What is the status of worshipping indoors and in-person at the church?
The answer to this question is, sadly, unknown. There are two areas of clarification that need to go with this answer. One concerning the laws and executive orders of the Commonwealth and one concerning the Diocesan directives.
Firstly, let us look at the new directives from the Governor of Virginia. On November 13, Governor Northam issued a retightening of in-person gatherings after reviewing the increased caseload in Virginia. He qualified his orders by stating that Virginia is in better shape than many parts of the country but that he was taking his actions preemptively. Therefore, he was limiting public gatherings to 25 people, instituting a mask mandate for anyone five years of age and older at indoor gatherings, and the marking of six feet of distance between stationary persons. The full impact of the order was summarized by Bishop Goff at her Bishop’s Clergy call on Tuesday, November 17, 2020.
Under the Commonwealth, Fairfax County has not yet met the health markers by which the Bishop would approve regathering, that hurdle is for a medical district record less than 5.5 new cases per day per 100,000 people. About two weeks ago that measure was 7.4 in Fairfax County. That measure has increased to 17.8 new cases per 100,000 population today. Certainly, Fairfax County has not been the worst-case area for COVID-19 infections, but safety has been the guiding principle for the Health Department Officials. Consequently, public schools have halted adding new cohorts to their in-person classes, restaurants, and grocery stores are tightening their disciplines.
In regard to the Diocesan directives, the Bishop is still calling for caution. Only a limited number of churches are in health districts which have met the criteria for in-person worship, which is, admittedly, a high bar but is part of a caution which the Bishop has maintained since the onset of the Pandemic. Moving forward, it should be acknowledged that the Governor has allowed for churches to have up to 250 people gather and is extending that guidance into the current restrictions. The Diocese of Virginia has been more cautious and in this time, even those churches that have been approved for in-person worship are limited to 25 persons gathering in their space.
St. Francis has developed a plan to be presented for approval to regather when the health makers meet the diocesan guidelines. That plan is being reviewed by the regional dean for advice and updating before submitting it to the Diocese. During the interim, while we wait for safer conditions, the Church will continue to worship and pastor via Zoom meeting, pastor in ways that keep the pastored safe, continue with Christian Formation via the internet, and support our Outreach ministry partners financially and with in-kind donations so they may continue to serve the least in this community.
Photo by Carol Harrison all rights reserved