“Behold how good and pleasant it is when kindred dwell together in unity.” – Psalm 133
We all long for the opportunity to gather again more fully, as we shift our understanding to living within pandemic. One of the signs of that longing is the number of churches that have made plans to gather in-person for worship or other activities in our diocese. Yet, part of living with pandemic is also recognizing that many of us cannot gather in-person, out of concern for our own health and well-being or that of others in our life that we care for. The Psalmist evokes this longing in Psalm 133, declaring how good and pleasant it is when we can be together. The Psalmist may have had more of an emphasis on unity in mind, but we long for any opportunities to “dwell together” in this difficult time.
In August and September, many more churches have filed plans to worship with a physically present congregation. Currently, I’ve received plans for in-person worship from 50 congregations. This number includes both indoor and outdoor services as well as one-time services. That does not necessarily mean that all 50 of those churches are currently doing in-person worship (some are for services that begin in October, for example), but that gives you a sense of where our churches are in terms of worship planning. Even when doing in-person worship, congregations should still be providing online options for their members, since we want to encourage people to stay safe and healthy.
Of our churches that have submitted plans for in-person worship, 29 have indicated indoor services and 31 have planned outdoor services. Some churches have included plans for both or have shifted between the two. This includes some one-time services and, in a few places, midweek services. It will be challenging to continue outdoor services later in the fall, as the weather begins to shift. If more churches move indoors, it is very important to ensure that there is adequate ventilation in your space to do so more safely.
Of our churches that have submitted plans for in-person worship, approximately 26 churches are intending to offer Holy Eucharist on some sort of regular ongoing basis. Approximately 21 churches are intending to offer an in-person service from the Daily Offices (whether Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer or Compline). There is overlap between these two categories, in that some have submitted plans for both types of services. If you are conducting Holy Eucharist, please be sure to provide as safe an experience as possible, following the Journey Forward guidelines. This continues to mean that only the celebrant receives from the Cup for the time being and that the Bread is distributed in as safe a manner as possible to those who wish to receive.
Please remember that, as vital and powerful as it is to gather with each other physically in-person, it still represents a greater risk than remaining at home and joining in online worship. When we do gather in-person, please always remember and help others remember to maintain basic safety practices of wearing a face covering, staying at least 6 feet away (many people seem to not have a clear sense of how much distance 6 feet is), and maintaining good hand-washing hygiene.
How good and pleasant it is that we can dwell in new ways with our kindred. It is powerful to gather physically in-person and something we long for, but our true unity is in the One who calls us together and desires that we care for one another. We can do so by being vigilant with our safety guidelines when we gather in-person; we can do so even more by ensuring that we still provide for that greater congregation of those who can join us at a distance, by online worship, by phone contact, and in prayer.