On February 12th the Diocese of Southern Ohio issued new guidelines for worship during the Covid-19 pandemic. These guidelines made it clear that we could reopen, in a very limited way. Here at St. Stephen’s we’re going to take this slowly and go carefully. We have a series of concerns that we want to address while planning reopening. They are:
- Safety: Our primary concern is to keep everyone safe. So when we do reopen, we will require temperature checks, masking, and social distancing. We won’t be able to have congregational singing until the pandemic is over, and we won’t be able to have coffee hour.
- The integrity of our worship service: We’ve gotten quite good at offering online worship, and we know that we have many people who are participating from other states, and even other countries. We don’t want to negatively effect their experience of worship by having to wear masks while live-streaming or not being able to offer sung music. When we tried to have a kind of hybrid worship in late summer, we found that technical problems with the sound was a real detriment to maintaining an atmosphere of devotion. So we want to keep live-streaming the 10:30 service even after the pandemic ends, and probably keep in online-only (without an in-person worship component) until the pandemic is over.
- Inclusivity: Throughout this year, there have been people who have been left out of our life as a church. Some people don’t have internet access or devices that can access the services in any acceptable way. Others are simply unmoved by online worship. We know that our way of worshipping right now is excluding people, despite our best intent.
- Holy Eucharist: The new diocesan guidelines allow for Eucharist in one kind (bread only). Eucharist is the primary rite of the Episcopal Church, important to the spirituality of our individual members and foundational to our sense of community.
Given these concerns, it’s clear that we need to return to live worship, but to do so without endangering people or harming the integrity of our online worship. To that end, the staff and vestry have come up with two possible options.
- We convert the 8:30 AM Zoom only Sunday service into a hybrid service. Some people would come in person, but we’d also have those who want to join for Zoom present on the monitor.
- We establish a third service, on Saturday evening or on a weeknight evening (possibly Wednesday or Thursday). This service would not be streamed in any way. We will wait until Maundy Thursday to have Holy Eucharist again. After that, Eucharist would be a regular part of this service.
We would like your feedback. Please send Karl any thoughts that you have. He will share those thoughts with the staff and vestry, and together they will make a decision.