In order to help us prepare for the next stage of our life together, a team of 16 people from across the Diocese of North Carolina, headed by your bishops, have been in conversation, discernment and prayer about how we will reopen our buildings and return to in-person worship. In-person worship will be offered alongside our online worship, and there will be many reasons why some will continue to choose to worship online primarily and even exclusively.
This return will take place in stages guided by our bishops’ directives which in turn are based on guidance from our government officials and public health indicators. Because of the particular nature of our community, its values and commitments to care for the most vulnerable, the bishops have been clear that the choices and decisions they make for the diocese may differ from governmental directives.
To have any type of in-person worship will require declining rates of infection, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. We have been told that the earliest we could return to in-perons worship is July 1, 2020. Statistical models however, currently project the peak in North Carolina to be mid-July. We must hold any date we are given lightly.
And hold on tight to the promises of God who will never forsake us and is moving powerfully through this community of faith. In this time when many external things may change, it is important that we remind ourselves of what does not change:
The Anglican guideposts of Scripture, Tradition and Reason (filtered through our present situation);
God’s call to care for those who are materially poor and vulnerable in our community, and our own statements of vision, mission and values.
All Saints’ Vision & Mission
Our Vision-To be a church that Loves Like God Loves.
Our Mission-To be a church of Disciples Making Disciples for Jesus.
Being an active and inclusive community of faith,
Worshipping God in the Episcopal tradition,
Nurturing the individual to grow in Christ, and
Seeking and serving Jesus in unexpected places.
These values guide the decisions we make, the actions we take and the repentance/forgiveness we offer when we get off track.
I am reminding us of what does not change, because, as we look through these guidelines you will immediately see that much of what we associate with worship will have to change as we move to in-person worship. While I and the staff could anticipate some of these actions, as we have learned how the virus spreads through aerosol particles, particularly from singing, we have had to make further adjustments to long-held understanding of what constitutes corporate worship. The bishops’ guidance requires even more adjustments and creativity.
The Holy Spirit clearly has been moving through this time (for example the wonderful worship our young people presented), but that does not mean there has not been grief. I will celebrate 25 years of ordination on July 8th. There is a small chance that will be in some type of in-person worship. But if so, it will be dramatically different from the previous 24 years of ordained ministry, and indeed, the previous 57 years of being an Episcopalian.
Conversations with individuals about these guidelines have been painful, especially for those in the four choirs of our music ministry. I understand that as you read these guidelines you, too, will have many reactions, some of which may be tears.
While I long for things to get back to “normal” that is not possible. There is no “back,” there is only forward. Sometimes the way forward is hard, and shrouded in mist. Our values must guide, shape and inform our preferences. We must be willing to let go of even deeply-held determinations for the sake of the common good of our congregation and the wider community which could be placed at risk through our actions. It would be my privilege to talk with you further on these matters.
The bishops have asked that we prepare plans for how to handle all the different aspects of reopening in the midst of the pandemic, recognizing that we are dealing with a highly contagious respiratory virus for which there is neither a vaccine nor a cure. The plan for stage two should be prepared by June 15, after which we are expected to “test” our plan with volunteers. Then have training with the various persons who will be responsible for carrying the plan forward.
We need your help in thinking through how to implement this plan. The worship team will do their work, but the use of our building goes far beyond worship. We need help from those willing to offer their wisdom in the areas of:
- Christian Education (Sunday School, Youth Ministry, Adult Education)
- Pastoral Care
- Medical Professionals
Please continue to pray for our church and the wider community, particularly our frontline health care workers.