Covid-19 and St. Stephen’s Response – Updated

Since writing this post two days ago, the crisis has progressed, and we have decided on the following procedures to keep us safe during worship on Sunday morning:
  • Ushers will be asked not to hand around the offertory plates. They will remain on the back tables throughout the services and won’t be brought up to the altar.
  • We ask parishioners to keep a distance of between 3-6 feet between themselves and other people. This means that we will go slower during communion and spread out more around the altar.
  • Choir is suspended for this Sunday at least. We will still sing hymns, relying on that space of 3-6 feet to keep us safe.
  • We will take communion in only one kind – that is, only with the communion bread. Karl will bless a chalice of wine, but we will not drink from it during the distribution.
  • Since many of us are anxious and might appreciate the chance to express our anxieties in a loving space, we will hold a coffee hour discussion about the crisis and how we might respond to it with love and service.
This post is to let you know of our current response as a parish to the covid-19 pandemic, and some preparations we have in mind if the crisis deepens. St. Stephen’s is a church where parishioners care for each other deeply, and go to considerable effort to look after their sisters and brothers in Christ. As Christians, we are called to serve each other even when it entails risk, and to be reasonably cautious but not governed by fear. It’s this ethic that informs some of the decisions that are detailed below. I will first address some changes to our worship that are necessitated by the pandemic, then speak to pastoral care concerns and what we can do to support each other and our community during this time.
We will continue holding Sunday services and adult formation gatherings for the time being. Bishop Breidenthal sent out a letter in which he reminded us that it is more than acceptable to take communion “in one kind,” that is to say, to take only the bread. So if you are concerned about the spread of the covid-19 virus, please know that it is entirely okay to just receive bread at communion. It is also okay not to come up for communion at all, or come up only for a blessing. If you do come up, rest assured that I am continually washing my hands and using hand sanitizer, so receiving bread or a blessing should be safe and hygienic. If you choose to receive the wine, the diocesan protocol is to drink from the cup rather than intincting, but if you choose to intinct, know that there is hand-sanitizer on two tables at the front of the center aisle that we ask you to use before receiving eucharist.
As the crisis continues, we are aware that some of our members may choose to stay home or avoid public gatherings. If you do decide to do this, and if you live alone, please know that we are concerned about your health and want to check-in with you. If you send a request to me, I can add you to a list of people who would like to be called either daily, several times a week, or weekly. The call probably won’t entail much more than seeing if you’re all right and if you need anything, although I’m sure that the caller would be happy to chat for longer if you’d like. If the severity of the situation deepens, we will put together teams to run errands and do grocery shopping for those who are self-quarantining.
As you have probably heard, OSU has suspended in-person classes until March 30th, and may take other actions in response to the pandemic. We have already been approached by several groups that were planning events on campus that will have to be moved. We will consider their requests on a case by case basis, depending on how vital we judge them to be to the health of the community (blood drives, for instance, may be deemed worth the risk, while social gatherings may not).
It is important that we open our hearts and minds to God during this crisis, and that we love the world as deeply as God loves it. So I ask that you engage in daily prayer and devotion, meditating particularly on how interconnected we are to each other and to all of creation. Health crisis make this very apparent, but it is an abiding truth, with ongoing repercussions for our nation, all nations, and all species that we share our planet with.