Ministering for people involves all our senses. Not being able to discuss issues in person, provide guidance when there are differences of opinions and show you by my actions and physical nature, my emotions and all other visible feelings, I struggle, to say the least, in being your pastor. I pray every day, many times a day, for your safety and protection, and especially for the time when we feel comfortable enough to take the risks to come to church in person. In the midst, not only of this pandemic, but in the mire of the protesting for equality for all people, challenges for our law enforcement agencies and not the least of which our social-political divisions and differences, we may find it difficult to know what our faith tradition stands for, not just as Episcopalians, but as individuals who want to know truth.
Because we are "physically" apart, it is too easy for anyone to assume things that are not true, to imagine difficulties that do not exist, to potentially think that because no one will notice, it could be a good time to leave this congregation based on ill feelings due to the current events and misinformation.
An emergency meeting was called by Bishop Martin Field on Thursday to get the opinions of all the clergy and members of the Diocesan Council and Standing Committees to provide guidance regarding if and when to open our parish doors for services. This was prompted by the decisions made in the Diocese of Missouri (St. Louis) to close ALL church doors indefinitely based in the resurgence of the covid disease in their region.
The current policy in place for our diocese is for the clergy of each parish to publish to the Canon of the Ordinary any plans to open their church for services following the CDC, State and local community guidelines. This has led to several church openings requiring strict adherence to wearing masks, observing social distancing and stating in their plan how the church and all resources will be cleaned, and how safe practices following the current guidelines will be followed. This has allowed churches in communities with minimal cases of disease and death, and those communities with declining cases of disease and death, to be responsible for making the decision to open and follow documented safe practices for worship.
The discussions at this meeting showed to me that decisions were varied based on the demographics of this pandemic as described above. In most cases churches have found alternative ways for conducting "church", many electronically, in the parking lot or church yard and others by making the decision to meet in person. The common statement made by those churches who are meeting in person is that their attendance is less than one quarter of an average attended service on that church's best day. Several other clergy identified a consistent and in some cases, a resurgence of new people participating in their modified worship programs.
This information tells me that where churches have opened and made available "in-person" worship, people are making choices based on their comfort levels to participate.
There is no question in my mind that if we opened our parish this Sunday with an assurance that all safety measures were to take place, we too, would have a small showing of people willing to risk exposure in this uncertain time. This, allowing for individual choices and decisions to do so, based on comfort levels.
Here is the key and most significant part to all of this discussion. We can indefinitely keep the doors to Resurrection closed and continue with our current offerings of modified worship, until at which time there is a tested antibody, or vaccine available and being used to protect against and treat this covid virus. With the uncertainty of when that could happen, I remain cautious with any decision to open our doors for "in-person" worship. Setting the date of September 13th is a soft decision based on the conditions as that date comes closer. Setting that date does put the wheels in motion to prepare our church building to be ready, physically and with the appropriate measures for how to personally keep safe.
I encourage prayer from all of you for what the future holds, for guidance and perseverance, and for reassurance that Christ is in the midst of all of this. I am so thankful to all of you for your patience and fortitude and for the work you continue to do to reach out to others, write letters, make phone calls and in other ways to remind all of us that we are still a parish community that is alive and spiritual in our faith. May God continue to grant us by grace the knowledge of love and presence.