Dear Parish Family,

We are in the midst of difficult and challenging times. I’ve been so impressed with your courage, your love, your patience. You are a truly remarkable parish! You live out of faith, not fear, and encourage one another to be their best. Thank you.

A couple of weeks ago you received a video with me describing our plan to regather in one space. Or as Bishop Doyle states it “imagining regathering.”
I’ve heard from some that they did not see the video so this email is a repeat and an update of the information previously shared.
First of all, I miss you. 

I miss seeing your smiling face. I miss hugging you. I miss worshipping in person with you. You remain in my thoughts and prayers. If there is anything that I can do for you, please ask.

Secondly, all of our decisions are being informed by recommended guidelines, from the CDC, government, and our Diocese. In addition to guidelines we are taking our cues out of our love for each other, and thus out of an abundance of caution. Your health and safety come first. 

Having said that, the timing of our regathering remains fluid. So much depends upon the unknown. State authorities said that it may take 3-4 weeks to see the results of policy change such as the reopening of Texas. How will that impact the case numbers? Overall, Bell County has had too many cases and yet relatively few compared to other counties. We had seen an encouraging decrease in cases, including 3 days of only 1 per day until yesterday when the numbers went up again to 8.   As much as we want to see your beautiful faces in the pews, love for our neighbor and ourselves, in the form of safety, comes first.

Please know that whenever we regather, we will continue to livestream our services. Even before we had heard the word “COVID-19” we had ordered a camera and system to better livestream. While the pandemic has slowed the process down, in the next few weeks our system should be up and running. This will allow for better sound, more angels, and zoom capabilities. I can’t see any reason to ever not livestream again. By doing this, everyone can feel comfortable deciding when to worship in the church on their own time.

When we begin to regather many things will need to happen. For instance, we will need to maintain social distancing. Therefore, space will be limited. We may need to add services. To better understand our needs, we may need to ask for reservations so that we can space folks out. Masks must be worn. Doors will be propped open. Offering plates will not be passed but will be located near doors. Books will be taken out of the pews, and we will use one time use bulletins only. Certainly our cleaning protocols will need to be updated as our building will need to be thoroughly cleaned after each service. We might even begin to worship in the Parish Hall for ease of cleaning and greater flexibility of space. 

The details for regathering are numerous and complicated. However, I believe that we have a strong plan. In order to be timely, we will send out the details as get closer to regathering. 

We will not immediately return to the way things were in February.  It took us awhile to get to this point, it will take us a bit to get to our new normal. For instance, we will continue with Morning Prayer for a while.  Until we can see the majority of our congregation back in the pews, I do not want make folks to feel they have to attend church to receive the sacrament, against their better judgment. Plus, with social distancing and cleanliness issues, the logistics of Communion would be difficult. We will start slowly, gradually adding elements as the virus is contained. Imagine our current service with limited folks in the pews. One of the guidelines that has just been handed down, based upon updated research, is that there will be no congregational singing. Singing, like sneezing, pushes the droplets of virus out into the air compromising social distancing. If you’re like me, this is very sad news. On the other hand, I will gladly give up singing in church if it will keep you safe. Remember, this is only temporary – it too shall pass. 

Again, our timing is extremely fluid. But as Texas and the country begin to reopen, remember that we were never closed. We are just looking at new ways to love each other, to know Christ and to make him known. 
In closing, as we move closer to our regathering date, we will continue to keep you updated. Thank you for your prayers, your comments on Facebook, your showing love by sheltering at home, your continued offerings. Please know that your thoughts, suggestions, ideas are always welcome. Feel free to contact me via phone, text, or email.

I am reminded of one of the movies we watched during P.J.’s and Popcorn in the Pews – How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Remember how the Grinch decides to steal Christmas, all of Whoville’s wreaths, their trees, presents and stockings and toys, why he even took the roast beast? And yet, the Who down in Whoville celebrated Christmas just the same. Maybe we can worship together, without singing, without acolytes, without hugging, because we really do have all that we need. Love. Love for each other, and the love of God. 

“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” 
Colossians 3:14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Let us pray,
God of the present moment, God who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart; bring hope and courage to us as we wait in uncertainty. Bring hope that you will make us the equal of whatever lies ahead. Bring us courage to endure what cannot be avoided, for your will is health and wholeness; you are God, and we need you. Amen.

See you Sunday – live-streaming on Facebook at 9:30!
With love and prayers,Janice+