A team, called Regather, was formed in May to address questions, concerns, and solutions for how St. Martin’s will handle the coming months in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. This document addresses strategies and questions about when and how we’ll regather and will be modified as new information becomes available. We welcome your questions! Reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although some businesses and churches are allowed to open, we in the Episcopal Church have decided to take a careful and conservative approach, to keep our parishioners and staff safe and healthy. The medical and scientific communities expect the pandemic will last 12-18 months. That’s a daunting thought. But know that with God’s help, we will be strengthened by this experience.
The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth has laid out a phased-approach plan for our congregations to follow. A phased approach provides a vision for imagining our future, helping everyone understand the reality of our situation, and beginning to put into place adaptive missions options. The protocols are guided by reliable information on developments in public health and science. Following the Diocese guidelines, here is a summary of St. Martin’s Regathering Plan:
Phase I: Stay at home, work safe
- This is where we are now
- Helps to stop the spread and flatten the curve
- Helps keep hospitals, staff and supplies from being overloaded
- Tests are not yet widely available
- Without an available vaccine, more people are at risk
- Practice physical distancing
- Wear masks or other PPE as appropriate when out and around others
- No in-person worship
- Participation in online worship & video conferencing
Phase II: Strategic return of some services
- We’ll begin Phase II when:
- There is a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days
- Hospitals are able to adequately care for those infected
- Widespread testing is available
- Church offices may open on a limited basis with Bishop approval
- Small worship and other gatherings may resume with physical distancing and other health protocols in place with Bishop approval
- The number of services and limitations and the number of people at each service will be discerned as needed
- Changes to Sunday School protocols will be implemented following guidelines for children’s safety
- Nursery will be closed for the time being
- Virtual worship will continue for those who must stay or prefer to stay home
It is possible that after regathering, a person may expose the congregation to the COVID-19 virus. If that happens, those gathered will be asked to return to a 14-day quarantine period and St. Martin’s may have to return to virtual worship during that period. It is also possible that after regathering, the City of Keller/Southlake may re-institute Phase I “stay at home” restrictions. If that happens, St. Martin’s will return to virtual worship until our city or town returns to conditions appropriate to re-enter Phase II.
Phase III: Increased in-person gatherings
- We’ll begin Phase III when:
- There is negative community spread
- Mass/Global vaccinations are available
- Mass/Global testing for the virus and for immunity is available
- Lifting of physical distancing guidelines becomes appropriate
- Church offices reopen with Bishop approval
- Increased gatherings for worship & meetings resume with Bishop approval
- Virtual worship will continue
Q & A
We know that you have lots of questions. We have some answers and are working through others. Blogger Ken Braddy offered helpful areas to consider, which we have used for our team’s discussions. You can read his full article here.
- What are you doing now to sanitize and sterilize your church building? Our janitor has been systematically deep cleaning all corners of our spaces, and continues to come weekly to clean. When we decide to resume in-person services, cleaning protocols before and after services will also be in place.
- What if your worship gathering is initially limited to no more than 50-100 people? We’re exploring possible ways to use all of our space, including parish halls & outdoor spaces to accommodate for physical distancing when we decide to resume in-person gatherings in the future. If we use multiple spaces at the church, we would live stream the service to the various spaces.
- Will we add and/or shorten worship services to allow for social distancing? We are not ready to begin offering in-person services at this time. We don’t know the answer to how we will handle in-person services yet. We may ask that some people who normally attend the 10:30 service attend one of our other services instead, so that there are fewer people at each one. When we decide to begin in-person gatherings, we will provide detailed information about what to expect.
- What adjustments will you make to the Sacraments? Do you believe you can conduct communion like you have in the past? With the help of the Bishop & other Diocesan clergy, we’re working on a plan to address all of these concerns.
- What adjustments will you make to the choir? Because the process of singing creates more risk of infection than speaking, in the place of congregational singing, Music Director Joe Henry and individual singers from the choir will sing the hymns and Mass parts by themselves from the choir loft. The choir will have weekly zoom meetings to develop the individual skills of members. Joe Henry and Children’s Minister Liza Goodner will work collaboratively to implement the most effective ways to include children in the musical life of the parish.
- Is a physical “pass the plate” offering a thing of the past? Drop boxes may be utilized instead, among other ideas.
- Do door greeters do their jobs differently, or at all? Welcome is in our DNA. Though we may need to adjust the way we do some things, it’s safe to say that we will continue this tradition.
- What’s your plan for Sunday School curriculum? Liza Goodner and other Sunday school teachers are currently using Zoom on Sundays to hold a virtual Sunday school classroom. That will continue for as long as it is deemed necessary.
- Are you continuing to provide coffee hour? Coffee hour allows us to gather socially and catch up with our friends. We would very much like to continue this, and will do so when it becomes safe.
- How will you go forward with VBS? VBS is postponed for the summer. We may try to do virtual VBS for Winter or Spring Break.
- Are you going to continue hosting special events? We may begin to invite gatherings and special events back to campus as we move into future phases.
- Will you continue offering virtual online worship? Yes! We have found that we’re able to reach some folks who otherwise, COVID or not, may not be able to get to church. We plan to continue to record and offer our services each week, even after restrictions have been lifted. You can watch services on our website, Youtube Channel, or our Facebook page.
- Should you be investing in new digital equipment right now? We are doing just that, in order to provide the best virtual experience we can and bring it to those who need it.
- How will you deal with the rise of addictions made worse by COVID-19? Mental health is a serious issue, and our clergy are always here to help. If you need to speak to someone, please contact us.
- Do you have a plan for reducing expenses if your church’s offerings don’t rebound? Some of our expenses are already reduced, simply because we are not using our buildings and supplies. Our finances are being handled well and responsibly, as always.
- Will a new staff or volunteer position emerge from COVID-19? We shall see. At the moment, there will be no staff changes or additions. If you have an idea for how to stay connected as a church or want to volunteer, please contact email@example.com. We welcome your ideas for staying connected as a church community.