Dear St. John's,
As you may have seen the Bishop’s latest letter, we are now in a time where we need to address the increasing COVID cases and our worship. Yesterday I was on the Bishop’s call with clergy, a phone call with the Dean of our Deanery, a call with Canon Shawn Wamsley of the Diocese, and on several calls with clergy colleagues in our diocese, to assess where we are and what we need to do moving forward. I ask you to carefully read this letter regarding our Advent season together in a time of a global pandemic.
Where we are at:
· As of the Bishop’s letter, we are back to Phase II, which limits all persons in a service to 25, starting this Sunday.
· Everyone I spoke to yesterday—the Bishop, our Dean, the Canons, clergy members—have a realistic concern that numbers will spike mid-Advent (from post-Thanksgiving numbers) and we likely will go to Phase I, which is all virtual worship.
· The Bishop recommends suspending in-person worship at this time. He repeated several times in our call, “The safest thing right now is not to gather” and he is pushing to have churches do virtual services.
· According to the diocese, there is a large swath of churches who either have still never returned to in-person services, or who have done hybrid services (in-person and either live-streaming or pre-recorded) and are moving back to virtual.
What we need to consider:
· We could continue in-person (though limited to 25, which would require reservations or last name sorting or turning people away at the door), but could cause confusion if halfway through Advent we need to go completely virtual in lockdown.
· We know that we have a vulnerable and high-risk population in our parish.
· We know that as Christians, worship is the center of our identity and it can feel like gathering together is what we are called to do. But actually, loving our neighbors through caring for them during a pandemic by not gathering is what we are called to do.
· We hope that by taking drastic measures, as the Bishop reminds us, we can model to the world how to love our neighbors by not gathering, and we can help stop the spread of COVID.
Ultimately, we need to alter what we’ve been doing for worship to accommodate the growing COVID cases and protect our community. We have some options, but after careful thought and discernment, and with the support and approval of your Vestry and wardens, here is how we will proceed:
· We will meet in person this Sunday the 22nd (limiting to 25 people).
· We will do Sunday Advent services virtually, and it will be a full Eucharist from our sanctuary, as I believe it will bring us comfort at this time to see our house of worship from our homes, plus we can have some music by Suzanne.
· We will put the services on YouTube, and each Sunday at 11am, we will have what is called a “watch party” when the service goes “live”. This means we can watch at the same time and comment and worship together. (If you’ve ever done a “watch party” it is both fun and more accessible/easy for non-tech folks.)
· All Advent bulletins will be put in the Advent Kit we are bringing to families/households, so that everyone will have a bulletin to worship along with each Sunday.
· We will have a Zoom coffee hour each week (with fun activities—an Advent sing-along with Suzanne or crazy Christmas sweaters, etc. The Sunday School teachers already have planned this and are excited for you to join!).
· As far as our Christmas services, we will loosely plan for both in-person and online, and we can assess where we are at during our December Vestry meeting to determine if the first is possible (unless we are in Phase I at that time).
· The week after Christmas is St. John the Evangelist’s Feast Day. We will do a shared morning prayer Zoom that Sunday with both churches (like we did for the Feast of St. James). It will give me a week off of recording and editing, and it will be fun and live with both churches, which can foster a lot of joy in that time!
· We can reassess at that time whether we need to stay virtual at that time or if the Phase the Diocese is in permits it, discussing what we need to do to move toward in-person gathering.
Things I know:
· None of us like worshipping online. I didn’t get ordained to celebrate the resurrection each Sunday with just me and a camera. :) We are all Zoom-fatigued out, but we also know that we are grateful for it because there are so many people we wouldn’t have seen without it.
· We EACH have a responsibility to reach out to someone we know might have a hard time with Zoom and teach them how to login. It can be as simple as a phone call!
· We know this season will be hard for folks because we all are grieving. I feel it deeply with you, as I think about once again, not flying out to see my nieces and family. I miss them and I know you miss your people too. And…
· We have a chance to do something new and wonderful with this “watch party” Advent! Advent is the season of preparing and waiting and watching. How fitting to have everything stripped down so that we can focus on Christ this year, with nothing to distract us. I wonder what new thing Jesus will teach us this year.
· While we may not like going back to “online worship”, this feels different, because it is for a short time, with a purpose to keep our people healthy and alive, AND at a season of preparing, waiting, and watching for Christ in our lives.
· We can do this! I believe in us!
I have shared this information with your wardens and your Vestry who are in support and understanding, and together we are excited for what God might do in this intentional time of Advent.
Please reach out with any questions. I welcome your prayers in all of the work ahead (especially in all the video recording and editing!). Thank you for helping us “dream God’s dream in us” at such a wild time in our lifetimes. I believe God is with us and will surprise us this Advent.
God’s blessings of peace to you on the cusp of a New Advent,