November Vestry Update on Regathering

At the November 20th vestry meeting St. Thomas Leadership Team discussed the newest information on regathering protocols and direction from Bishop Haynes office. Here is the text of that message.

Navigating the Pandemic: A Prayer for Wisdom
At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give to you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O LORD my god, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people” (I Kings 3:5-9) 

These words, known as Solomon’s Prayer for Wisdom, should surely resonate with us today. We face a baffling, frightening situation, not really knowing ourselves “how to go out or come in.” The news we hear about rising cases of Covid-19 is not what we want – the number of cases increase at an alarming rate, with no end in sight. Give us an understanding mind, Lord, able to discern wisely between good and evil! 

Solomon’s prayer was answered. God provided wisdom, and Solomon ruled wisely and justly. God is faithful and merciful and stands ready to bestow upon us a similar wisdom if we ask for it. As we navigate through this pandemic, heading into the Advent and Christmas seasons, church rectors and vestries will need to make wise decisions about liturgical, pastoral and formational opportunities. Using the guidelines offered by the Diocese in June, churches have tools for making these decisions. Given the increasing cases, the Diocese offers the following additional guidance: 

Should we continue to gather for in-person worship? If not, when should we stop?

At the diocesan level, we continue to meet with a medical advisory panel to monitor the Covid-19 situation in Virginia. This panel, comprised of doctors, nurses, physicians’ assistants, nurse practitioners, epidemiologists, and one attorney, has recently expressed alarm over the rate at which COVID-19 cases are rising. They recommend watching percent positivity rates. As the percent positivity rate approaches 8%, medical personnel are nervous. At 10%, they are alarmed. Currently for the entire Commonwealth of Virginia, the percent positivity rate is 7.4%; however, we also have places in our diocese where the positivity rates are between 10 and 16%. ( is not safe! 

Therefore, as individual parishes make decisions within their own context about whether to continue in-person worship, they are strongly advised to begin pulling back when the percent positivity rate in their area approaches 8%. In all likelihood as the percent positivity rate approaches 10% for the Commonwealth, Bishop Haynes will make a decision for the diocese to temporarily cease in-person gatherings. If your area is already at 10%, YOU SHOULD STOP IN-PERSON WORSHIP! We understand that we are heading into Christmas and Advent and that the possibility of virtual worship for such a sacred time might be heartbreaking. We pray to the Holy Spirit, that should that possibility become real, we would be empowered to experience the Nativity of Christ in new and mighty ways. WE are certain that God will be faithful! 

What about fellowship and formation gatherings?

The governor of Virginia has limited public gatherings to 25 people. Worship activities are exempt from this limitation. However, other gatherings at the church must adhere to the 25-person limit. This means, for example, that a wedding may gather in the church in a number greater than 25 (if that number can safely be accommodated with physical distancing); however, if that same group were to gather in a parish hall for a reception, that number would have to be limited to 25. Likewise, formational and fellowship gatherings would need to be limited to 25 people. 

Congregations and clergy in our diocese should be proud of the way that they have responded to the Covid-19 Pandemic, staying connected with one another and offering opportunities, other than in-person, to worship. We encourage you to “stay the course!” As we move into Advent and contemplate the coming of Christ into our world, let us continue to remind ourselves that He is faithful, that He walks with us, and that He will not leave us to face this alone.

What does that mean for us?

The vestry and leadership will consult reliable sources for our local 7-day average percentage of positivity rates. Once rates exceed 8% we will monitor the situation closely. Should the rate exceed 10% we will, in all likelihood, suspend worship until such time as the rate subsides and reported cases declines as well.

Our intention is to move forward with a test opening on this coming Sunday, November 22nd. We will do a test run with up to 25 in attendance in addition to greeters, ushers, readers and musicians. At that service we will also be working on production of a video orienting you to the adjustments and precautions we have made in order to help provide for the safety of those who attend and those who serve. A decision regarding our previously announced plan to resume in person worship on a limited basis will be made early Thanksgiving Week.

Among these changes are:

  • Masks will be required for all in attendance ages 5 and above
  • Attendance will be limited to 50 for the present time (subject to change)
  • If you attend one week we would request that you skip the following week to allow others an opportunity to attend (at least initially)
  • Know and consider your particular risk factors and consider those before attending
  • Communion will be distributed via wafer only
  • Registration for each week will be necessary
  • If you are feeling ill, have symptoms of or have been exposed to COVID-19 we ask that you stay home
  • Consider whether or not you would be able to quarantine for 14 days following the service should contact tracing indicate you may have been exposed to the virus.
  • As the Bishop mentioned, when testing percentages approach 8% health care professionals become nervous, as it approaches 10% they are alarmed. The 7 day average as of this morning for Chesapeake as 10.2% (These numbers can be tracked at the VDH COVID website by using the drop down menus under the blue rectangle near the top of the page. Choose ‘Chesapeake’ and ‘Total’ to check the numbers.

The vestry, leadership and compliance officer (Debbie Hicks) will continue to monitor the metrics and when we are in that 8-10% area will consider suspension of in person worship. Should you have concerns, ideas or observations, please contact a vestry member or the Rector.

We understand that this is difficult for all of us, some more than others. Please know that we continue to pray, study, prepare and discuss how we can best offer worship, formation, and fellowship opportunities while at the same time taking seriously Jesus to “Love one another as God has loved us.”

Fr Warren +