COVID-19: Reengaging the Church Building

Indoor Holy Communion in-person worship services
are being held on-site at 10 AM on Sundays
+ + +
Looking forward to seeing you!
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Be safe.

Anne+ preaching, wearing mask
Preaching in the age of COVID-19

When at Holy Spirit, please follow mandated practices: bring and wear facial covering, and maintain 6-feet social distancing. If you arrive without a mask, we can provide one.

Michael Hanley, the Bishop of the Diocese of Oregon, has published guidelines for the reengaging of our church buildings. The quote below is from Bishop Michael’s Facebook page on May 22, 2020.

The Episcopal Diocese of Oregon will continue to follow our carefully considered guidelines concerning how we will worship. These will continue to be guided by the good advice of medical experts. My prayers to all congregational leaders.

May 21, 2020

Dear Good People of God,

Bishop Hanley has spent a great deal of his time in discernment and in consultation with other Episcopal bishops, church leaders in our state, the Governor, and clergy of this diocese. He has tried to determine how best to re-engage our church buildings and how that will come about “for the common good.” We (myself included) miss each other and we are eager to restore our community of faithful but this needs to be balanced with the issues of public safety and the transmission of this virus.

In recent weeks I have had numerous Zoom conference calls with clergy across the diocese and with Bishop Michael. These discussions were information gathering sessions as the Bishop listened to clergy express their hopes, fears, and reservations to the re-engaging of our church buildings as the counties move into Phase 1, and soon, transition to Phase 2, and later Phase 3.

On Monday, May 18th, Bishop Hanley sent out specific guidelines that require a detailed response and action plan of tasks to be completed. Specific details of this plan include (1) justifying in-person worship and meetings with vulnerable populations, (2) maintaining mandated precautions as indicated by the State of Oregon (such as 6ft social physical distancing, seating arrangements, the wearing of masks, signage), and (3) identifying how Holy Communion (Bread only) will be administered, (4) entering and exiting the church building safely while maintaining social distancing among others. Bishop Hanley has also mandated that all clergy submit to a COVID-19 test or an antibody test (preferred) to determine immunity before providing in-person worship and gatherings. This detailed application to re-engage our church building will be approved by Bishop Hanley. Only then can Holy Spirit welcome a return of the faithful to cross the church’s threshold.

As your Vicar, I have consulted with the Bishops Advisory Committee and clergy of small family size churches in our diocese. I have reviewed the County and State mandated expectations and precautions. I have consulted with the Senior Warden, the Altar Guild, and with the Sexton to determine if the building can be ready and will meet all the requirements set forth in Bishop Hanley’s lengthy guidelines. With all this advice and information, and provided our action plan is approved, I anticipate a slow cautious and methodical re-engaging of our building. The guiding principle is to maintain safety for all understanding that our congregation meets the designation of “vulnerable population” as set by the criteria given by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

At this time, there will be a number of changes that will take place. The sanctuary will look very different and there will be new protocols that will need to be followed. What I can tell you is that our first in-person gathering will occur the first Sunday following the beginning of Phase 2 in Douglas County. This anticipated date is June 7th. In the application I have detailed that Holy Spirit will provide two (2) Daily Office Morning Prayer Services Rite I (June 7 and June 14) followed by Holy Eucharist beginning Sunday, June 21st. Starting with Morning Prayer will allow for the members to become reacquainted with one another and become acquainted with how I choose to engage in meaningful worship at our church. Our June Newsletter will have more details. I encourage you to read it thoroughly. At the time of writing this letter, the start date of June 7th is tentative pending the approval of Holy Spirit’s application by Bishop Hanley.

Love is one of the Christian virtues. The Gospels portray Jesus loving others in all circumstances. This love includes our love for one another. In this perilous uncertain time as churches re-engage in-person worship, the love we have for one another must include discerning safety for all. Since this parish meets the CDC guidelines with the recommendation that individuals of vulnerable populations remain home, members are encouraged to consider one’s personal safety and physical well-being within the context of being at church. If you feel unwell, please remain home. If you should become sick during a in-person gathering, please leave, self-isolate, and if need be, seek medical attention.

Should you choose to remain home I have included the Service of Spiritual Communion for your spiritual edification and use during this time.

For the immediate future, pastoral visits and Holy Communion services offered at Linus Oakes Retirement Community will continue to be suspended.

In the days and weeks ahead, there is much to do. While the church building continues to be readied for in-person worship, I will be communicating with members of the various ministries to review changes and details that will allow for a safe and meaningful experience as we welcome each of you back to Holy Spirit.

I am working with Donna to publish the June Newsletter before June 1st so that you have time to digest all the changes. After receiving your newsletter, and if you have questions, please contact me via email or via phone leaving a voice mail message. I know you have questions.

I will work with Cheryl who will contact each member via phone the week prior to our first service with a short list of expectations, including reminding members what items to bring to church with you.

Please bear in mind that all this work has been carefully thought out and prayed over as your Vicar struggled with what to do. I can say that as we move forward, unforeseen challenges may present themselves that will require additional changes. It is possible that as the COVID-19 situation changes, and as Douglas County moves from Phase 2 into Phase 3 and beyond, if there is an increase in the number of cases, we may need to move back to more stringent containment measures. This would certainly be the case if there is a second or a third wave of infections.

Lastly, again I want to remind you that opening our church is dependent upon Bishop Michael’s approval. I feel confident that I have set in place processes that will keep everyone safe and have taken steps to lessen the transmission of the virus.

Peace and Grace,

Rev. Anne Abdy
Vicar of Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, Sutherlin,OR