Lord, open our lips; and our mouths shall proclaim your praise (from Psalm 51:15)

July 2, 2020

Dear Friends in Christ,

In last week’s email, I shared that Bishop Wright had issued detailed guidelines for in-person gathering. The recent spike in cases in Georgia has complicated those plans, but I still have news to share about progress toward phase one gathering. We also sent out a survey last week about options; thanks to all those who responded! We received excellent feedback from that survey (see the results here). A little more than half said they would stay home and continue to participate online, and a little less than half said they would join us in-person for Evening Prayer or Morning Prayer, in numbers that are manageable under the guidelines.

Earlier this week, the Vestry approved plans, and preparations are underway for both worship and Bible Studies when we are ready. Please note that the preference is still for online gathering. No one has to meet in-person, and provisions will be made so that online options will continue to be available, both for worship and for Bible Studies. The offices will remain closed, and any use of the building and grounds must be approved in advance.

I had hoped to announce a specific date when worship and Bible Studies could start to meet in-person, but the epidemic in Georgia is changing rapidly. With testing levels similar to late May, daily cases are 2-3 times higher in recent days, and the death rate has stabilized and stopped its decline. Bishop Wright will meet with his task force next week, and this spike in cases will be on their minds. I would hate to promise a start date today, and have to postpone it days later. We will continue to prepare so that we are ready when the time arrives. As you have heard many times, the situation is fluid, and we will continue to adapt and improvise. Thank you for your prayers and your patience. When we know we have permission, and when we believe the time is wise, we will be able to start the option of phase one gathering.

When we do gather, we will implement the diocesan guidelines that I summarized in last week’s email. These guidelines are strict for phase one, but they are the cost we must pay to gather together while the epidemic continues. These changes include:

  • No Eucharist
  • No Singing
  • All must properly wear masks
  • 40 minutes or less
  • 50 people or fewer for worship (for Bible Studies, see below)
  • Advance registration online (and we can help you if need be)
  • No Nursery, no Sunday School nor classes on Sunday Mornings
  • Room cleaning between services
  • Restrooms for emergencies only

Our plan for services is:

  • Saturday, 5:30 PM: Evening Prayer & Sermon
  • Sunday, 8:00 AM: Morning Prayer & Sermon
  • Sunday, 9:00 AM: Online-only Eucharist as we have it today (can be viewed later)
  • Sunday, 10:30 AM: Morning Prayer & Sermon in the Nave (our main worship space)
  • Sunday, 10:40 AM: Morning Prayer & Sermon in the Parish Hall

This service will be used when registration for the Nave service is full. See more below.

How will this work? What can you expect?

Streaming online

We will continue to livestream an online-only Eucharist as we have been doing. The live broadcast will start at 9AM. Remember that the service is posted on YouTube as a recording immediately following the service, so if you wish to start your prayers at 10:30, the service will be available for you to guide those prayers at that time, or later if you wish. We selected this time for a livestream so as to provide in-person services that approximate our regular schedule.

Registration

The prior Monday, we will open up that week’s online registration. If you have challenges using online registration, you can contact our Parish Administrator, Nancy Wellham, at extension 105 and she can help you (the call will be forwarded to her at home). Registration allows us to stay within attendance limits of 50 people, and it provides names and contact information for contact tracing if necessary. We anticipate enough space for those who wish to gather. If we do get overbooked, you can either choose another service, or get first priority for the following week’s registration.

Bulletin

We won’t be sharing materials, so prayer books and hymnals and bulletins won’t be available. Instead, you will be able to print a copy from our website and bring it with you, or read it on your mobile device. Additionally, the liturgy (prayers and psalms, etc) will be projected on the side walls of the transepts so that you can follow along. We’ve tested this, and it works well without being distracting, and it is readable even from the back pews.

Spacing, Masks, and greeting one another

We’ve become used to masks and lines with spacing at stores in recent months; the same will be true at church. Masks must be worn properly the entire time, from the parking lot, inside and back out again. This is for the health of others, and it allows us to continue to offer in-person services. Without your help in this area, we won’t be able to gather in-person, so please take this seriously. Greeting each other will be that strange waving and bowing that we’re all trying to figure out. Fist bumps or elbow bumps are still too close, so we’ll have to save those for later. Remember that many people choose to come relying on these protocols to feel safe. Supporting them means supporting your brothers and sisters in Christ (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).

 Entrance, Check-in and seating

You will come up the sidewalks and enter only through the main doors of the nave/narthex (the grand ones you see from the street; a stairs-free option is adjacent to these doors). Someone will welcome you, and check you in from the registration list. You will sanitize your hands with the touchless hand sanitizer station in the narthex, walk up the side aisles and down the center aisles. People should space themselves between households on the way in and out; sanitizer should be used on the way out as well. Every other pew will be cordoned-off, and open pews will be marked for seating (some pews in the middle, and some pews on the ends). Individuals within households can sit close together; spacing of 6ft or more should be maintained between households. For the Parish Hall services, check-in will be at the Parish Hall doors. In the Parish Hall, chairs will be spaced accordingly.

Evening Prayer and Morning Prayer

Many people are unfamiliar with these Prayer Book Services. However, until the 1980s, many parishes used morning prayer as their standard Sunday Service (with communion once a month). The service starts with the confession and absolution, and an opening psalm. Then follows the psalm of the day and two Bible readings. In between, we say canticles together. Canticles are poems, usually from the Bible. We’ve chosen ones that are familiar to you: the Gloria and the First Song of Isaiah, (and for Evening Prayer: the Song of Mary and the Song of Simeon). Then follows the sermon, the Apostle’s Creed, and a set of prayers: the Lord’s Prayer, a set of call-and-response prayers, and several other prayers (called “Collects”), ending with a prayer of thanksgiving.

How will two services at 10:30 work?

In order to approximate our regular service times, and provide opportunities for enough people to gather, we will have a 10:30 service in the Nave (our main worship space), and one at 10:40 in the Parish Hall if registration for the nave is full. A sermon can be placed in the service in one of two places: after the readings or at the end of the service. The preacher will preach in the middle of the service in the Nave, then go to the Parish Hall and preach at the end of that service. Each service will have its own officiant (clergy or trained lay person).

What about Bible studies or other meetings?

Bible Studies may stay online, or use a hybrid approach, either by adding video conferencing to in-person groups, or some form of alternating onsite and online. The aim is to be sure not to leave someone behind, and to avoid pressure on anyone to attend in-person. Each study should have a short plan approved by the rector, and scheduling with Nancy Wellham to insure availability and cleaning. We will start with the Garden Room for 20 people or fewer, and adapt if necessary. We will have video conferencing equipment available to help hybrid meetings. Outdoor meetings can gather up to 50 people with spacing; masks will still be required within 10ft. Outdoor gatherings can last up to an hour. Indoor gatherings are limited to 40 minutes.

We will continue to keep you informed. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Again, we will continue to prepare in the next couple of weeks. As we receive direction from the bishop, and as we understand the state of the epidemic better, we will know more about when we can start to gather. Please keep your brothers and sisters in Christ in your prayers, especially our bishop and those who are impacted by Covid-19.

Yours in Christ,

-Tom