The Art of Practicing our Faith in the Shadow of COVID-19: Next Steps on the Way Forward in the Diocese of North Carolina
As we look forward to the day when we can think about being
able to gather in person again, a committee consisting of clergy and lay
volunteers from across the Diocese of North Carolina has formed to address the
myriad considerations associated with that day. The Task Force for Next Steps
is in the process of preparing detailed written guidelines to assist our 120
worshipping communities, direct services and ministry partners in navigating
the changing course of the current pandemic, the impact of which is far from
The governor of North Carolina has announced a phased
approach to the state’s reopening of public spaces, social gatherings and
commercial enterprises in our various, multifaceted communities. The governor
has announced that the state’s determinations will be guided by the
availability and reliability of testing, the feasibility of tracing and
tracking contacts with COVID-19 and improved methods for collecting data, all
according to the best information from the medical and public safety professionals.
It is easy to see that worship gatherings and other gatherings in buildings, and even in open spaces, will present some special and even unique challenges. The more people involved, the greater the number of challenges. Everything from rethinking bulletins, to cleaning surfaces between services, to adjusting how we sing in worship will need to be considered as we develop new operating procedures while the pandemic, and the accompanying adjustments to life, continue to ebb and flow across borders and over seasons of the year.
The leadership of the Diocese will continue to respect, honor and appreciate the orders, directions and recommendations of our local and state officials. The Rt. Rev. Sam Rodman, in consultation with the task force, will define when and under what conditions and rubrics public worship and other gatherings will be conducted in our Episcopal buildings.
Currently, the previous directive of March 17, 2020 remains in place, and gathering in our church buildings remains suspended until at least May 17. When restrictions are changed, it will be a matter of cautiously loosening the liturgical restrictions and gradually expanding the number of people allowed to assemble while still maintaining physical distancing.
The ability to gather in limited numbers should been seen as the building back in of in-person worship to the worship practices established over the last weeks. It must be remembered that while we were under orders to shelter at home, worship never stopped, nor did bible studies, coffee hours, pastoral care, vestry meetings and more. We have started to learn – and should continue to learn – to sing the Lord’s song in this new landscape! The leadership of the Diocese, lay and ordained, believe our worship communities should maintain online options for worship, formation and socializing for at least the foreseeable future, as it is likely to remain unadvisable for a significant percentage of our members to return to public worship until there is vaccine against the virus.
Worship is not the only area in which the task force is working. There are six specific areas in which considerations are being addressed:
- All things Sunday morning: worship, formation, nursery, acolytes, altar guild, etc.
- Pastoral care and pastoral services: baptisms, weddings, funerals, unction, lay Eucharistic visitors, etc.
- Outreach, direct services and schools
- Other organizations and meetings: Bible studies, vestry meetings and groups that use our buildings such a 12-step programs, etc.
- Protection, equipment, safe practices and prevention: equipment such as masks, and protocols for tracking participants in case there is a possible exposure, cleaning supplies.
- Advocacy: giving witness, where necessary, on behalf of vulnerable members of our community such as bus drivers, frontline medical workers, farmworkers, meatpackers, people without access to health insurance, homeless, supermarket and food delivery employees.
The first draft report of the task force will be submitted by Monday, May 4. The goal is to have the final document prepared before the current directive expires on May 17.
As we look toward the coming weeks, please remember that just as it has in recent weeks, we are taking this one step at a time, one day at a time to do our best to remain in vibrant, beloved community while keeping each other and our neighbors safe. We will continue to share information as much as possible, all the while knowing we will have to adjust as our ongoing “new normal” develops.
But adjust we will, just as we have, because our beloved community remains strong, and it will continue to grow.
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