By Father Casey
My decision to resume indoor congregational worship beginning March 14 has caused a lot of excitement, and already the three Sundays available are fully registered (Sundays in April will open soon). It has also led some to wonder what informed this decision, particularly in light of Governor Abbott’s removal of the mask mandate against the advice of the medical and scientific community. So I want to take just a moment and explain how, after so many months, we have now chosen to resume indoor worship.
Since the end of the stay-at-home order last spring, the Vestry, Staff, and I have been informed by an array of people and factors about the safety of resuming indoor gatherings. Principally, we are under the authority of county and state officials, and we are also under the authority of our bishops, so we have willingly obeyed their directives. We have also taken extremely seriously the guidance of the CDC and WHO, the advice of the wider scientific community, and the recommendations of local infectious health specialists. Their strong discouragement against indoor gatherings was the major factor in our decision to remain virtual and outdoors since last March, even when other churches chose to return indoors. Similarly, the scientific community’s overwhelming consensus about the importance of masks means we will continue to require all persons on our campus, whether attending an indoor or outdoor service, to wear a properly fitting mask over mouth and nose.
Yet, the recommendations of the scientific community are not all negative or oppositional. For example, we now know much more about the effectiveness of mask wearing, good ventilation, and physical distancing in preventing the spread of the virus. These simple measures really do work, and where carefully observed, the spread of the virus has been exceptionally rare. This even includes moderate amounts of singing, which was once thought to be a super-spreader, but is now understood to be mitigated by masks and distance. Among the compelling new science, a group from MIT created a tool that analyzes the variables (e.g. size and height of the space; ventilation and circulation rates; mask-compliance; activity level) to recommend how many people could safely gather in a space and for how long. This tool has been extremely important in our discernment, and it ultimately has provided reassurance that we can welcome back limited numbers of congregants to indoor services. Ultimately, we feel confident about the safety of a congregation of 45, including a small amount of singing, given our protocols.
If we are careful and follow the simple, yet extremely effective, protocols, we can resume indoor worship safely. As more people are vaccinated, and infection rates gradually decline, we will slowly expand the size of our congregations, as well as reintroduce other facets of our communal life. We are not in a hurry, nor are we succumbing to pressure or exhaustion. This is a decision made with care, advised by science, in consultation with experts. Meanwhile, we will continue our virtual and outdoor offerings, to ensure those who are not yet ready to gather indoors have continued access to worship, formation, and fellowship. We have learned so much this past year, and for us to thrive in the future, we must hold fast to these new lessons and skills!
If you have questions, please be in touch. I remain grateful for the privilege of leading our church, and for your continued prayers as we make decisions of consequence. With the grace of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the love of Jesus embodied in one another, we will reach whatever new day awaits us at the end of this long, hard tunnel.