infection.
I know this will disappoint some of you, yet I know, too, that this will affirm many of you and your deep conviction that walking the Way of Love in the present moment looks like continuing to exercise thoughtful discernment and extreme caution. Please be assured that updates will be shared in a timely manner, as the situation unfolds.
Your Council and Staff continues to plan for a full slate of on-line fall programming and limited on-site outdoor fellowshipping, the schedule and links for which will be distributed in the coming days. Beyond Saint Mark's on-line worship and program life, we will continue to take our lead regarding pastoral visits from our public health officials and from ECMN, in consultation with those we serve. To stay connected pastorally, go here. To get the most recent Cathedral eNews, go here. To connect with on-line program groups, connect with staff here. To connect with Council leadership, go here.
Please remember, during this time of physical distancing, we will continue to push live-stream video feeds (Facebook & Website) of Saint Mark's worship on Sundays @ 10:30am (Holy Eucharist) and, beginning September 13th, on Sundays @ 5pm (Evensong).
And, of course, you always have access to Washington National Cathedral's on-line presence.
Lastly, as our aspiration for connection continues to bump up against the reality of physical distancing, bear in mind that best practice remains relatively simple, despite all efforts to create the complicated conditions for safe gathering:
- Wear your mask while around others;
- Maintain minimum 6-foot distance between yourself and others;
- Avoid gathering with crowds of others.
Be smart and be sensible, friends - be gentle, patient, and caring with yourselves - and to the extent our circumstances permit it, be exceedingly human and helpful and loving with those around you. This is what being AND doing Church looks like today.
Bless you, each & always,
At the beginning of each day,
after we open our eyes
to receive the light of that day,
As we listen to the voices
and sounds that surround us,
We must resolve to treat each hour
as the rarest of gifts,
and be grateful for the consciousness
that allows us to experience it,
recalling in thanks that our awareness
is a present from we know not where,
When we rise from sleep,
let us rise for the joy of the true Work
that we will be about this day,
and considerately cheer one another on.
Life will always provide matters for concern.
Yet each day brings with it reasons for joy.
Each day carries the potential
to bring the experience of heaven;
have the courage to expect good from it.
Be gentle with this life,
and use the light of life
to live fully in your time.
(John McQuiston II, Always We Begin Again)