According to data posted by the Indiana Department of Health
the 7-day moving average of the positivity rate in Marion County is 13.5%. The Weekly Score
for Marion County is 2.5, putting us one step away from being "red" on the map (this score is calculated using two metrics: the 7-day positivity rate and the number of weekly cases/100K people). I tend to note two factors when looking at the statistics: 1) There is generally a lag in the data (the Weekly Score is posted on Wednesdays and reflects data from the previous week); 2) Since the second week in October the number of positive tests and the positivity rate have been steadily increasing.
New protocols recently developed by the staff and reviewed by the Congregational Regathering Team and the Regathering Advisory Committee state that upon reaching a positivity rate of 13%, St. Paul's will suspend in-person activities. Of course, using any one statistic is a bit arbitrary. Experts differ on what data is most important, how to interpret what you choose, and what restrictions, if any, should be put in place. For example, Marion County's COVID restrictions allow religious communities to gather at 75% of capacity. At St. Paul's, this would be 300-350 people in the church. Diocesan guidelines, which assume better pandemic conditions than we are now experiencing, cap attendance at 30% of capacity, about 120-150 people.
Since the middle of March our gatherings have been significantly smaller, often under 10 participants and rarely exceeding 25. These gatherings have followed protocols that we believe make them mostly safe. However, the change in the status of the pandemic has forced us to rethink even this cautious approach.
While one could make a case that our protocols are strict enough to allow gatherings to continue-and I have considered this-the consensus of parish leadership is that the current situation requires us to take a step back. Therefore, after much prayerful consideration and in consultation with our leadership and healthcare professionals, I have decided to suspend most in-person gatherings at St. Paul's through January 3. Should conditions improve before then we will adjust. Should they remain the same or get worse, the suspension will be extended.
While this is a step back, it is not a return to the total shut down we experienced in the spring. Assuming a state or county stay-at-home order is not imposed, private pastoral and sacramental liturgies -- baptisms, weddings, and funerals -- will be allowed under very strict guidelines. Pastoral appointments will be allowed at the discretion of the clergy. We will continue to record worship in the church.
It breaks my heart to make this decision. I know some will disagree and others will experience the loss of opportunities to gather at a time of year when we most especially need each other. However, as Christians we are called to be faithful stewards of God's creation and make choices for the common good of society. Our gatherings could endanger not only ourselves but also our families, friends and neighbors with whom we are in contact. We care for people not only when they become sick. We care for them by doing everything we can to keep them from getting sick.
The staff and parish leadership are committed to you and your well-being. We will continue to offer the best "virtual" Sunday worship we can. Forums will continue. We will continue to look for creative ways to stay connected. With God's help, we will get through this together.
If you have any questions or concerns, please be in touch with me. Know that you are very much in my heart and in my prayers.
Your friend in Christ,