Our patron, St. Paul, writes in First Corinthians, Chapter 14, “that all things should be done decently and in order.” As we work together to resume public worship, Paul’s words have echoed in my mind and soul. Doing things decently and in order means that our primary concern, as we resume public worship, is the health, safety, and welfare of our congregation and visitors. If the number of COVID-19 cases continues to decrease, Phase 2 of Governor Cooper’s Executive Order permits churches to resume indoor public worship in groups of 50 people or less. Unless there are changes to that order, or other serious circumstances arise, on May 31, (Pentecost Sunday), we will hold our first in-person services in more than two months. Alleluia! What better way is there for us to be re-united, than to celebrate the birthday of the church and the gift of God’s Holy Spirit which gives us life and breath?
Until we have greater access to testing, more reliable contact tracing, better treatment and ultimately, a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, it is necessary to introduce new, and I acknowledge, restrictive, protocols and guidelines for how we conduct worship and use our facilities. This is new territory for us all. The changes we make are in a fluid state; therefore, they are subject to change as necessary, so that we may do things decently and in order. We continue to pray for that time when we will return to the “normal” worship patterns we so cherish. In the mean time, here is the plan.
Every Sunday beginning on May 31, we will offer Holy Eucharist at 8:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. in the church. Both services will have music and will be liturgically identical. There will not be congregational singing. Both services are limited to 50 people, including clergy, musicians, ushers, lectors, servers, tech team, and Altar guild. On most Sundays, that leaves room for 37 other worshipers per service. On a normal Sunday (before COVID-19), we had a combined attendance (8 & 10:30) of approximately 180 worshipers. Before adding any additional services, we want to see how many people, at this point in time, feel comfortable attending in-person worship. We will continue to offer live streaming worship, which, thanks to the generosity of a donor, has been enhanced by a new camera. Live streaming worship is now a permanent St. Paul’s ministry. I am extremely grateful to Bob Crafts and Byrce O’Dell for their gifts and talents in live streaming production. We have received a lot of positive feedback on this ministry. Our senior warden, Keith Calder, and Bill Baker are now training to be production
crew members/directors as well. I know Bob is happy to train other volunteers, so please call him if you are interested in serving.
How to go about choosing the limited number of people who can join us for worship, and be ready to welcome visitors, under these restrictive circumstances is a challenge. In order to accommodate no more than 50 people at each service, we need to develop a reservation system. After much thought and discussion, we have a temporary solution. We are ready to make changes if this solution becomes problematic. Because of our demographic makeup, St. Paul’s has an unusually high number of folks who fall into the high risk category when it comes to susceptibility to COVID-19. Anyone over the age of 60, and/or with underlying conditions falls into the high risk category. We believe that many individuals in our congregation will feel that it is safer for them to stay at home and watch us on TV, until risk factors are reduced to a lower level. Obviously, we do not know how many folks feel this way, so we are collecting data to help us to determine that. We encourage you to make your health, and the health and safety of others, your top priority. If someone attends an in-person service and subsequently is
diagnosed with having COVID-19, we must remained closed for 14 days and ask others who attended that service to do the same. This week’s e-news includes a survey which will help us determine how many people feel safe and ready to return to in-person worship. In this survey, we will ask for your name, your preference for service time, and your readiness to worship in
person. Please complete the survey and send it back promptly. Remember that this is a survey only, and not a reservation.
In the next two weeks, a Vestry member will call, or contact you via email or text, (the Vestry will divide up the congregation alphabetically) and ask you if you are planning to attend the 8:00 a.m. or 10:30 a.m. service on May 31. Your answer will be noted, and if your answer is yes, the Vestry member will make a reservation on your behalf using Eventbrite. You will not be
able to make your reservation directly. I acknowledge that this is strange, but we are living in unprecedented times which demand that we take imaginative measures.
COVID-19 has forced us to modify our customary style of doing things. We pray that this will be temporary. When you do come to church, you must wear a mask. You must maintain social distancing (stay at least six apart from other worshipers). You must enter the church only through the Market St. door, or the handicap access door. You must not use any other entrances, or go anywhere else in the building. The rest rooms on the first floor of the Parish House nearest the church will be open. In order to reduce the possibility of transmission of the COVID-19 virus, offering plates will not be passed around, instead baskets will be available in the aisle for your offerings. The bulletins will be placed in your pew and not given to you by an usher. You must not touch or hug anyone during the exchange of the Peace. If you want to receive Holy Communion, you will be invited to line up in the aisle (maintaining social distancing) and come to the foot of the chancel steps where the clergy will place the host in your hands, without touching your hands. Holy Communion will be given in the form of bread only. Baked bread will not be used. Using wafers is the best way to prevent transmission of the virus. The consecrated wine will remain on the Altar. Please be assured and comforted by the fact that the church teaches that we receive the full benefit and grace of Holy Communion when receiving the bread only. A prayer for spiritual Communion (receiving Communion in your
heart) will be offered for those who cannot, or choose not, to receive the sacrament physically. Please know that the clergy and servers will be observing the best hygiene practices as we prepare, consecrate, and distribute the sacrament. We also encourage you to bring hand sanitizers with you when you come to church and, of course, it will be available at church as
well. The church will be sanitized between services.
For the time being, the use of the Parish Hall for any activity continues to be prohibited. Christian Formation, meetings, and other ministry gatherings will continue to be conducted via Zoom. I understand that these restrictions and changes are frustrating, burdensome, and disappointing to many, myself included. We ask however that you to be patient and abide by
them because they come from a place of deep love and concern for your well being and the well being of others. They fulfill the ultimate commandment to love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Be safe. Be kind to one another. Be patient. Pray for each other and pray for the needs of the world. We will get through this together! Keep the faith!