“Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching ....”
Hebrews 10:25
My brothers and sisters, it has been a long time since we worshiped together at 717 Sage Road. During this COVID-19 Pandemic ‘stay-at-home’ season, we have carefully observed the various guidelines offered by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), our Governor, our Mayor and, of course, our Bishop. These are challenging times, but on behalf of the Clergy and Vestry, we hope that our work to connect you with the Parish virtually has been a blessing and has, in some way, made you feel closer to our beloved St. Martin’s and the community we share. However, it is time that we begin the process to reopen our doors to worship.

I have read religious articles and even heard sermons that suggest church buildings don’t really matter for one can pray wherever they are–you don’t need a structure to visit to connect with our Lord. This is certainly true, but we also learn from Luke’s Gospel that Jesus attended synagogue, “as was His custom.” (Luke 4:16) In fact, the first place Jesus announced His ministry was in a place of worship. During Lent 2019, Laura and I traveled with members of St. Martin’s to Israel and Palestine, and we visited Nazareth and the small cave-like structure where many believe Jesus worshiped, and where He proclaimed that He had come to bring “Good News.” (Luke 4:18)

When tempted to think, “Nah. We don’t really have to come together, do we?” the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews responded with the words I have scripted above: “... let us not neglect meeting together...”

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, this time apart has been necessary; it has very likely kept many from catching the virus, perhaps others from becoming very ill or even dying.

We have submitted our plan for reopening worship to our Diocesan Bishop, the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, and our Regional Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Hector Monterroso. It has been approved. Toward that end, let me share our plans with you.

Please note that given the changing nature of this virus and its impact on our community, these plans can change at any time. I would ask you to please read this entire document and read items to which it links so you fully understand the parameters we will observe for a season as we seek to begin worship together again.

This Sunday, June 7, we will have one service, a Liturgy of the Word, at 10 a.m.–and attendance will be limited to 50 people.

Everyone who would like to attend must make a reservation by going here . Those without computers may call 713-621-3040. Reservations will open at 9 a.m. on Thursday, June 4. As part of this process, we ask that you also read all of the content on our website here , including very important and helpful guidelines and frequently asked questions. Thereafter, registrations will open at 9 a.m. on Mondays for the next Sunday on our reservation site .

This is, in many ways, a test run. If this goes well, on Sunday, June 14, at 10 a.m., we will have our next service with attendance limited to 125 people. If that goes well, we will then have two services on Sunday, June 21–one at 9 and one at 11:30 a.m.–with seating limited to 125 people at each service. We hope to continue this pattern through the remainder of June and well into July before we consider when and how to expand our worship and when to include Holy Eucharist.

By registering, I am asking you to enter a covenant with those of us who have carefully planned this reopening and those who will be coming together to worship–that you will follow all the guidelines associated with this plan.

This includes:

  • A request that all high risk persons not attend public worship, but continue to worship with us virtually at home. The definition of high-risk includes, but is not limited to, those over the age of 65 and those with any chronic health problem (heart disease, autoimmune disorders, pulmonary illness, diabetes, obesity, etc.). Please review the full list of high risk conditions here on the CDC website. Please read the CDC information before you make your reservation.
  • When arriving, you will observe social distancing guidelines at all times, including in our parking areas, waiting to enter worship, during worship and after worship. This means separating from others by a distance of no less than six feet.
  • Children are welcome to attend with family members, but at this time, there will be no infant care or child care offered.
  • You will wear a mask upon entering the worship space and keep it on until leaving The Church. If you do not have a mask, we will make one available to you at the door before you enter for worship.
  • You will take your temperature before coming to worship. If you have a fever, any other symptoms of COVID-19 or any other illness, you will not join us for worship and will continue to worship virtually until (a) your symptoms have passed, and (b) you have been tested for COVID-19 and the results are negative. For those who neglect to take their temperature before coming to St. Martin’s, you will be asked to allow one of our staff members to check your temperature with a touch-less thermometer before joining others for worship.
  • You will refrain from singing during hymns or music, as we have now learned the danger of spreading the virus through active singing in groups is very high.
  • If you attend worship and are later diagnosed with COVID-19, you will immediately contact a member of the Clergy at St. Martin’s so that we can take the necessary steps to protect others from the spread of the virus, which necessarily will include shutting down worship, again, for a period of at least two weeks.

My friends, this may seem like a lot of information to digest. We know that many of our members are eager to return to worship–I am as well. This plan allows us to slowly begin our return to meeting together in a way that is safe and in line with the best practices we know.

Once you have made your reservation, when you attend, there will be other safety measures put into place : ample hand sanitizers; bulletins available for “pick up,” but not handed to you; doors propped open so that no contact with handles or knobs is necessary; offering plates (of course!) so that you can distribute your offering upon entering or leaving, but no plate will be passed; sanitizing pews and public areas before and after each worship service; and the removal (for now) of all pew cushions, Bibles, prayer books and hymnals.

Let me add one more bit of good news.  Soon The Church will be “open” for you to visit for private prayer on Thursdays.  We will still ask you to follow the above guidelines regarding high-risk conditions, social distancing and other safety measures, but staff members and security will be in place to allow you and/or your loved ones to come  for up to 60 minutes,  offer your own prayers or to simply sit in our lovely St. Martin’s Church. When we have the beginning date for our Prayer Day, we will be back in touch.

I pray this is the first step toward our return to worship together–not as a few members, but when the time is right, as the entire St. Martin’s family. In the meantime, I would ask for your prayers and patience as we move forward.

In the meantime, all of the other ways we have connected with you during the Pandemic will continue : Daily Words from the Clergy, the new Bible Study Guide Weekly Insight , and virtual worship on Wednesdays and Sundays, including the new “Family Table” virtual worship experience.

If you wish to join us physically for worship, you will have to make a reservation each time you plan to attend. Going forward, reservations will open at 9 a.m. each Monday for the following Sunday.

As it was Jesus’ custom to gather with others in a Holy Space to worship, let us pray fervently that the time will come quickly when we can all come together to sing, to listen to God’s Holy Word, to pray and to share in the Body and Blood of our Lord.

Until that time, “ The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:2426)

Faithfully,
The Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr.
Rector