Updated October 20, 2021.
When two of our beloved parishioners -- a married couple, both fully vaccinated -- were diagnosed with COVID-19 last week, it became clearer that we are not yet out of the woods. I appreciate all your prayers for them, and they tell me that while they feel awful, they are on the mend.
In the summertime, we were hopeful that an ever-increasing vaccination rate would prevent us from having to bother with complicated registration and contact tracing procedures. But the Delta variant has definitely thrown a wrench into things.
For the time being, we are adding one safety precaution to our 10:30 service: Everyone who comes to worship must sign in at the door with their name and phone number. This includes all staff and service ministers, no matter how early you arrive: be sure to sign in with an usher. (There's no need for any pre-registration.)
In the event that another case of COVID-19 appears in someone who has recently attended worship, we will then be able to reach out directly to all those who were present with them. We see this as a small and important response to our current situation.
Our vaccinations make us less likely to get sick, and they make us at least somewhat less likely to spread the virus to others. But they do not stop any of us from carrying the virus completely.
The full version of our safety protocols is available through Parishioner Resources, the link to which can be accessed in the body of every issue of the Shepherd's Crook. If you don't currently subscribe, you can do so here. You can go hunt that down, but maybe you feel you just need the highlights at this point.
The vaccination rate of Good Shepherd parishioners is over 90%, and many of our older members are now receiving booster shots. We also look forward to the possibility of vaccinations for children ages 5-11. We are hopeful that these two factors, combined with a drop in COVID cases locally, will enable us to change these safety procedures soon and give us more options.
Guiding Factors for Risk Assessment and Establishment of Safety Protocols
- It is possible, though unlikely, for fully vaccinated people to get sick from COVID-19. It is also possible, especially with the Delta variant among us, for vaccinated people to spread the virus to others. The safety measures we implement for in-person worship are primarily to help protect the unvaccinated from one another, but secondarily they protect all of us from possible illness.
- Good Shepherd is not a private club. While our committee meetings may be closed events with a predictable group of attendees, we always expect to meet newcomers on Sunday mornings when we worship. People who are unfamiliar with our people and our practices must be treated with the utmost hospitality and gentleness, but also with clear boundaries. Some of our safety measures will seem off-putting to some people, so the need for hospitality and gentleness is all the greater. It's the responsibility of the whole congregation to set healthy boundaries while practicing unconditional regard for everyone we meet.
What to Expect on a Sunday Morning
- The 8:00 service is online only for now. This is simply because we don't yet have enough folks who can run tech to make a hybrid service possible. We hope this can change.
- Zoom participation continues at both the 8:00 and 10:30 services. The Zoom links are available through the Parishioner Resources link available by subscribing to our weekly email. Both services also livestream on Facebook.
- For the time being, we have a "vaccinated section" and a "distanced section" in our worship space. There is no "unvaccinated section," because anybody may sit in the distanced section provided they maintain social distance within it. (On balance, we decided it is more inclusive to provide options for the vaccinated to sit closer to one another, so that more parishioners can return to in-person worship.)
- Masks are absolutely required for everyone in Sunday worship, vaccinated or not. Your mask must cover both your mouth and your nose; if not, you are not considered to be wearing a mask. You may feel that this is overkill, but remember two things: (1) Singing is central to our 10:30 worship and spreads the virus more easily. (2) While our vaccination status makes unavoidable biological distinctions among us, it is our job to minimize other distinctions so we can worship as a single congregation without "second-class" members. Even if masks only served as a mark of solidarity, this would be worth it.
- There are no requirements for pre-registration, waivers, or proof of vaccination.
- Please make sure before you arrive that neither you nor anybody else in your household has a fever or other symptoms of illness.
- When you arrive, you will need to sign in with your name and phone number, and you'll be asked whether you prefer to sit in the vaccinated or the distanced section.
- The vaccinated section begins at the back of the nave going forward.
- The distanced section is toward the front, where more spacing is provided.
- Anyone who prefers to keep distance, vaccinated or not, may sit in the distanced section. One of the benefits this provides is to diminish the distinction between those who are vaccinated and those who are not.
- Hand sanitizer is generously available, though we understand that touch is not a way the coronavirus typically spreads. The most important times to use it are before and after receiving Holy Communion.
- Singing is permitted, but we all remain masked. Those who are not yet vaccinated may sing only if they are wearing a three-layer cloth mask or surgical mask ... but we may all enjoy the music. Remember that unvaccinated people singing present the biggest risk for virus spread in our public worship.
- When we pass the Peace, we will not shake hands, hug, or touch in any other ways. We can still be warm and welcoming, but we must not be cliquish or exclusive of those who are not yet vaccinated.
- Announcements now take place after worship is concluded and the livestream ends.
- Holy Communion is taking place in modified form. The priest consecrates both bread and wine but is the only one to drink the wine. Those who receive only the bread have received Communion in the fullest sense; this has always been our theological understanding.
- The priest places consecrated wafers on a table placed in the center aisle. Gluten-free wafers are available as well, in the ceramic container placed in the center of the table.
- Godly Play and Childcare are on hiatus until young children can be vaccinated. All ages are welcome in church at all times -- and that is nothing new!
- Online worship continues on Zoom for those not attending in person. After the livestream ends, the priest and congregation can see Zoom participants on the projector screen and are able to interact with them.
- Our office hours are Mondays through Fridays, 9:00 to 12:30. Everyone who enters the building must wear a mask until it can be established that everybody present is fully vaccinated and does not mind others going maskless.
- Our weekday Bible study has resumed on Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. It is held in Seaman Hall because that is a larger room. The group has decided that if everybody present is fully vaccinated, nobody needs to feel pressured to wear a mask. The same applies to vestry meetings. Both groups are having success with hybrid attendance (in person and on Zoom).
- All ministry committees are invited to consider whether your work will be best accomplished in person, or continuing on Zoom, or in hybrid form.
- Smaller rooms with poorer ventilation include the Sacristy, Vesting Room, Prayer Shawl Room, Copier Room, and the portables. Please be careful in these spaces and don't allow many people to collect in there. We are also asking that each restroom contain members of only one household at a time.
- Small groups meeting in person are encouraged to meet in the largest space available. If everybody present is vaccinated, the group may decide not to wear masks, but they must gracefully defer to the most cautious person in the room. Remember to book space for your meetings through Parish Administrator Evan Hershman. This includes Zoom meetings; we are considering the Zoom room to be one of our available "spaces" from now on.
If you still have questions, please let me know. Blessings!
- Pastor Josh