Greetings St. Paul’s,
Two months ago, our Diocesan bishops issued a pastoral directive in response to COVID-19 asking the parishes of the Diocese of North Carolina to suspend public worship, in-person gatherings, and in-person pastoral care for eight weeks. As we reach the end of those eight weeks, they have issued a new, four-stage plan for re-opening our churches and returning to public worship. These stages move, mostly, in concert with our governor’s three phases for re-opening the state, and both use specific downward trends in public health markers as indicators for when to transition from one stage to the next. I commend the full document, outlining all four stages, to your reading.
For the sake of this letter, however, I want to highlight specifically Stages One and Two. They represent “what happens next” and help provide a sense of what our summer will look like at St. Paul’s. As a reminder, the broad strokes of these two stages are as follows:
Where we are now. Worship Gatherings and church meetings are happening online. The Church staff is working from home while pastoral care is offered over the phone and online.
During Stage Two, worship gatherings can expand indoor participation to 25 people (35 people outdoors) in spaces where social distancing can be practiced. Masks, as well as other tracing and screening protocols, must be observed, and the Holy Eucharist may be offered in the “spiritual communion” paradigm we have become familiar with during Holy Week. The church offices can re-open for staff, but social distancing, sanitation, and mask protocols must be practiced. Also, groups of smaller than 15 may consider gathering in properly ventilated church spaces that are large enough to accommodate appropriate social distancing and using mask protocols.
The earliest we will be transitioning from Stage One to Stage Two in the Diocese of North Carolina is now July 1. This is an estimate rather than a fixed date, but our bishops are hopeful that conditions will allow for it. Which means three things for us today:
1.) Sunday Morning Streaming Will Continue
We have had great success in our live streaming thanks to the talents and dedication of Jason Franklin as well as the generous parishioners who loaned us equipment. It is clear now, however, that live streaming is something we need to figure out how to continue indefinitely. So, the church has already enhanced our internet service, and we are allocating resources to upgrade and expand our video equipment. This will allow for live streaming to remain part of St. Paul’s common life both now and when worshippers start returning to the nave.
2.) We Are Making a Plan for Re-Opening
Part of the Diocesean directive requires each parish to develop a strategy for opening once Stage Two arrives. As you can imagine, this has a lot of moving parts and will require careful discernment. The clergy and staff are currently working on that plan as it relates to both work and worship so that, when it is time to safely re-open St. Paul’s, we will be ready. As July 1 nears, we will let you know more.
3.) The Church Staff Plans to Return to the Office in July
Stage Two marks the first time that the staff may return to work in the office. How we do this safely has yet to be determined, but it will be part of the plan we submit to the Diocese. Again, we will let you know more before July 1.
Finally, I want to recognize that for some of you, this information will feel comforting because there is a plan. However, for others of you, it will feel like the dropping of a boom. Two months ago, we had no idea how long this would last or how pronounced the impact of COVID-19’s would be. The truth is, we still do not, but I know we all hoped it would be better by now. The fact that it is not presents another level of grieving and adapting to another new normal, which takes its toll on our hearts. So, never forget that God is in this with us, and though it may be a while before we are all back together, none of us are in this alone! We are St. Paul’s, and this is what we do.
Easter Peace and much love friends,
Fifth Week of Easter, 2020