I pray this finds you well and weathering the COVID-19 storm as best you can.
Initially, I think most people thought we would worship online for a while and then, somehow, get “back to normal”. We dashed about, learning how to provide virtual worship, pastoral care, formation, and community online. I am overwhelmed at how successful that has been! We have seen the hand of the Holy Spirit at work in all of those areas. Our volunteers and staff have done amazing feats, as we have leapt over the digital divide.
As time went on, we learned more about COVID-19, its spread, and its impact in the world. Now, we are all coming to the same conclusion. There is no “back to normal”, at least not any time soon. Instead, we are figuring out a new “normal”, and building new patterns of worship, service, and community. Certainly, we look forward to opening the church building and all of her operations to their full capacity someday. But what we know is that this will not happen overnight. There won’t be a hard date when we fling her doors wide and say, “everyone come on in!”. Instead, we will take a slow, measured, phased approach; responding to the conditions around us, infection rates, and the ongoing needs of our community.
Since that is the case, there are several things I would like to address.
Online Worship. As I said, I am overwhelmed at how quickly we learned how to do this and how well it has gone. You all have been amazingly supportive, even with the bumps and stops and starts we have experienced. Nonetheless, we acknowledge that since we are going to be doing this for the foreseeable future, we have some technical issues to address. I have put together a task force of staff and parishioners to identify and facilitate solutions to these issues, with the vestry’s approval. Please know that we are committed to making online worship a permanent part of the future of St. David’s. To do it regularly and well will require new equipment and protocols.
Reopening St. David’s. Bishop Doyle has released a new set of guidelines about how each worshiping community in the diocese will reopen. It is a four-staged plan, adapting to the realities of the virus in various communities. Each congregation must write its own reopening plan and have that plan approved by the Diocese. This week the vestry and I appointed a Reopening Task Force to address our reopening from a wholistic and strategic approach. Each parish entity of St. David’s will have its own step-by-step reopening plan.
- The Day School will follow state and city regulations about childcare centers, as well as the Diocese, and respond to the needs of the families in our community.
- Trinity Center continues to serve our homeless community, although in a much more limited form than normal. They will have their own reopening plan, again, complying with city and Diocesan requirements.
- Next-to-New is working on its own plan as well, complying with new state and city requirements for retail, and protecting staff and customers alike.
- Hospitality, Café Divine, and Holy Grounds will follow the rules for food establishments, beginning with curbside delivery and then expanding, as it’s safe and in compliance with appropriate guidelines.
There are also very clear stages we will follow as we begin allowing people back in the church for worship. We anticipate expanding slowly, adding more liturgies in both the Historic Church and Bethell Hall, as we have more people who want to come to public worship. This applies to our formation and service groups as well. In the meantime, formation groups will all continue to meet online. Again, the Diocese has provided very specific guidelines about how all of this will work.
Please know this – your health is paramount to us all. None of us want to have someone get sick because they came to church. Therefore, I will insist that we move slowly and deliberately, in consultation with the vestry, with our Diocese, and with other downtown churches in Austin.
As we make decisions we will communicate often and openly.
In the meantime, I invite you to do what you are already doing. Love God. Serve your neighbor. Serve them by staying at home. Call each other. Text. Write letters. Reach out. Tell the truth when you are scared or sad. Identify and celebrate the gifts that come from a crisis like this. Give freely to the church, and to the other things you care about. Pray often. And finally, let us know if you need an ear, shoulder, or a hand up. We love you all.