As we get close to the Bishop’s original July 1 date for possibly having in-person worship services, you are probably wondering what’s next. Well, the answer is somewhat complicated, as are many things these days.
Firstly, it’s worth stating up front that our diocesan leadership feels the State of Massachusetts’ guidelines for churches are inadequate. We have heard from them several times that “Governor Baker’s guidelines for churches are based on political considerations, not public health.” It’s understandable why the Governor feels he has to allow “freedom of religion.” But we are required to follow the diocesan guidelines because we’re part of the diocese.
The Bishop previously had shared a set of guidelines called “A Journey by Stages” to let us know what we can do in each stage of the public health emergency. As you know, right now we’re in Stage 2. That “Journey by Stages” document can be found here.
However, in order to be able to have in-person worship as described in the Journey by Stages document, we first have to go through a certification process with the diocese to show that we are going to re-open safely. The certification process consists of working through a checklist created by the diocese, then submitting that to the diocese, then having a “regathering shepherd” come visit us. The regathering shepherd will inspect our church, make sure we’ve done the checklist correctly, and give us pointers and tips to improve our health and safety procedures. Then and only then will the bishop certify that Redeemer is allowed to have in-person worship.
The checklist is fairly detailed and includes things like improved ventilation systems, new cleaning procedures, trained ushers, pews roped off, hymnals and prayer books removed, one-way entrances and signage on the floors. It also includes coordinating with staff and renters like AA and the Food Pantry, and having a bathroom usage plan. You can find the full checklist for Stage 2 re-opening here.
Are you starting to be very glad that we have a wonderful Regathering Team to work on this process? I sure am! Many thanks to Paula Antonevich, Cassie Bowlby, Erica Brotschi, Murray Daniels, Lori Wright, and Christopher Huggins for doing all this for us. They are definitely going to need help, and we’re grateful to the other committees like Worship, Personnel, and Property who are all part of this effort.
Maybe you are also getting the idea that the Bishop would really rather we did not re-open in Stage 2? Here’s a direct quote from his most recent letter (all the bolding and italics are in the original):
“At this time, based upon epidemiological recommendations, we strongly encourage congregations to refrain from in-person public worship, and to continue virtual opportunities for all aspects of church life until a move to less restrictive policies is indicated by public health considerations. However, congregations whose leaders upon careful consideration and planning believe that local conditions will allow for limited, safe in-person regathering may begin to move from Stage One to Stage Two, functioning within guidelines described in the May 18 document “A Journey By Stages”). Certification that conditions have been met for such in-person regathering will be required.”
I personally love the idea of having a small in-person outdoor service sometime this summer, and do think we could do that safely. But we are still seeking guidance from the diocese if we are allowed to do that without having completed the full checklist. Completing the checklist may realistically take our Regathering Team (who are volunteering all their time and effort) several weeks if not months. But we are doing it as fast as we can!
Thank you, as always, for your patience with this situation. It is frustrating when things are not in our control. However, it is wonderful how the Redeemer community has stayed firmly connected through online worship, virtual coffee hour, book clubs, phone trees, social justice work, and so many other things. We are all in God’s hands and God will see us through.