Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Many in the congregation are asking, “when will the doors of Christ Episcopal Church reopen for public worship?” The answer is June 7, 2020, at least for now. To be very clear: reopening could be delayed by weeks or even months! When open CEC might need to re-close should it be necessary! The live streaming of the Sunday service will continue.
Reopening the church requires reaching several benchmarks. Also, a complex and thorough plan must be designed. Bishop Doyle requires each parish, in the Diocese of Texas, to develop a reopening plan. The plan must follow specific guidelines set forth by the Bishop. Once developed, it needs the approval of the regional bishop: Bishop Ryan.
The reopening will take place in four phases. Bishop Doyle states: “For our purposes phase I is oriented around the work of slowing the spread [of the virus]. Phase II includes lifting of “stay home – work safe” protocols while still prohibiting large groups. Phase III is about returning to work and a regularity of public life. Phase IV is the work of preparing for future pandemics.”
According to Bishop Doyle's guidelines, CEC is in Phase I (Civil governments may be ‘reopening’ areas under their jurisdiction, but the Bishop Diocesan has ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the Episcopal churches of the diocese). Before executing the approved reopening plan, the town and or county where a church is located must be in Phase II.
What are the Phase II benchmarks?
According to the Diocese Phase II will look like:
"-There is a sustained reduction in cases [of COVID-19] for at least 14 days.
-Local hospitals are safely able to treat all patients requiring hospitalization without resorting to crisis standards of care.
-The city or state is testing all people with COVID-19 symptoms (though recommended by all epidemiologists, this is unlikely to happen due to differences in government vs
-The state is able to conduct active monitoring of confirmed cases and their contacts.
-Case-Based Interventions are implemented, including quarantine while waiting for results, traced relationships over 14 days, and quarantine for close contacts, accompanied.”
(Church Imagined Gathering, By The Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle)
Only when these benchmarks are reached, will the approved plan for reopening go into effect. Please note, many of the parameters are regionally dependent. Therefore, not all Episcopal churches across the Diocese of Texas will open on the same Sunday. Churches will begin opening when the local criteria and Bishop allows them to open.
The planing is underway at Christ Episcopal Church. I, the Vestry, and staff are working together, planning a safe reopening.
The following requirements drive the shape of our plan. Our plan must:
1. Receive permission from the regional bishop.
2. Encourage staff or community members to protect their personal health.
3. Post the signs and symptoms of COVID-19: fever, cough, shortness of breath.
4. Clergy and church employees will be tested for COVID-19, with negative results, if such testing is required by local civic leaders.
5. People will be required to wear fabric non-medical face masks while in the community (church buildings) to reduce their risk of asymptomatic spread.
6. Clean surfaces that are frequently touched- such as shared desks, countertops, kitchen areas, electronics, and doorknobs.
7. Limit events and meetings that require close contact. In worship this means:
A. No sharing of the common cup.
B. No physical touch during the passing of the Peace.
8. Stay up to date on developments in your community.
9. Create an emergency plan for possible outbreak. You will need to close if someone contracts COVID-19. And, participants with proximity to the individual who is sick will have to be quarantined. Surfaces will have to be cleaned by an outside contractor.
10. Assess which community members are at higher risk and plan accordingly. We would advise that vulnerable populations of individuals “older than age 60 and those with compromised immune systems or compromised lung and heart function, should continue to engage in physical distancing as much as possible until a vaccine is available, an effective treatment is available, or there is no longer community transmission.”
11. Ask those who are sick to stay home and seek testing for COVID-19. Testing should become more widespread and routine. We will want to pray for them and follow up ensuring safe distancing and 14-day protocols prior to reentering offices and gatherings.
12. Each congregation will need to receive permission from the regional bishop to reopen the office and to regather for bible study or worship. Permission during phase III will also need to be sought to restart service ministries. (ibid)
Please be patient and flexible. If the benchmarks begin to deteriorate or there is an outbreak, within the congregation, the church will re-close. Then the church will reopen as circumstances permit.
Why are we following such elaborate requirements? We are doing so because Christ commanded us to love one another.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
(John 13:34–35 NRSV) https://accordance.bible/link/read/NRSVS#John_13:34
Reducing the spread of the SARS-COV-2 virus is one way the parishioners of CEC share the love of Christ.
I will do my best to keep you all informed about the plan to reopen the church and any delays opening.
The Rev. Robert K. Chambers