A letter from Rev. Heather & Rev. Molly on behalf of the Clergy & Vestry
Many of us have hoped that we might be able to reopen for some level of in-person worship soon, while also recognizing some of us will not be comfortable returning until restrictions have eased and a vaccine is widely available. We want to provide you with a comprehensive update on the status of reopening and our plans for moving forward. Please note that our diocese is using the language of ‘stage’, whereas the Commonwealth is using the language of ‘phase’. Diocesan stages are generally more conservative than the Commonwealth’s phases. Please see the chart below outlining some of the public health indicators of the diocesan stages.
In May, we outlined a Process for Moving Forward (view here). We have made great strides in nearing the completion of this process. SsJA leaders have worked tirelessly to give serious consideration to each aspect of the diocesan guidelines for reopening, keeping in mind the unique aspects of our buildings, demographics, and ministries.
The working groups have established a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) which we hope will answer the most important questions of what reopening will look like in Diocesan Stage 3. View them below.
The Church Chat Working Group has scheduled a Zoom Church Chat Listening Session on Sunday, August 30 at 12 p.m. The purpose of this informal virtual gathering is to give the Vestry an opportunity to check in with church members about the ongoing pandemic and how it has impacted our church community. Specific topics will include the continued suspension of in person worship, growing our faith during a pandemic, and holding onto hope in uncertain times. It will be an opportunity for questions and answers, and if you are unable to attend, we invite you to call or email the office with your questions. A recording of the meeting will be sent out to the congregation in a newsletter following the church chat. Information on how to join the meeting by phone or video may be found in the announcement further down in the newsletter.
We also plan to provide an update of the Reopening Status, using this image in each newsletter, in order that everyone may know what steps remain before we can safely resume some kind of in-person worship. Please note, we are quite close to being able to submit our application. At the same time, our building will remain closed until all four conditions outlined in the image below are met.
Finally, when we are near being able to reopen we will send out a survey to worship leaders and the entire parish, soliciting volunteers for the many responsibilities that support our shared worship. Some jobs will be similar, while others, such as ushering, will look drastically different and will require a good many more volunteers each week to safely carry out our reopening plan. In the survey, we will ask that anyone who is already a worship leader will let us know whether they feel comfortable returning in Diocesan Stage 3, while also welcoming new participants into these roles.
Most importantly, we want to thank each of you for ensuring SsJA continues to live into our mission of cultivating a community of love, joy, hope, and healing--even during these strange times. While our buildings remain closed, our hearts and hands for serving our neighbors remain open and as loving as ever.
Here are some other important links you may find helpful:
Frequently Asked Questions
View our entire Application to the Diocese and Additional Notes from the Working Group.
1. When are we reopening the buildings?
The SsJA Vestry is committed to reopening our church for in-person worship for
those who would like to attend in Diocesan Stage 3 on the following conditions:
2. Could we worship together outside?
We considered this at length and developed a model for how we could safely worship outdoors, but the Vestry concluded that the number of volunteers and effort required would not be justified by the number of people who, according to our survey, would be interested in attending.
3. Will there be limits in the number of people that can attend worship?
Yes, required spacing for safety and limits on gathering size, required by both the Commonwealth and Diocese, necessarily limit how many will be able to gather for worship, at least until health statistics are much improved.
4. How do you determine who can attend worship?
We’ll have signups for worship each week, either online or by calling the office. If there are requests beyond the number who can be accommodated in a given week, those people will be given priority in subsequent weeks.
5. Will I be safe if I choose to come to worship?
Nothing we can do can guarantee perfect safety, but we are doing as much as we can to make it as safe as possible. We’ll require wearing masks and provide hand sanitizer, designate seating to ensure physical distancing, and depend heavily on an expanded group of ushers to manage and assist with traffic flow.
What is going to happen if we discover someone is sick?
Lists generated by worship signups will serve to allow contact tracing, and the CDC provides detailed protocols for deep cleaning and disinfecting that we would follow.
6.What will we have for music in the service?
Diocesen guidelines don’t allow singing at this time, but we will have instrumental music provided both by our Parish Musician and by other talented musicians from the congregation.
7. Will we have eucharist?
The Diocese has provided us with guidelines for safe administration of the eucharist. When we’re ready to begin in-person worship we will initially continue with Morning Prayer and Spiritual Communion for a few weeks while we get used to new routines for worship before we add in physical administration of communion.
8. If I plan to come, how can I help?
It’s going to take a village! Shortly before we return to in-person worship we will send out a survey requesting volunteers for all of the jobs that will need to be done in leading and supporting our worship, and we hope that both those who have served in the past AND new volunteers will step up to help us move forward into our new ways of “being church”.
9. If I am a ministry leader and need to to complete a task in person, inside, are there safety procedures to follow?
We are asking that as we each use church spaces, we sanitize after ourselves; disinfecting wipes are provided in our bathrooms and other common spaces, and signs direct us that “If you touch it, you wipe it!”
10. What are we doing about cleaning and sanitizing?
At this point our Sexton is covering routine cleaning of common spaces with special attention to high touch surfaces, and as individuals use the space, “you touch it you wipe it.” We’ve learned that spaces only used once a week (such as the sanctuary) are safe with this routine cleaning.
11. Are small groups and gatherings allowed inside the facility?
Parish groups and gathering will continue on a virtual basis until most limits on gatherings are lifted and physical restrictions eased, per diocesan guidelines, and we will, likewise, not be providing indoor meeting space to outside groups. We have approved two outside groups to use our lawn space under specific health precautions, and may approve others in the future.
12. When will our outreach ministries (2nd Helpings, Whitney’s Pantry, etc.) be able to take place in our buildings?
Again, these outreach ministries will continue to operate on a “to go” basis until most limits on gatherings are lifted and physical restrictions eased, per diocesan guidelines.
13. How has the pandemic affected us financially?
We have been fortunate. Thanks to most members’ ability to fulfill their pledges, to additional contributions received, and to the assistance of the Payroll Protection Plan funds provided by the Diocese, we are in better shape than we might have been, given our loss of “loose plate” and property use income. We currently project ending 2020 with a deficit of about $12,618. Depending on the course of the virus with, in particular, its impact on property use income and fundraising, planning for 2021 will be critical, and challenging.