Will we ever worship in person again and when will that be? Yes, we will worship in person, again, but we do not yet have a date.
Yesterday, Bishop Susan gathered the elected leadership of the diocese together over Zoom to discuss this very topic. She has heard the longing in our voices, she feels the desires of our hearts, and she knows the strength of our communities. At the same time, conditions are such that it would still be unsafe for us to gather and it would be more complicated to gather as we did before the directive of the Bishop.
Here are some things that are being reviewed. First, the Governor’s directive for the commonwealth. In his briefing yesterday, Governor Northam talked about the need to see declines in new COVID-19 cases for fourteen consecutive days. What is being looked for is a strong trend line in declines of new cases, a one-day increase will not interrupt a trend-line completely, but the trend must be clear. At that point, the Governor will begin relaxing the prohibitions. This will not be a situation where a switch is flipped to return everything to the pre-pandemic normal. It will be a measured reintroduction of goods and services.
Second, the same will be true for our congregations. There will not be an immediate return to the conditions that governed before the restrictions placed on our churches by the bishop. Here are some things we know about how the pandemic will impact our churches. Ours are an older demographic. According to national statistics, 91% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States are centered in the age demographic of 55 years old and older. This is sobering and means that the Diocese of Virginia will need to move forward with care. Additionally, we also know from the work of John’s Hopkins that churches, especially where music is sung, either congregationally or by choir, have been super-spreaders. This additional information will be part of the process which informs us about our gathering again.
Bishop Susan gathered the elective leaders of the Diocese to begin planning for in-person worship again. She would like to develop a process in consultation with the leaders and congregations. That process will be tailored to the conditions of an individual parish while considering best health practices available, accounting for such things as social distancing and the vitality added to churches through online worshipping.
As is evident by Bishop Susan’s discussion and the input of the attendees of that meeting, this will have to be a process. The longings of our hearts are real. The need for pastoral sensitivity and care are also real. Church is something where gathering and sharing in-person are deeply apart of what we do. To do so without fear and concern is also important. We at St. Francis and the Diocese are working toward that reality—being God’s people in community and unity.