Pastoral Letter to Holy Trinity concerning returning to church amidst Covid-19
“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Psalm 122:1)
Greetings Holy Trinity family,
By the grace of God, we will be returning to in-person public worship this coming Sunday, Pentecost, May 31, 2020. Below is some important information about how that will happen.
Allow me say how impressed I am by your faithfulness to our church community these past few weeks. Attendance on our livestream services has been high, and has remained so throughout our public shutdown. Many of you have reached out to one another with encouragement and empathy. Your generosity to support the financials of the parish has been humbling. All these things are a reminder that the church is not the building, but the people of God together.
Before we get into the weeds of our precautions moving forward with public worship, I want to make it clear first that life will not return to normal immediately. We are initiating a slow process. We will keep you regularly updated to changes, and we invite your gracious feedback.
Let me offer these crucial preliminaries
If you choose to attend public worship at the church, know that there is an increased risked of exposure to illness. We will do what we can to reduce this risk, but it cannot be eliminated. By coming to church, you acknowledge this reality. Pray for God’s aid.
We affirm those who elect not to attend for a while, but do please jump onto the livestream of our services in the meantime.
The governor’s order expressly permits churches to gather for public worship.
That being said, the leadership of the parish, in consultation with other churches in our diocese and province, and with the express input and approval of our bishop, has decided to enact the following precautions:
We will have one service of Holy Communion on Sundays at 10:30 am.
That service will be streamed for anyone who does not physically join us.
We encourage those who are ill or particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 to stay home, especially those with any form of upper respiratory illness which includes coughing, persistent sneezing, sore throat and/or fever. Seasonal allergies are, of course, excepted.
Childcare will not be offered, however the nursery will be available for squirmy kids with parental supervision. While in the building, please be careful to keep your children by your side, in charity to your brothers and sisters.
There will be no fellowship hour in the undercroft after the service.
Facemasks are not required, but they are encouraged. Best evidence at the moment (spotty as it may be) is that facemasks are useful for preventing the wearer from infecting others if they are sick and don’t know it (i.e. are asymptomatic). As far as the church is concerned, to wear one is a sign of charity to fellow believers, nothing more or less. However, no one will be made to feel shame for exercising their choice.
There will be several hand sanitizer stations in the nave.
Every other pew will be blocked off to encourage social distancing. Please be mindful of the signs about where you may sit, and follow any guidance given you by an usher.
Efforts will be made to minimize multiple hands coming into contact with the same surfaces:
The doors will be opened for you by ushers before and after the service.
The offering plate will not be passed. Two offering plates will be set on small tables in the nave so you can place your gift either when you enter, or when you come forward for Communion. Online giving remains a good option.
Printed service orders will be provided, but if you are able to print out the service order at home before coming, you are encouraged to do so. These will be posted to our website and emailed to you as PDFs in the days before each service.
Hymnals and Prayer Books in the pews will be greatly reduced. The words of all the hymns will be printed in the service orders in full.
Extra precautions will be taken with the administration of Holy Communion:
The clergy/servers will wear facemasks for the administration, and we will sanitize our hands immediately before.
You will be dismissed by row in small groups, to the side aisles rather than the center aisle. Please do not stand too close to the person in front of you.
We will not partake at the rail, but via two standing stations on either side of the pulpit and lectern. The Body of Christ will be administered to you at these stations on the hand only, not on the tongue.
The chalice will be offered to all who desire it at the front-center. No one is under compulsion to receive the Blood; be assured of the full benefit of the Sacrament with the Body only. Any who desire the chalice will be allowed to drink directly from the chalice only, intinction will not be permitted. As counter-intuitive as it may feel, multiple studies have shown that direct drinking is the most sanitary way to partake if the chalice is wiped and turned after each person (as has always been our practice).
After the service concludes, you will be dismissed by rows. Please exit the building immediately. Once in the fresh air of our parking lot and back lawn, please feel free to visit with your brothers and sisters, endeavoring to keep 6’ distance between households.
As weather permits, we will be leaving the nave windows and back doors open during the service to allow for a cross breeze in the building.
Some of these precautions will be more onerous than others. Indeed, seeing them all listed like this makes them appear more distracting than they will probably be in fact! (Don’t worry, we will walk through them carefully during the service until we all get used to them.)
Nevertheless, some of you will find these precautions unnecessarily distracting. Others will find they don’t go nearly far enough. Be aware of the diversity of opinion within our parish, and watch your words and your heart accordingly. There is no doubt in my mind that the Enemy will seek to divide our fellowship over these matters, but we must be sober and watchful against him. We are not unaware of his schemes.
If you have not listened to the sermon I preached last Sunday from Romans 14, I urge you with all the earnestness at my command to please take the time to do so. I offer critical counsel for how we might best honor one another during these peculiar times when passions are high and opinions diverse. Click here to go there.
My friends, now is the time to show the world that the church does things differently. We do not succumb to partisan bickering, and we freely forgo our preferences to serve each other, “considering others’ interests more important than our own” as St. Paul says. We also show the world the difference between prudent precautions and abject fear, as we both live in the confidence of our Savior’s mighty protection and use the wisdom he has given us to take steps that truly lie within our power to take, giving praise to Jesus in and through all things.
I look forward to seeing you in person in the coming weeks. It has been too long.
Most humbly and gratefully yours, Rev. Adam D. Rick Rector, on behalf of the clergy and vestry of Holy Trinity Parish