Dear People of Saints James and Andrew,
It is hard to believe we are now three months into a global pandemic. These new circumstances have required us to find new and meaningful ways to cultivate and nurture community through virtual worship and zoom gatherings, phone calls, emails, and sending cards in the mail. It is your faithful participation in these new avenues and our church’s full court press approach to our outreach ministries which have allowed us to thrive even under the most challenging of conditions. You are the very definition of resilience, and for that we are both full of pride and gratitude. Thank you.
We wanted to give you an update on the working groups progress in our process for moving forward, the closure of our buildings, clergy presence and worship this summer.
In late May the Vestry adopted a Process for Moving Forward, in which three working groups would make recommendations to the Vestry. While following the guidelines of the CDC, WHO, the Commonwealth, and our diocese we quickly realized an important difference in language. The Commonwealth refers to things in ‘phases’, while our diocese refers to ‘stages’, and outlines stricter requirements for moving from one to another. The diocese is working with an epidemiologist who will help determine what stage Franklin and Hampshire counties are in as we move forward. (Learn more about the public health indicators for diocesan stages here).
Here is what we know so far about what these groups will be recommending to the Vestry after completing our research and conversations about how to safely reopen. When the Vestry has approved a plan after hearing parish feedback, the plan will then need to be approved by the diocese.
The Church Chat Working Group: We have put together a survey inquiring how comfortable folk are returning to worship. There has been an outstanding response rate, and so far it seems the majority of the congregation is most comfortable reopening in Stage 3 (with some comfortable returning right away and others only when there is a vaccine). Please take the survey by Thursday if you have not already done so.
The Worship Working Group: We have gone through the exercise of what it might be like to reopen for outdoor worship in Stage 2. Given the strict limitations on what we would be able to do, the number of people comfortable returning at that point, and the volunteer staffing required to usher participants through the process in a safe way, the working group will not recommend outdoor worship in Stage 2 to the Vestry.
The Property Use, Outreach, and Events Working Group: We are recommending that Second Helpings Community Meal, Sunday Sandwiches, and Whitney’s Pantry remain as to-go services until most limits on gatherings are lifted and physical restrictions eased, per diocesan guidelines. Given the higher level of scrutiny we will be under by the Board of Health, and our commitment to keeping our outreach open, we are also recommending that all site leaders for our meal programs be ServSafe trained.
Bishop Fisher, by pastoral directive, closed all diocesan buildings through July 1. As each congregation discusses how to safely reopen according to diocesan guidelines, it is up to each individual parish to extend the closure of their buildings. Based on the amount of work that still lay ahead before we can safely reopen, the Vestry voted that the buildings of Saints James and Andrew will remain closed until at least September 8. In the meantime, we will keep being the Church in both virtual and traditional ways for as long as necessary. Our love of God and neighbor comes before all else.
Clergy Presence this Summer
Vacation Time: Due to the pandemic, the two of us will be taking our vacation time in slightly different ways than we have in the past. Rev. Molly, who is ⅓ time and receives one Sunday off per month in addition to her vacation time, will be in Maine from June 24-August 26. During this time, she will not be leading virtual worship, but on her work weeks, will engage in virtual meetings and pastoral care. Rev. Heather, who is full time, will be taking Thursdays off throughout the summer and parts of the fall, along with three Sundays in June, August, and September. She’ll also be away for a week in November.
Medical Leave: Rev. Heather will be on medical leave for 4-6 weeks, starting July 13, for a non-emergency surgery that was postponed in the early days of the pandemic. For the first three weeks she will be disconnected from parish life, and then presuming she feels more like herself, plans to work a reduced schedule during the remainder of her leave. During her leave our licensed worship leaders will continue to lead virtual worship on Sunday mornings (for the first three Sundays), the Vestry will host virtual coffee hour, we have a team of folks ready to cover pastoral emergencies, and Rev. Molly will be working remotely during that time. Please note due to this shift, we will be taking a break from the weekly video updates we started offering in May.
Virtual Worship this Summer: While we have been offering Spiritual Communion and Morning Prayer a couple of times each month, during the summer things will shift depending on who is presiding at worship. For the next couple of weeks we will have Spiritual Communion. During Rev. Heather’s leave, we will have Morning Prayer, which we may continue when she first returns. By mid-August we plan to resume alternating between Morning Prayer and Spiritual Communion again.
If you have any questions or concerns about any of these updates, please do not hesitate to speak to us or a member of the Vestry.
Thank you for all that you do in your prayers and in your actions to support the mission and ministry of Saints James and Andrew. Your faithfulness inspires us, and we are beyond grateful for each and everyone of you. Please join us in praying for our world and our community as we take this one step at a time and navigate the path of reopening. May God bless you and keep you, this day, and everyday.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Heather & Rev. Molly