|St. Catherine’s Indoor Worship To Resume on September 13|
August 25, 2020
Good afternoon all,
As you know, our Bishop is allowing in-person worship services to resume beginning September 6. Whether and when these services are resumed is a decision left to each parish to make taking into account their individual circumstances. St. Catherine’s Vestry discussed this at length at our meeting last Sunday. We decided to cautiously resume in-person services beginning Sunday, September 13. Please understand that “cautious” is our watchword. It is possible that as we go forward we will relax some of the precautions we are taking initially; or, of course, we may decide circumstances dictate additional precautions. Whether you feel comfortable returning to church at this time is a decision each person must make for themselves. We are all missing our time together, but we have not come this far to lose the battle now. Please return when you are comfortable doing so, and know that until that time comes, we miss you, we love you, and we look forward to all being together again.
Below is a listing of details worked out for our services initially:
* We will have a 10:30 service only.
* The service will be a celebration of Holy Eucharist with bread only. To receive the bread we will go forward one by one just as we did when Maggie was our celebrant.
* We will have organ music only. In the beginning, at least, we will not have congregational singing.
* For the month of September, children will stay in church with their parents. Christian Formation for children (with appropriate social distancing) will resume in October.
* There will be no nursery until further notice.
* Masks or shields are required.
* Prayer books and hymnals will be put in storage for the time being.
* Service leaflets will be available to be picked up as you enter the church.
* Social distancing will be observed. Alternate rows will be blocked off and two chairs should be left vacant between family groups. Family groups who have enlarged their “bubble” to include others may sit together.
* An offering basket will be placed at the back of the church. Please place your offering in it as you enter or leave the service.
* The Peace – you are encouraged not to move about the room during the Passing of the Peace. For now, a wave or nod will have to suffice.
* There will be no coffee hour, at least for now. As the weather moderates with the arrival of Fall, we will investigate having an outdoor coffee hour.
Other calendar events for September:
* Wednesday Evening Prayer will resume September 9
* September Men’s Breakfast will be the second Saturday in September (the first Saturday is Labor Day weekend)
* ECW scheduled for September 26 will be a brown bag lunch event held in the parish hall.
Our re-opening day has been a very long time in coming, and it will be wonderful to see everyone very soon.
God Bless You and Your Family!
Ben Turnage Jane Keeton
Interim Rector Sr. Warden
Permission for Indoor Worship To Begin on September 6
August 14, 2020
When this pandemic mess started, we committed to making decisions about whether our churches should open or close with two principles in mind: “Let all that you do be done in love” from 1st Corinthians 16:14, and to be guided by the data. We’ve all been following the numbers very closely, and now it seems they are getting better – the daily count of new cases, the rate of transmission and the percent positive numbers are all going down steadily. So, while we’re not out of the woods yet, things are getting better, and it’s time for us to carefully reopen our worship spaces, taking the necessary precautions.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force was a featured speaker on a recent Zoom call for bishops in the Episcopal Church, and our hard-working Bishop Coadjutor was on the call while I was on vacation. Bishop Curry reports that Dr. Fauci emphasized three things to the bishops of the Episcopal Church.
1. Wearing masks is the single most important thing we can do to stop the spread of this virus.
2. We need to keep physical distance away from people not in our household, at least six feet.
3. Avoid crowds. (Dr. Fauci said that it doesn’t depend on the size of the gathering as much how it’s set up, so that people are spread out and wearing masks. He said outside is always better but inside is not ruled out if done right, and that four people outside, close together without masks was considered “a crowd,” while 100 people outside, with proper distance, was not. He said that if churches use the proper precautions, inside worship can be done safely.)
We want to invite the congregations to consider how they can invite people to come together inside our naves, starting September 6th. I require that parishes follow State and CDC guidelines – gatherings should be limited to the number of people we can safely put in our naves using every other pew, maintaining at least 6 feet of physical distance, wearing masks, households sitting together. We also suggest that we not have congregational singing (although soloists or ensembles distanced from others should be fine) and no coffee hours or socials after the services. It will be best if we keep the services brief, and each parish will need to work out a plan for how people enter and exit the buildings so that we can maintain our distance. Still we should make outdoor worship our first choice, where and when possible.
Please note: this is permission, not requirement. If you and your folks feel like you’d rather wait a while before reopening your buildings for in person worship, please wait. The life and work of the Church continues whether we can all meet inside a building or not.
The Eucharist, so central to our understanding of corporate worship, can be an option using good sense and proper precautions – I strongly suggest that we use the bread only. Morning Prayer continues to be a solid option. In any case, we should continue to make our services available on the internet, and encourage people who aren’t comfortable coming to the buildings to join us online.
I am especially grateful to the Rt. Rev. Dr. Glenda Curry and her husband Dr. Bill for their knowledge, experience and advice, especially in helping me understand how to read all these numbers. She is offering to discuss your plans and options about reopening; please call her if you have questions or need some help. We will continue to watch all the Covid-19 numbers and if the downward trends start trending back up, we will have to send another direction to suspend indoor worship again.
Please, please be careful. Please wear your masks – to church and whenever you’re away from home. And please continue to pray for those who are sick, those who are grieving, and for all who serve in hospitals and in the laboratories looking for a vaccine or treatments.
Thank you all for your patience and perseverance through all of this. Thank you for sticking to this suspension of indoor worship, even when you didn’t like it. Thank you for your faithful service to our Lord and our part of God’s holy Church. The Lord bless you and keep you and those you love, this day and forevermore.
Suspension of Indoor Face-to-Face Worship Until August 17
By now you’ve all figured out that the main message in these things is printed in bold italics, and I expect you’re looking for that bit, so we can go ahead and get it out of the way: I am extending our suspension of in person indoor worship until August 17th I imagine that some of you are glad to see this, and that others are becoming more and more impatient, or hearing from people who are. I understand. We’re all ready to come back; I am, too. But we can’t, not yet.
Here’s the thing: we are not choosing between something bad and something good. We are choosing between one bad thing and another bad thing, between risking becoming contributors to the spread of the coronavirus on one hand, and not worshipping together on the other. There is no good choice, but since it falls to me as the bishop, I choose to keep our people, our communities and ourselves as safe as we can be in these dangerous days.
We don’t pressure or guilt people into attending church, but we do think it’s important. It’s how we come together in community, how we know and feel that we belong. We belong to God in Jesus Christ, and we belong to each other; coming to church – singing the hymns, saying our prayers, reading the lessons, enduring the sermons, confessing our sins and receiving absolution, passing the Peace, taking the Bread and Wine, receiving the blessing – is how we celebrate that belonging, how we connect to our Lord and our family in God. I hate telling you all that we need to extend our suspension of face to face worship.
I am determined to make these decisions based not on emotion or politics but on the data, that we should not come back together in large groups until it is safe to do so, and the numbers are telling us – screaming at us – that it’s not.
I asked our Bishop Coadjutor, who was trained as an RN and whose husband Bill is a physician very involved in UAB’s response to the pandemic, to explain the various numbers we’re all looking at, to help make some sense out of them. Glenda shared the following:
We have been following several numerical indicators that help us in decisions. On Bamatracker.com and the Alabama Department of Public Health COVID webpage, we watch numbers of hospitalizations, which is aggregated by state totals vs. county. On May 15, we had 2,259 people in the hospital with the virus, and 502 in ICU. On July 15, we had 7,378 people in the hospital, 941 in ICU. Numbers of admissions doubled in three days between July 9 and July 12 after 6 weeks of only a steady increase, suggesting a relapse in our stopping the spread campaign. We don’t want to contribute to overwhelming the health care system.
The seven-day average of hospitalizations for the state had been steady at about 32 per day since April, but on July 23, that number jumped to 85 and on July 20 was 177. Clearly, we are in a phase of relapse which should take about three or four weeks to contain.
Another number we watch is the RT, which is a complex number that measures several variables to tell us how fast the virus is spreading. Ideally, experts want that number to be below 1.0. Currently it is 1.09. In March, it was at 1.75. So, we are making progress.
Finally, our cumulative death rate is declining from the highest levels of 5 per day in May to about 2 on July 20. Also, the percent of counties with cases is now 100%. In April it was at 20%, telling us the virus is now widespread.
The seven-day average of percent positive tells us with the increase in testing, how many people in the population are positive, with or without symptoms. In April that number ranged from 3 to 23%. In July that number ranges from 9 to 18%. Our percent positive 14-day average is rising steadily from 9 to 13%.
We also talk with physicians at UAB and continue to monitor the impact of churches worshiping in other denominations. The ala.gov COVID website does have information by counties. They measure risk of infection in the environment and currently most counties are high risk or very high risk. All these numbers say that continuing to wait on worship indoors supports stopping the spread of the infections and helps our community be safe.
I know we’re all getting tired of talking to faces on our computers. We’re tired of wearing masks, and as much as we love our families, we’re tired of being cooped up. I know we all have folks who are feeling financial hardships. It is dark, difficult time. We don’t want to make it worse. Y’all hang in there, keep praying – for the sick and grieving, for the doctors and nurses, for those who are working to find a cure or a preventative, for our communities, for this state, for our nation, for the world – and keep hoping.
As I’ve written before, congregations will still be able to gather in manageable numbers outside, with masks and appropriate physical distancing. We are still making provision for weddings, baptisms and funerals that need to be inside, with the same conditions. It is still very much my preference that we not offer communion until we feel it’s safe to do so, and that if we do offer communion, it should be the Bread only.
Maybe I’ve shared this before, but just in case there’s somebody that doesn’t remember every single word I’ve ever heard or written – one of my favorite stories about Bishop Carpenter tells about a moment in the turbulent 1960’s, when the Bishop was addressing a group of Episcopalians anxious about racial tensions and rumors of a new prayer book and the threat of women’s ordination. When a woman from one of our parishes declared that this would be the end of the Episcopal Church, the good Bishop is quoted as having said, “Madam, I assure you that if the Lord God wants there to be an Episcopal Church in Alabama, then by God there will be.”
We’re going to be okay – cross my heart. Not because I’m always right, not because we always do everything correctly in our worship together, and not because we are efficient and organized, but because we are assured that the Lord God does want there to be an Episcopal Church in Alabama. And by God we will do our best to be good stewards of this part of God’s holy Church, and keep the children of God healthy and safe.
May the Lord continue to bless you and keep you and all those you love and care for.
Suspension of Indoor Face-to-Face Worship Until August 1
July 7, 2020
Several months ago, somebody texted me: “A pox upon this virus!” It’s even truer now than it was then – this dreadful pandemic has affected all of us and everyone we know and everything we were blissfully taking for granted just six months ago. We can’t help but ask the inevitable question: “When will things get back to normal?” I don’t know any more than any of you, but I do have a couple of answers that are at least starting to take shape.
It seems clear that nobody knows when the coronavirus will end. It may be that it will play itself out somehow, like a seasonal flu, although just now it isn’t showing any sign of slowing down. It may be that some blessed soul will find a vaccine to prevent it spreading, or a treatment to cure it. Or it may be that this nation and the whole world will achieve some sort of “herd immunity,” in which most of us have either had the virus or be found to have some other sort of immunity – the virus would still be there, but no longer be so devastating. I suppose most of us are assuming there will come a time when this virus is beaten, or stripped of its power; we are all praying that this will come soon. But the question we are all asking is “When?” and the answer, we all know, is that nobody knows.
The second part of the question has to do with getting back to normal. I’m thinking that some things will be the same after the virus as they were before, but many things will not ever go back to the way they used to be. I think history will look back on this moment as a pivotal time in the continuing evolution of humanity, especially as it coincides with the political and social unrest and division in our nation. Which begs a new question: if we don’t return to The Way We’ve Always Done It, if the old normal is gone or changed, what will the new normal be?
Ah, well … too many questions without answers boggle the mind. A more immediate question is perhaps a little more pressing – When can we resume in-person inside worship? Unhappily, the answer to that question is … not yet. The numbers still do not indicate that it is advisable for us to gather inside in large groups. The effective rate of transmission is 1.14, with 925 new cases in Alabama yesterday. So I am extending our suspension of public worship indoors until August 1st. I hate it, you hate it, we all hate it, but it’s what we need to do. I wish it were otherwise, for all of us.
Congregations are still able to gather in manageable numbers outside, with masks and appropriate physical distancing. We are still making provision for weddings, baptisms and funerals that need to be inside, with the same conditions. It is still my very much my preference that we not offer communion until we feel it’s safe to do so.
I hope you’re doing all right. I hope you’re staying at home as much as you can and wearing a mask when you have to go out. I hope you’re saying your prayers and that you’re inviting your friends and families to live in the hope we are called to in Jesus Christ. This is surely a difficult and stressful time, but we will come through it, and when we get far enough down the road that we can look back on the Pandemic of 2020, I hope we will be able to say that we did everything we could to care for the people we serve, that we held up the Light of Christ into the darkness and encouraged those we could to love God with all our hearts and minds and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Suspension of Indoor Face-to-Face Worship Until July 15
June 27, 2020
Thank you all for your patience and faithfulness as we navigate these difficult times. Please continue to pray for the sick, for those who care for them, for our little part of God’s holy Church, for our nation, and for the world. Please pray for Glenda and her husband Bill as they enter into a new and challenging chapter of their life and ministry.
I am writing to tell you– aware of the pressures building to bring our people back into our church buildings – that I am extending our suspension of indoor face-to-face worship for two more weeks, until July 15th.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to any of you, as we’re all watching the news and seeing that the rate of new cases and hospitalizations is not consistently falling in Alabama. If anything, the virus seems to be gaining momentum. At the same time, we know that people are getting impatient with staying at home and wearing face masks to go to the store; some of our folks think it’s time we all go back to church. I understand that, and I’m looking forward to coming back to church, to celebrate the love of God with all of you when it’s safe for us to do so. I am not making this decision based on the politics of the day, or based on being bored, or tired of being unable to see my friends, but based on the numbers of new cases and new hospitalization rates in Alabama. We have so far proceeded with an abundance of caution, and I think we’ve been right; I think it’s right to continue with caution until the data indicates that it’s time to for us to come back to worshiping in person indoors.
Having said all that, we can continue to worship outside. I know there are weddings which have been scheduled, rescheduled and re-rescheduled again, and I know there are funerals and baptisms which have been put on hold indefinitely. We all know that weddings, funerals and baptisms are important, so I want to make provision for our parishes to proceed with those special services either inside or outside, with the following conditions:
* Keep the number in attendance small enough so that different households can spread out in the space you’re using, six to ten feet apart
* We will all need to wear a face mask and insist that others wear masks, except for when you or they are addressing the congregation, or walking the bride (or groom) down the aisle.
* The parish will need to make masks and hand sanitizer readily available for everyone
* My strong preference is for us to not offer the Eucharist at these special services or in our Sunday morning outdoor services, but if it seems you must, please do not offer the common cup and be very careful about how the bread is to be distributed.
* Surfaces that are touched will need to be cleaned thoroughly before and after any service.
* In all of this, please use the common sense God gave you to keep God’s children safe, and be mindful of those who are more vulnerable.
I know a lot of you have been working hard to adapt to the technology needed to put our worship online, and I know that some of you have done that more easily than others. Thank you all for your efforts. We’re probably getting to the point where it’s not new and fun and exciting anymore, but it is important, and I appreciate all of your work. Please keep it up, and keep offering your services online. I think this is not going to be a temporary remedy but a permanent offering of our worshipping life.
Y’all hang in there, say your prayers, and stay home as much as you can. Keep your sense of humor as much as you can; I think joy is an important part of our faith. The Lord bless you and keep you, and make His face shine on you and those you love, today and always. I am proud of our diocese, and proud of all of you.
The Rt. Rev. Kee Sloan
Suspension of Indoor Face-to-Face Worship Until July 1
May 29, 2020
I hope you and your families are all doing well. Today we are mourning the loss of the Rev. Pearl Slay, a deacon of this Diocese serving at St. Wilfred’s in Marion. She had been struggling against the Covid-19 virus, and gave it quite a fight, but that fight ended this morning. She was a wonderful woman, a devoted wife and mother, a dear friend, and a servant of our Lord. May she rest in peace and rise in hope.
Proceeding as we have with an abundance of caution, I am writing to tell you that I am extending our suspension of indoor face to face worship until July 1st. As I write this, new cases of COVID-19 are increasing in Alabama, and recent days have seen some of the highest single day increases to date. It is also clear that COVID-19 has impacted communities differently, with some counties seeing few cases and little to no spread while other counties become hotspots.
Beginning June 1st, communities may begin outdoor worship if you and your people want to offer it, and if you can do it in such a way that you keep the gathering small enough so that everyone can maintain appropriate physical distance, that everyone will be required to wear masks, and that hand sanitizer should be readily available.
In one of our favorite passages, the apostle Paul wrote that though we are many members, we are baptized into one body, and that the weaker members are indispensable to the body. As your bishop, it comes to me to make decisions in this part of God’s Church that protect the members of Christ’s body, especially those who are most vulnerable. There are no easy answers to the difficult questions we all have. Please know that this decision about extending our suspension of indoor face to face worship is not a decision I have made lightly. I might feel a little foolish for a month or two if we’re being too careful, but I would feel sick in my heart forever if we were not careful enough.
We will get through this, but we’re not there yet. As we get closer to the time when we open the doors of our churches to face to face worship, more and more people are asking me how I think we should go about it. Obviously, there are difficulties drawing up policies that are helpful for all of our congregations because we are all serving in different settings. Some of our parishes are small and more intimate, in others the congregations are very large.
Please note that if you do not feel comfortable coming back to church, whether indoors or outdoors, you are in no way compelled to do so.
For weeks we have been yearning for things to ‘get back to normal,’ with the idea that it will somehow be like it always was. In reality it was never the way it always was – the Church and the world were always changing, even though much of the time it was changing so slowly it was like watching a tree grow. In the last few months, change has been forced upon us, some of it we haven’t liked, but some will help shape the ‘new normal.’ I hope y’all are working toward being able to share your worship online, or making whatever changes necessary to make that sharing a permanent feature of our worship life together
The Rev. Dr. Glenda Curry will be ordained to the episcopacy at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham June 27th. Decisions about this service are made by the office of the Presiding Bishop, but I do know that we will have a very small crowd attending in person; I hope you will all join us online.
In all of this, we need to be mindful of our people who are more vulnerable. When we come to the point of inviting people to worship, either inside or outside, please give people space to decide that they should not come, because they are in ‘at risk’ categories, or because they are scared to be around people. Some of our good folks will feel obligated to come, and we need to free them from that obligation so they don’t come until the time is right for them.
Again, thank you all for all you’re doing. I believe that in this terrible time there are real opportunities for God’s Church to do what we have been called to do: to preach love, hope and grace; to welcome the curious and reluctant to worship with us; to shine the Light of Christ into the darkness of this dismal time. So stay home when you can, wear a mask when you need to, wash your hands, and keep praying – for the sick and for those who care for them, for the first responders, for the people who can’t stay at home to work, for our secular leaders, for a cure or a vaccine. The Lord bless you and keep you and those you love, this day and forever.
The Rt. Rev. Kee Sloan
May 14, 2020
In September, the people of St. Stephen’s in Smiths Station gave me a hymn board with a Bible verse in it where the numbers of the hymns usually go. It’s hanging in our dining room, and as I’m spending more time at home for the last few weeks, I see it several times a day: “Let all that you do be done in love.” (1st Corinthians 16:14)
I’m writing to tell you that I am extending our suspension of face to face worship for two more weeks, until June 1st. Like you, I am impatient for us to be able to come back to worship together, and I sure don’t want to stay closed for too long. I miss seeing everybody, passing the Peace, preaching to people instead of a computer, having the Eucharist. I want you to know that this decision to extend our suspension of face to face worship is not based in economics or politics or congregational growth strategies, but in love. I think staying home, and encouraging our people to stay home, continuing to find ways to gather without being physically together in the midst of a pandemic, is the most loving thing that we can do for our people and for the people of our communities.
You don’t have to be in any kind of leadership long to recognize that pretty much whatever you do has the potential to offend or irritate somebody, and if you decide not to do it, you’re just as likely to make somebody else mad. So there are some moments when you just have to do what you think is right because you think it’s right, and this is one of those times. You might not like this, you might gripe and groan – I’m griping and groaning myself – but I think this is the way we follow our Lord in this moment.
For now, I think it’s best for us to err on the side of caution. There is a significant chance that relaxing restrictions by opening society too soon could invite a new surge of this terrible virus, and it seems to me that the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Alabama can wait for two more weeks until we can see how it goes across the state, as many businesses reopen on a limited basis. I can keep my impatience to come together again at bay; I think we all can, and I think it’s the best thing for us to do.
This has been a terrible time and we all wish it could be different. But as with everything else, there is nothing that God can’t bring something good from – I believe a lot of us have learned more than we ever thought we would about offering worship online. I want to suggest that we need to start thinking of our new-found technical talents not as a temporary measure in a difficult moment but as a permanent feature of congregational life from now on. This has been more easily embraced by some of our larger parishes, but even the smaller churches can do it with relatively little expense. Our friend Kelley Hudlow, our diocesan communications coordinator and resident computer and technology whiz, can help you start or improve recording and posting and offering worship online. Her email address is email@example.com – I hope you will let her know how she can help you. Or, there might be a person under the age of 30 who has a smartphone who can get you started.
I’m so grateful to all of you for your care for each other, especially the more vulnerable among us. I’m grateful for your ongoing support of your parishes, and for our Diocese. Stay safe, stay at home as much as you can, wash your hands, wear your masks and say your prayers. Please pray for those who are struggling with COVID-19, and the doctors and nurses and other people who work in hospitals, and other essential workers. Please pray for our elected officials, and those who are working to find treatments and vaccines. We will get through this. May the grace of our Lord be with you and those you love, this day and forever.
April 16, 2020
Alleluia, Christ is risen – the Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Well, that had to be the weirdest Lent ever. Every year somebody tells me they’re giving up church for Lent, and this year, a casual observer might think we did. But, just listening to y’all, we really didn’t – in fact, far from it. Thank you all for your ingenuity, creativity and technological savvy as we put up several hundred services, studies, meditations and meetings. I think we’ve handled all of this pretty well so far, and I am proud of all your good work. It turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks, if the old dog really needs to learn some.
Now we’re starting to wonder when we can make plans for what happens next: when can we come back together to worship face to face, can we do that wedding planned for May, what about the various ordinations coming up – what’s the plan? One of the ongoing frustrations of this whole upheaval is the uncertainty of it all, and the simple truth is that we do not know when it will be safe to go out. We don’t know how long we will need to be careful about touching our friends when we can come together in worship, when we will be able to exchange the Peace or take bread and wine during Communion.
But still, plans need to be made. I am writing to tell you that I am directing that parishes and worshiping communities continue to suspend face-to-face worship through and including May 17th, recognizing that we may need to extend it further if necessary. I also recognize that civil authorities may be setting an earlier date, and that other churches of other denominations may reopen sooner than we do. I would rather we be too cautious than not cautious enough.
So stay at home, say your prayers, wash your hands, and keep your sense of humor. I hope you’ll reach out to people you love and encourage hope. I said this in a previous note to y’all, and now I’m saying it again: it is in the darkness that the Light of Christ is most needed.