Dear Friends in Christ,
As we enter the dog days of summer, I thought pausing to reflect on where we are as a parish, and where we are going in the future would be a useful exercise. So much has changed, and yet, at its core, St. David’s continues to be a thriving, engaged community of believers.
Below are highlights and reflections on some of the myriad facets of our common life, as well as areas about which you may have concern.
Gathering for Public Worship
Recognizing that this is at the heart of our desire – to commune with God and one another in church at St. David’s – finding a way to do so is paramount. The vestry and I appointed a committee to articulate a plan for regathering and submitted it to the Diocese for approval, which we received. However, the Bishop’s response strongly suggests each parish listen carefully to local officials and plan accordingly. And, given the rising infection rates in Austin and the mayor’s recommendations, we have delayed our regathering plan at least until after Aug. 15.
One may wonder why St. David’s, as well as other Episcopal churches in the immediate Austin area, and other churches who are our closest neighbors, are moving so conservatively about reopening while other churches are opening now. Each church has its own context. Each has its own facility to consider.
For us, the reason is you. We love you. We want you to remain safe and healthy. Please know we want to distribute communion. But we want to do so in a low-risk environment. Based on the best medical advice available, including from our own medical professionals in our parish – we cannot do so now. The science is clear. Gathering in large groups to worship is one of the highest risk behaviors for infection. We will not willfully put anyone in that position.
This is a hard thing. It is hard on us all. Nonetheless, courage and fidelity often require us to do things we would rather not, and forego things we love. And we can do hard things. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
In the meantime, we are working out details for small neighborhood communion groups. Groups would be 10 or fewer people with whom you could meet outdoors for a very brief communion service. We are looking for hosts for these groups and building the groups virtually for now. We will offer communion to those groups as soon as it is safe. Watch for an email soon about how to participate in one of these small groups.
Once infection rates begin to drop, we will consider offering small, brief communion services at St. David’s—probably using the labyrinth, Bethell Hall, and the Historic Church.
One of the blessings of this time is it has allowed much of the work we need to do on the facility to take place while the building is essentially empty. Walls are being painted, gathering areas are being cleaned up, new wifi is being installed, and the work on the main elevator has begun. Also, the building committee has continued its work and plans on presenting conceptual drawings of renovations and repair before the end of 2020. Our sextons have all been working, and are doing so safely.
At the beginning of the pandemic is was clear that three sources of income were stopped: the Day School, Next-to-New, and Café Divine/Holy Grounds. This was going to put us in a tough financial spot. As soon the Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) applications were opened, our administrative staff and the Finance Committee submitted ours. We were thrilled to be approved, and we’ve received a forgivable loan to cover salaries and utilities for two months. This allowed us to keep everyone on the payroll and they are still.
Chief of Staff Fr. Chad, Parish Administrator Jim Lamm, and I are now working on retooling our staffing roles and responsibilities to make sure everyone has meaningful work to do. Obviously, we can’t do this indefinitely. However, with the School, N2N, and Hospitality resuming adapted operations, we are hopeful for the future.
The garage is mostly funded through annual contracts, and, so far, those contracts are still being honored. We are grateful for parishioner giving which has remained steady. Thank you all for your continued generosity to keep our critically needed ministries going.
Formation, Program, and Outreach Ministries
As soon as the pandemic hit, our ministry leaders immediately shifted online. Serendipitously, The Abbey at St. David’s had launched and we already had the technological infrastructure to offer online content. Teachers and leaders all rushed to learn how to host a Zoom call or do a Facebook Live event. It is amazing how well it has gone. Have you ever imagined doing formation with very young children online? Amanda and her team are doing it! How about coaching user after user on how to use Zoom or Facebook and unmute themselves and then mute themselves? All our teachers are doing so. It is amazing. We anticipate all formation and programmatic ministries will continue as virtual experiences well into the fall.
For several months all hospitality events were shut down. This has been deeply painful. Who among us hasn’t missed a cuppa from Holy Grounds or a delicious meal on Sunday or during the week from Chef Ray and his amazing crew. However, creativity abounds, and as I write this Café Divine has started curbside service. We can all now order our favorites from Holy Grounds and Café Divine and have them delivered to our car on the surface lot.
George Floyd and Black Lives Matter Protests
St. David’s has a well-established pattern of stepping out into the fray of political protests and offering the Love of Christ. We have done so with worship on the surface lot, giving out water, praying with protestors and, often, expressing our voices of support. When the protests addressing racial injustice started, we quickly began talking about how we were to respond. We found ourselves as a crucial and yet seemingly untenable crossroads.
On the one hand, we were helping battle the pandemic and counseling everyone to stay home, even canceling in-person worship. On the other hand, we were deeply concerned about the death of George Floyd and racial injustice, as well as the ongoing safety of working law enforcement and wanted to be present in the public expressions of concern. How to do both?
I confess, I never sorted out what we should do, and our church was shuttered and dark as people walked right by our doors. This feels wrong to most of us, so we have an active group of people who are discussing how we can be present in these crucial times while also recognizing we are still in the midst of a pandemic.
The ongoing work of racial reconciliation in our country is very important. St. David’s has had seasons of intense conversation about this in the past. It is clearly time for this to continue now.
The national Episcopal Church has an initiative called Becoming the Beloved Community. The program is designed to increase Episcopal parish, diocesan, and agency engagement in four primary fields: telling the truth about our churches and race, proclaiming the dream of Beloved Community, practicing Jesus’ way of healing and reconciliation, and repairing the breach in institutions and society.
Trinity closed for one week at the beginning of the pandemic. During that week they retooled everything, and opened again. Everything is different now. All meals are served outdoors in a carry-out style. Mail is delivered outside. Client-based work is done one on one, only a few neighbors inside a time, and only as long as needed to get the services they need. All staff are practicing social distancing, and wearing masks and gloves as necessary. The staff has also been tested several times, and all tests have come back negative. It is amazing how quickly they were able to adapt and offer services safely. Nothing is the same, no doubt, but our neighbors are being served and loved. I stand in awe of the Trinity Center staff and volunteers.
Once St. David’s received approval from the Bishop to implement our regathering plan, Next-to-New started making adaptations. They reopened five weeks ago. They did so with reduced hours and with all new protocols to keep customers, staff, and volunteers safe. They have opened with fewer volunteers than normal, as many of our volunteers are in high-risk categories.
St. David’s Day School
Leigh Moss is the new Head of School at St. David’s. She was hired after the pandemic lockdown began. Her first months of work were all online. Nonetheless, she was able to build relationships with the teachers and the parent and student population. Weeks ago, we were able to open for a small group of families. Many of these families are essential workers, or are single parent or two working-parent households. Again, major operational changes were required. The classes are small, and are isolated groups. So far, everything is working smoothly and our children are safe and happy. Enrollment is open and they may also add a kindergarten class if the need is there.
And last, but not least, as you read this, I am on vacation with Chris and Caroline. We are social distancing together in view of the ocean, and hope it will be restful and restorative. Fish may be caught as well. I am encouraging all of our staff to take vacations soon. They are an amazing group of people and have worked amazingly hard through this whole experience. They continue to work hard on summer and fall plans now.
It is vitally important for us all to take care of ourselves: to rest, and play, and pray. This is true for all of you as well. I pray each of you can find ways to care for yourselves. Often, that includes talking to and praying with a priest, so don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our clergy if that would be helpful.