COVID-19 - what we are doing to keep you safe
July 7, 2020
As you are most likely aware from our discussions during virtual coffee hours and announcements during online worship, the Vestry, Wardens, and I have decided to proceed with restarting in-person worship soon. This was not a decision made lightly and there are many factors to weigh, preparations to make, and guidelines to follow. Whatever steps we take toward reopening the sanctuary for worship, they are being done deliberately, prayerfully, and with an abundance of caution. Additionally, we are committed to continuing our online presence when we return to in-person worship. The entire service will be live-streamed and we will work to incorporate online worshippers into the liturgy as best we can. Please do not feel pressured to return to worshipping in the sanctuary before you are comfortable with the associated risks. Our communion with Christ and with one another transcends space and time. Praying the collect from your living room, reciting the psalm while watching the birds on your deck, or sipping coffee on the couch while hearing the lessons read are times just as grace-filled and pleasing to the Divine as participating in worship in the building.
Our original discussions at Vestry floated a start date of mid-July, but we have pushed that back to July 26 to make sure we are fully equipped to livestream and have all safeguards in place. On that first Sunday together, there are several things for folks to know, which I have outlined in the bulleted list below. Do not hesitate to contact me or a member of Vestry for clarification on anything in this letter.
- The State of New York has mandated a maximum of 25% percent of our building’s capacity for Phase 3, which Dutchess County entered on June 23. This would set our limit at approximately 37 people. However, the space’s design will not allow that many folks to gather. Our limit will be approximately 25 people in the pews, with space reserved for hospitably welcoming the stranger. Given our average Sunday attendance, this seems very workable. This also does not account for cohabitating groups of more than two people, who can, of course, sit together.
- All people entering the sanctuary will be required to wear a face covering and immediately sanitize their hands. Disposable masks will be available for those who forget theirs at home, but you are encouraged to bring your own to save resources.
- An usher will record every person’s name in a weekly record, to be used by contact tracers in the event of a confirmed case of the virus connected to St. Thomas. This is mandated by the State of New York.
- Pews will be marked with tape to allow cohabitating groups to sit together and maintain six feet of social distance between other groups. Please note and abide by these markings.
- We will continue to worship using Morning Prayer for at least a month. The Vestry, wardens, and I will evaluate how things are going and inform the congregation about when we will celebrate Eucharist after we have had a chance to practice in-person worship for a few weeks.
- Though it pains us deeply, we must suspend congregational singing at this time. The Bishop has directed that congregational singing can only happen if we increase social distance to twelve feet, which would severely restrict the number of people who can be present. But we cannot give up music entirely! Music can transport us and offer us transcendent experiences of God. John Stewart, John Gagliardi, and I are working to incorporate performance into worship. Stay tuned.
- Offering plates will not be passed from pew to pew for the foreseeable future. A station for the depositing of your tithes and gifts will be located at the back of the sanctuary.
- “Coffee Hour” will look quite different for a while. For everyone’s safety and because the Parish House is being utilized for the expanded Food Pantry, people are invited to gather on the lawn under the shade of the walnut tree. A safe distance of six feet must be maintained and we will not be offering coffee or treats until it is safer to do so.
- The sanctuary will be disinfected weekly between worship services using best practices as published by the CDC.
When the Eucharist is reinstituted, we will observe the following additional precautions:
- Communion will be “in one kind” only and, as always, everyone should make their own choice about whether to receive. We will consecrate enough wafers for everyone and a small amount of wine that only the priest will consume. Our Eucharistic theology moves us to include both wine and bread at the liturgy but affirms that Christ is fully present in both and that we are fully incorporated into the Body of Christ through our participation in the feast, whether or not we consume the Sacrament.
- Before setting the altar, the priest will thoroughly wash her/his hands with soap for a minimum of twenty seconds and then apply hand sanitizer.
- The priest will be the only person to touch the bread and to handle any of the sacred vessels on the altar and must wear a face covering the entire time, save for when consuming the sacrament.
- In order to maintain six feet of social distance during communion distribution, we will be forgoing the use of the altar rail for now. The priest will move to the base of the chancel steps and those wishing to receive will approach in a line. Every person must use hand sanitizer as they approach and only remove their mask when it is time to receive the wafer.
As we move into the future, we may have to adjust these plans, but we will be sure to communicate as clearly and quickly as possible. Again, if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to me (740-590-8080 or firstname.lastname@example.org) or a member of Vestry.
Join with me in offering a prayer of thanksgiving as we prepare to worship our God in the nave:
Eternal God, the heaven of heavens cannot contain you, much less the walls of temples made with hands. Graciously receive our thanks for the ability to gather once again in our sanctuary, and accept the work of our hands, offered to your honor and glory. For yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty, for everything in heaven and on earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom and you are exalted as head over all. Amen. (BCP, p. 578 &f., adapted)
In peace and joy,
The Rev. AJ Stack