May 23, 2020 Worship Update and the Church to Come

Moving Forward with Worship at St. Thomas
Saturday, May 23, 2020
Dear St. Thomas Community,
Doubtless you have heard that during Phase I of resuming something like typical daily life, churches have been allowed to and, in some cases, encouraged to resume in person activities quickly. That houses of worship are considered to be essential is good to know. I agree. That being said, we have a responsibility to one another and the community to resume in person activities in such a way that minimizes risk to our members and the community at large.
I am writing to you today to outline the framework that will guide our discernment as how and when to resume regular activities. We are also preparing to offer live worship from St. Thomas via livestream as soon as we address the technical issues that keep us from doing so presently. I would love to have a hard date for you, but that is not possible just yet.
At this point we are not permitted, by direction of Bishop Haynes, to resume worship and other in person activities yet. This week the Bishop sent an update out restating what activities are permissible and other guidelines for preparing our buildings and ministries for the resumption of in person activities. The text of Bishop Haynes’s guidelines can be found here
The Advisory Panel that is assisting Bishop Haynes to develop some guidelines for re-gathering the church continues its work in earnest. We are aware that many are eager to return to church buildings but want to do so as safely as is possible. We assure you that the guidelines will be issued soon. In the meantime, church leaders and Vestries might begin thinking of the following matters which the panel most certainly will recommend:
  • The appointment of health and safety officer in each parish who can oversee the compliance with health and safety guidelines. This does not necessarily have to be a medical person (such as a doctor or nurse), but someone who is familiar with the guidelines and can oversee their implementation parish-wide.
  • The ordering and securing of health, cleaning and sanitizing supplies such as hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and face masks. The development of protocols for cleaning and sanitizing the building after each use.
  • The removal of prayer books and hymnals from the pews unless a protocol is developed to sanitize them in between services.
  • The measuring of seating space and marking of seats so that 36 square feet is afforded each unit that is seated in the pews (noting that family units may be counted as one unit). It is worth considering that the usual worship space in the building may not be the best room in which social distancing is the most easily accomplished. Consider your parish halls or other large rooms as temporary worship spaces for the sake of social distancing.
  • Paying attention to how traffic flows through the space so that people enter by one way and exit by another.
  • Consideration by church musicians of other forms of music besides choral and congregational singing (at least in the initial re-entry phases).
  • Continued use of online worship for those vulnerable members who should not return to the building initially.
These are just a few suggestions of what churches can be doing now to get ready. God is empowering us to be the Church during this pandemic. We are called to respond. (From Diocesan E-News May 19, 2020)
For us at St. Thomas that means that we believe that online worship is here to stay even after the we begin gathering again in person. To that end the vestry has agreed that equipping our worship space at 233 Mann Dr. to begin offering live worship on Sundays from that space is one of our first steps.
To that end we have authorized the expenditure of funds to upgrade our capability to provide quality live worship as part of our online presence. As we do this work and the other things necessary to SAFELY resume in person activities we see these as important points to keep in mind.
–Online worship is here to stay 
–We are in the process of upgrading hardware, software and acoustics to allow for streaming worship from the sanctuary and the chapel
–This will begin when we are sure it can be done well, we have adequate volunteer support, and without compromising anyone’s safety with regard to exposure to COVID-19
–Resuming activities will happen in phases and in compliance with CDC, State, Local and Diocesan guidelines
–We will resume activities gradually
–Outside groups will also need to comply with the above guidelines
–We will need cooperation, assistance and patience as we go through this process
–We are committed to listening to the parish regarding their needs, desires and hopes
–We will make our decisions based upon the common good of our folks
–We will make missteps and do our best to correct them and learn from them as quickly as possible. 
–Patience and extra grace while moving into a new ‘typical’ way of doing church is going to be critical. 
We will be meeting with technicians, other churches and their leaders to get ourselves online from St. Thomas as soon as possible. We hope to be able to provide a target date for this to happen in the next week.
As always,We appreciate your prayers and patience as this unfolds.
For the Vestry and Leadership of St. Thomas,
The Rev. Warren Hicks

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