Dear St. Martin's Members,

We hope you will forgive this Saturday evening intrusion, but given the volume of contact we have received over concerns about public gatherings and public worship during this outbreak of the Coronavirus, we thought it best to follow up on the email that you were sent earlier this week.
 
First , let us pray for one another as we face this unique challenge to our day-to-day lives that is clearly having a broader impact, not just on health, but also a growing impact on the economy. Let us pray that this virus subsides soon or that we quickly find a vaccine, so that all infected or at great risk can receive the proper care they need to be restored to full health. Let us also pray for all those healthcare workers who are, not just times like these, but in all times on the "front lines" of caring for others.
 
Second , at this time, all scheduled events, not only worship, but special Lenten gatherings and our Activity Center programs continue. St. Martin's Preschool and Café St. Martin'sall public spacesremain open and we hope will continue to be open. If there is any change in that, we will be in immediate touch with you. Yet for now, as you well know, there are less than two dozen cases of Coronavirus in Harris County: that is about .000004% of the general population of Harris County.  
 
Many of you have pointed out to me that the CDC and World Health Organization have accurately reported that hundreds of thousands of people at risk died from the flu in 2019 and, comparatively, the Coronavirus has not had nearly that kind of impact on the world, our nation and certainly not in Harris County. At the same time, it is clear that the virus is much more contagious than the common flu and, for that reason, these extra precautions are being taken.
 
Third , toward that end, we are offering the following that may be helpful to you:
 
(1) As was sent to you earlier this week, if you feel ill or have symptoms of any illness, please stay home. Please also let us know by contacting the Church at (713) 621-3040 if you would like prayers or need to have a member of the Clergy or pastoral staff to reach out to you. Just because you cannot come to church does not mean we do not want to be in touch with you. So please know it is "okay to skip.” And when your symptoms subside and you feel ready to return to activities at St. Martin's, please do so! It is important that we continue to come together for worship, fellowship, discipleship and to carry out our ministries of mission and outreach. Also, please keep in mind that during this time, the CDC has recommended that anyone who is of ill health, or older and whose general health is compromised, should avoid large gatherings. 
 
(2) We will be meeting with all worship leaders. These are choir members, acolytes, altar guild members, chalice bearers, ushers and of course, our Clergy. We will be very intentional about making sure anyone involved in worship not only regularly washes their hands, but has at their disposal sanitizing formulas and sprays for their hands.
 
(3) As you come to and depart from worship and activities, we suggest you not shake hands. Many   of us have, for a season, adopted a gentle "fist" or "elbow" bump, or have chosen to refrain from contact. Yet please remember, a friendly smile and warm word go a long way.  This also includes any greeting during the passing of the peace . For now, please refrain from shaking hands, but instead offer that word of peace to one another in the pews. 
 
(4) With regards to taking communion, there isdespite some recent news storiesno clear evidence that drinking from a "Common Cup" passes illness or sickness. If that were the case, then, frankly, hardly a week would go by without many exposing others to known and unknown bugs and viruses! However, we still need to exercise caution. So, again, toward that end, the below will be our practice with regard to receiving Holy Communion until this season has passed:
 
(a) It is acceptable to receive communion in "one kind" and when receiving in one kind, the Prayer Book rubrics are that bread is the preferred sacrament.
 
(b) If someone wants to sip from the cup, they may. In the eons of Church life, the combination of the alcohol from the cup, the sterile chalice used and the careful handling of the cup, have proven that this is not a common way to pass sickness or illness. 
 
(c) However, we will no longer allow for members to intinct themselves . If they wish to receive wine by intinction, they should allow the wafer/bread to stay on their flat hand. The chalice bearer will take the wafer from them and dip it in the wine, and then place it back on their hand.  The chalice bearer will NOT place the intincted wafer on the lips or in the mouth of the worshiper. 
 
(d) We are also aware that some of you may wish to not receive either bread or wine, but you are still invited to come forward and receive a blessing from one of the priests who are serving.
 
We know we have offered much here, but one easy way to remember this way of worship until the season of concern about the Coronavirus subsides is " Sip, Skip, But Don't Dip !"  It is okay (for now) to sip from the cup; it is okay, if necessary, for you to skip worship if you are feeling ill or vulnerable to health challengesor to still come to worship, but skip receiving bread and/or wine; but it will not be our practice at this point for members to "dip" their wafer into the Common Cup and reserve that for the serving Clergy and chalice bearers.  " Sip, Skip, but Don't Dip!"
 
With all of these cautions and warnings, I want you to know our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Andrew Doyle, has exercised wonderful leadership of the Clergy and lay people of the Diocese of Texas, as he always does. He has been in touch with the rectors of our churches almost daily over the last several days. This Saturday afternoon, we want to share something of which he reminded all of us.
 
     "...As a church with a mission we have work to do regarding decreasing stigma and ministering to the sick, dying, and those who are outcast. While taking careful measure, we also want to remember that the church has in times of illness, plague, and danger stepped into the breach as a caregiver. We need remember our Gospel mission and our history while at the same time doing so in a way that does not raise concerns, panic, stigmatization of others, and a means by which we become unwitting carriers of the disease.
 
    "...This may become a very lonely time for the elderly and those who find our communities a place of sanctuary. I encourage us to think about ways to continue communal contact virtually or through other forms of contact that will not spread the virus or endanger others."
 
Our Bishop has offered great counsel. As you notice, as we notice, members or neighbors who have stepped back from the public square, let's be sensitive to the need to reach out to them. Use the phone, write notes and letters, and check on those you regularly see who may voluntarily step out of our common life until they feel more confident about resuming their day-to-day activities. Let them know they are loved and cared for, and encourage them to let you know and let their Church know how we can be of support.
 
Friends, this season will pass. The Lord will see us through. As a Church and as a community, we have weathered many challengesfrom Ike and Harvey, from H1N1 to Corona and from good economic times to challenging ones. Our good Lord Jesus will see us through. Be at peace. In fact, as you are able, resist monitoring the 24-hour news cycles of constant reporting. Keep informed, but there is no need to capture the emotional, mental and spiritual strains that can often be stirred by emotionally charged reporting. 
 
One final word, at least for now. Some of our Clergy already have travel plans related to work, family or leisure in the weeks ahead, so just because one or two of us may be away for a day or two does not mean we are ill. And it certainly does not mean we are not in touch with our Clergy colleagues to be kept up-to-date on this situation or others. We are! And we are daily in prayer for you and for our beloved St. Martin's. 
 
Stay strong, be of good courage, be at peace and let us gather often as we are able at St. Martin's to celebrate the wonderful faith we share. Let us be empowered to know Christ and to go into the world and make Him known. Indeed, "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." (I Peter 5:7) and "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts..." (Colossians 3:15).
 
Faithfully,
The Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr.
Rector

The Rev. Martin J. Bastian
Vice-Rector

The Rev. Chad T. Martin
Vicar

Mr. Jim Hibbert
Senior Warden

Mr. Titus Harris
Junior Warden