Dean Letter: Regathering Update

Hello St. Pauls,

It’s almost a year since the pandemic became the dominant force in our lives and we were forced to close the doors of the Cathedral. In these twelve months we have discovered new depths of adaptability and resilience. We have created new ways to be a community and to support one another. We have lived into the reality that church is not a building but a group of people called to pray, celebrate, grieve, and work together for the Kingdom of God. I suspect that you have had moments, as I have, of wondering if we will ever get to be together again; if we will ever get to sing in a group, receive Communion, greet each other at the Peace, and enjoy those glorious acoustics.

I want to assure you that we will, and I am confident that the worst is behind us. Most of our over-65’s have now received at least a first vaccination, and the case numbers are slowing down. We are actively preparing for our gradual return to in-person worship, while of course planning to continue offering online options for those who are not able or willing to return to the cathedral campus.

Back in April, the Bishop asked all clergy of the diocese to create regathering task forces in our parishes. She provided us with a checklist of safety precautions that would accompany any in-person worship, and she issued guidelines that conformed with the county’s restrictions. We have been conscientious about following her lead, and even when the state supreme court decreed that a ban on indoor worship was not enforceable, Bishop Susan maintained her position that Episcopal congregations would not hold indoor events until the science indicated that it was safe.

Our regathering task force consists of staff, medical professionals, and safety personnel. We meet every other week to check in on new developments and consider whether we should adjust our operations. It’s been a story of two steps forward, one step back. As you know, in October we started holding a short outdoor prayer service on Thursday evenings in Beth Israel Park. We had a plan to introduce Communion at that service but then the case numbers exploded and restrictions were tightened. Now we are back to thinking about that outdoor service again, and we hope to resume as the spring weather improves and the days lengthen, but with the additional planning and programming for Lent our staff haven’t yet found the bandwidth to resume the services.

We have several sets of plans awaiting the right time for implementation, both macro and micro. All plans assume that everyone is masked and socially distanced. Gloves will be used by the leaders. For all in-person events there will be a checkpoint before entering the facility, where we will take temperatures and ask a couple of questions about your health.  When we start offering Communion, we will use a gadget fondly known as “the giant Pez dispenser”; it holds about 50 wafers which can be dispensed one at a time, untouched by human hand. The presider will bless the wafers in the dispenser and also bless a very small amount of wine. When it’s time to administer Communion, the wafers will be dispensed into individual disposable cups on a tray; the tray will be either placed where people can come up to take a cup or a Eucharistic minister will walk around and offer the tray at arm’s length. A single representative of the congregation will consume the wine.

When we are permitted to hold indoor services, we will reintroduce the 10:30 choral service with caution. It’s possible that we may ask for reservations. There will be a strict limit on the number of attendees and a 30 minute limit on gathering in a single space. We will start the service in the Great Hall, watching the prerecorded Morning Prayer service on the big screen through the sermon. Then we will move to the cathedral for the Nicene Creed, prayers, and Communion, which will follow the procedure I just outlined. This part of the service will be live streamed. As restrictions ease we will be able to reintroduce the choir, hold the entire service in the nave, and eventually receive Communion in both kinds. At this early stage all other offerings will still be online only.

The next in-person service to be reintroduced will be the Spanish language service, using similar procedures for Communion.

My hope is that by the end of 2021 we will be able to return to a full schedule of Sunday activities as follows:

The 8 am service will continue to be a Morning Prayer service, with sermon, on Zoom.

The 9 am adult forum will be an in-person event with a live stream that allows remote viewers to participate.

The 10:30 am service will be a livestreamed full Choral Eucharist service.

We will have a Zoom coffee hour for those who have watched remotely.

The 1:00 Spanish service will be in person with live stream.

5:00 Evensong will return to the way it was before the pandemic, in-person and live streamed.

You’ll notice that the focus is on worship and Sunday events: we will plan for the reintroduction of other groups and activities in coordination with the leaders of those ministries.

Someone recently asked me if we were still asking over-65’s to think twice before attending worship in person. With the vaccine now widely distributed, we can focus less on age and more on inviting you to pay attention to your own health and possible underlying conditions. Remember that the vaccine doesn’t reach full effectiveness until about 3 weeks after the second dose; and that it is not 100% effective at preventing infection; so precautions are still important.

The task force is also considering ways to make the cathedral environment as clean and safe as possible. We have invested in cleaning equipment that will make it easy to sanitize the nave, bathrooms, and all the spaces we use, and Martin Green and Bob Oslie are researching ways to improve ventilation.

I wish I could give you a timeline for all these steps, but it all depends on the progress of the pandemic and the recommendations of the government, as well as our overriding desire to protect all our Cathedral family.

Finally, I’m delighted to share with you that our Bishop has expressed a desire to offer baptism and confirmation for the Easter Vigil. This will be filmed outdoors in advance of the Vigil itself, probably on March 27, and the Great Vigil service will be prerecorded and broadcast on Easter Eve as usual. Please contact me, Jeff, or Brooks, if you’d like more information about being baptized, confirmed, received, or reaffirmed.

Don’t forget to stop by the Cathedral on Saturday morning to pick up your ashes.

See you on Sunday!

Your sister in Christ,
Penny

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2 thoughts on “Dean Letter: Regathering Update”

  1. As of now congregational and choral singing or reciting is not permitted. If and when we are given guidelines for how to do it safely, we will be eager to sing together again!

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