Dear Parish Family,
Since our last video update on the state of the parish, we felt it was important to give you a further update on the vestry and staff’s expectations for the amount of time it will take for us to prepare for a future return to public worship.
On Monday, May 4, the Episcopal Bishops of Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. jointly published a phased plan for a return to church gatherings (click here to read) with various public health criteria which must be met prior to expanding our ability come together for church activities. The diocese shared its strategy for the phased regathering of our congregations in a follow-up letter, which presented the formation of clergy and laity led teams to prepare guidelines, support congregations to develop specific reopening strategies, provide training, and create a process to approve requests from congregations to regather.
You may have read that on Friday, May 8, the Governor issued a new Executive Order setting forth the next phase of Virginia’s re-opening plan. This will ease certain restrictions on religious services so that they may be conducted with reduced occupancy and subject to strict social distancing and sanitization protocols. This Order maintains current restrictions on gatherings held in connection with religious services to no more than 10 people. The accompanying guidance makes it clear that the new mandatory restrictions merely set the floor for re-opening requirements, but religious institutions must consider safety protocols that are in the best interests of their own congregations. The diocese’s phased plan for gathering for religious services and in-person church activities is the path we will follow to ensure the safety and welfare of our membership and the wider community.
In order for our church’s phased approach to move forward to Phase 2, we must see at least a two-week decline in the number of reported cases and hospitalizations. We will also track the widespread availability of testing, efforts toward contact tracing, and accessibility of personal protective equipment. Once we reach Phase 2, we expect to limit our gatherings to under 50 people, which will mean that we may not be quite ready to host open worship services in our sanctuary, but we will likely be able to return to live broadcasts of our services with participation from musicians, lectors, and clergy from the church. Only as conditions continue to improve will we be ready to safely return to worship together.
While this is a process that could take several months, it is important for us to emphasize that these guidelines and protocols are necessary to ensure the health and well-being of all our church members, especially those that are most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus.
As a church and worshipping community, our priorities will be principally guided by our concern for the health and well-being of all our church members. We plan to take all reasonable steps necessary to ensure that all of our church members can safely worship at our services without fear or anxiety. When the time comes, we can assure you that we will have concrete plans and protocols in place to make our welcome return to in-person church gatherings joyous and safe.
The path which lies ahead for us will not be easy but just as our church community faced a similar crisis twenty-five years ago when the church burned, we remain confident in our ability as a church to live out our faith in ways that will be creative, passionate, and life-giving to those we serve.
Blessings in Christ,
Robert C.T. Reed, The Senior Warden
2020 May 12