August 28, 2020 | News by Father John Tober
Dear St. James’ Family—
Last weekend Amy and I traveled to Temple, TX, for an in-person follow-up at the transplant center, and received a good report. The downside of the trip is that we are now self-quarantining for 14 days, following state guidelines. However, we expect no ill effects.
The Executive Committee and I have also read the state’s new guidelines this week for a measured reopening of businesses in New Mexico, which are pretty non-specific, despite newscasts and news coverage. I have not heard word from the diocese, but I have asked the question about change to the diocese's policy. However, we’re proceeding with the likelihood that limited in-person church services may be able to resume soon.
To do so, we’ve submitted the last of our required documentation and addenda to the diocese for approval, along with a proposed timeline to offer limited in-person worship beginning as soon as Sunday, 13 September 2020. Keep in mind, things may change between now and then which would preclude holding services. Or if we do begin to hold them, something might change which would force us to close again.
Here’s how I envision things. The week will start on Wednesday for a midweek service. This service is where we will also record the Eucharist for broadcast on Sunday morning, so there will be some starts and stops for recording, and a camera & laptop will move around, until we can get permanent equipment installed. It’s not necessarily a smooth-running event, but it’s kind of fun. With the relaxation of state guidelines, we can re-introduce a lector to do the readings and Prayers of the People during the service, so everything we are used to on Wednesday night will be there… just with the addition of a camera. I haven’t figured out how to safely include a crucifer or acolytes, though, and processions are discouraged.
On Sunday morning, until it gets too cold, we can do an early-morning outdoor service. To limit setup time, it’d be BYOB (bring your own blanket/chair) We’ll do something like mark circles on the grass in spray paint to ensure social distancing, but some artifacts from the church will have to be set up ahead of time. It might get warm, so this will be a casual service—I probably won’t wear vestments other than a stole. It may also be loud with traffic whizzing by. As it’s outdoors, participants likely won’t have to wear a mask—have to check guidelines—but we will have to maintain social distance. This also limits what we have to clean before the later service. Bring a drink; bring a snack; bring an umbrella; wear a hat. Just don’t share with your neighbor.
A second service on Sunday can happen in the church, with all the safeguarding protocols in place, as well as cleaning before/after. Instrumental music may be offered at services if Margo or Barbara are willing, but no singing.
For all 3 services, we’ll need a reader and ushers. In the church, the ushers will have to seat people first in, last out to maintain boundaries—you won’t get to pick your seat. Please observe the arrows on the floor for traffic patterns. The seat cushions have been removed so that we don’t have to clean them or so they don’t get ruined by cleaning agents. We’ll print single-use bulletins with the whole service printed in, so that we aren’t (potentially) contaminating books, and have recycling receptacles to dispose of them, if you don’t want a souvenir. At all services, Communion will be in one kind: just the bread wafer. I know it’s a downer, but you can have a glass of wine when you get home if you choose... Episcopal churches typically use port or sherry, if you want the full effect. The teaching of the Church is that Communion in one kind, or even being in the presence of the Eucharist, is just as efficacious.
St. James’ will require face masks for indoor services and use of gloves and/or hand sanitizer (and outdoors, if guidance requires). We have several hand sanitizer stations, as well as bottles in every useable pew. At the Eucharist, I’ll pass through the church to distribute the hosts. I’ll offer the paten and expect the recipient to take a host him/herself, if they choose. I'd suggest gloves or a squirt of sanitizer again, beforehand. While the Peace will be announced, we discourage physical contact outside your family group. And the offertory will be only of the elements and an acknowledgement of financial contribution; please continue to give online or by mail.
To prepare, we are working on a survey to be sent out shortly, as well as a mechanism to make a reservation to attend services. Outdoor services are limited only by the strength of our PA system, until we determine maximum seating. Indoor services are more strictly limited, so we’ll have to institute a reservation system to ensure we don’t go over our limit and have to turn people away. Per current DRG guidelines, indoor services are limited to 6 family groups due to the size of our building. A singleton is a family group, just like a family of 5; they’re both treated equally and are first come, first served for reservations. A family group consists of people living in the same household. It might be wise to consider giving others a turn after you attend. However, wait until we announce that the services can take place before you make plans.
Until we get a better system worked out, call the church number at 575-526-2389 beginning the Monday before the service. If no one can answer, leave your name and the names of the rest of your family attending, as well as your phone number. The church will call you back to confirm your place. We'll also have a liability waiver/disclosure consent form distributed by email and available at the door before the service. You'll be required to fill this out and sign, for contact tracing in case of inadvertent exposure.
Finally, I have to stress the importance of following the rules. They're being put into place to safeguard us all. If you don’t want to wear a mask, that’s fine; watch the service online and don’t wear a mask. If you don’t feel church is complete without hugging your neighbor, that’s fine; watch the service at home and hug a pillow. The guidance I’ve received is that if people are observed not following the rules, the service immediately concludes with a benediction and dismissal. Finally, if you don’t feel comfortable coming to in-person services, yet, that’s fine, too. God loves you just as we do if you choose to stay at home for the time being. Our goal in all of this is to keep us all as safe as possible.
The church will send updates as we are able to do so.
In His name,