By Father Casey
When we began the outdoor service in September, the staff and I planned to eventually offer additional in-person worship opportunities. Our first goal was to resume the Saturday evening service, and given that darkness comes early in winter, we knew it would need to occur indoors. So, we began laying plans throughout October for the resumption of indoor worship, in hopes that it might begin in November. However, we also paid careful attention to the infection rates, and particularly the huge spike that has been happening nationwide for several weeks.
Therefore, I contacted an Infectious Disease Specialist at Texas Health, Dr. Allison Liddell, who has provided invaluable advice to Parish Episcopal School this fall on how to safely welcome students back to campus. When I described our goals, Dr. Liddell’s response was absolutely clear: now is not the time to resume indoor services. She advised that infection rates have not yet reached their peak, and hospitals are already reaching capacity. The coming holiday season will undoubtedly lead to more gatherings and transmissions, putting even more pressure on medical resources. In additional consultations with other medical experts made available through the Diocese of Dallas, I’ve heard a similar refrain: indoor worship is extremely unwise at this time, regardless of protocols. Outdoor worship remains the safest way to praise God together as a church, because we can effectively distance and allow the dissipation of problematic aerosols.
Based on this advice, we must continue to suspend indoor worship, with the exception of small funerals and weddings for congregations no more than 20. Because the underlying reality is not expected to change before the end of the year, our Christmas worship schedule does not include indoor services. Instead, our Christmas worship will feature more professionally-produced video-services, including a pageant that will delight and inspire and a beautiful online offering on Christmas Eve that will include communion. We are also preparing an outdoor Christmas experience for people to enjoy the week before Christmas, and a parking lot carol-sing on December 27.
I realize how disappointing this news is, but I remain committed to following the advice of medical experts to ensure the health and safety of our parish. The pandemic continues to rage, and it spreads fastest when people lower their guard and forget the dangers of this virus. We must remain careful, even as we pursue our mission, and do all we can to all arrive safely on the other side of this long ordeal, when we will never again take for granted the joy of being together. Until then, wear your mask, wash your hands, say your prayers, and love your neighbor as yourself.