Resumption of In-Person Worship

August 5, 2020

From the Interim Rector…

This past Sunday we held our first “in-person” worship at St. Stephen’s since March 8th. We are offering in-person worship at 5:00 pm Saturday and 8:00 & 10:00 am Sunday. We continue to offer on-line worship for those who should not or do not feel comfortable attending in person at 10:00 am Sunday.

We had a total of 42 people attend all three services. So, as you can see, we were not overcrowded. We are asking people to preregister, which can be done online or by calling the office, so we can better manage numbers and of contact tracing if necessary. We currently are able to have 50 people attend each service.

We are taking an abundance of caution to assure the safety of all who attend. The greeter will ask how you are feeling. If you are not feeling well come back when you are feeling better. You must wear a mask. If you do not have one the greeter can provide one for you. The greeter will ask your name to check off the pre-registered list. You will need to register each week.

If you have not pre-registered, the greeter will need to get contact information from you: name, phone number &/or email address. As I said, we can only have a maximum of 50 in attendance, so those who have pre-registered will be seated first. Restrooms are single occupancy and available for emergencies only.

Although, the Eucharist will be celebrated, at this time we can only offer spiritual communion which means you will not physically be able to receive communion. Offering plates are placed at the door and are not passed. The “peace” will of course not be physically passed as well. At this time we are not allowed to sing hymns, but Joy Mullen will be playing the organ for the 10:00 am service.

This a peculiar time in the church and the world. We are learning much as we go. We are depending on the love, wisdom and presence of God each step of the way, but this pretty much describes my life even before the pandemic.

Whether “in-person” or in our homes we can hold each other in our prayers knowing that it is God that connects us one to the other.

God’s peace be with you,

July 29, 2020

St. Stephen’s will begin in-person worship on the weekend of August 1st/2nd on a controlled basis. Below I am detailing the protocol that has been approved by the Diocese for “in-person” worship to begin again.

Background and History

On Sunday, March 8, 2020 we held our last service in the sanctuary before suspending in-person services as a result of the coronavirus. We made the decision to not hold services on the weekend of March 14/15 following the lead of other Episcopal Churches in the Berkshires. At this point, it was not a Diocesan directive. We began our pre-recorded services Sunday, March 22nd. Suspending in-person services became a Diocesan directive the following week.

This has been a learning experience for most of us including the church at large. We have not done everything perfectly and we appreciate the feedback we have gotten from members of the congregation and others. When this began, we thought suspension of services and other activities would be for a relatively short duration, but reality has demonstrated otherwise. As we begin again in-person worship, we will also continue our on-line services. Based on feedback we have received, we will be working on improving our communication among each other, so that the spiritual connections can be kept alive even when the physical connections cannot.

Participation and Involvement

First and foremost, it is particularly important that all of those who are medically compromised or do not feel comfortable being part of larger groups stay at home. These are strange times in which we are living and there is no script to draw upon, so please use the same criteria as you do when making other decision as to what you do beyond home. We are trying to be both safe and sensitive to meeting people’s needs. We are not all in the same place and we want to honor that.

The In-Person Worship Protocol

  • We will gather no more than 50 people at each service at this time. We will hold three in-person services, 5:00 PM Saturday, 8:00 AM, and 10:00 AM Sunday. All services will be in the large church. We will maintain social distancing through roping off pews that cannot be sat in for a particular service. We will alternate pews that are used for each service.
  • We are asking people to preregister to attend services through the event function on Realm System, which is part of our database and accounting software. This will also make contact tracing easier. We will allow people to call the office to sign-up if they do not have internet access. Please, call by Thursday at 4:00 pm before the Sunday you will be attending.
  • Social distancing will be practiced at all times; upon arrival, during the service and when departing. The floor and the walks outside will be marked to help with this effort. At this time, we cannot have “lemonade and cookies” on the lawn. Households of course can sit together.
  • Masks will be required! Please, bring your own, but if you forget we will have some available. Remember, wearing a mask is about the other person. Because you are asymptomatic does not mean you cannot transmit the virus. Scientifically masks have been proven to control the spread, so please, let’s make it an act of loving our neighbor and not an act of political position.
  • We will have hand sanitizers available at the entrances. Other hand sanitizer is also available throughout the building. Three single-occupant restrooms will be available on the main floor. We ask that you use them sparingly.  When we served in South Dakota over twenty of the churches we visited had no indoor plumbing. We managed…
  • We will be training greeters to assist when people arrive and depart. You will be asked how you are feeling, and we will take contact tracing information from you if we do not already have it from your preregistration.
  • Contact surface disinfecting will be done between services. We have been told that floor fans cannot be used, but we will be using an exhaust fan to help move air through the church. The church and parish hall will be thoroughly cleaned each week following services.

What to Expect at Worship

We are still working out the details of worship design.

  • As of this writing, we are not able to offer personal communion.
  • The entire service will be in a ‘single-use’ service bulletin. We ask that you take it with you when you leave. All books have been removed from the pews.
  • “The Peace” will not be passed.
  • We are not allowed to have hymn singing; however, Joy Mullen will offer music at the 10:00 AM Sunday Service.
  • The same person will read the scripture lesson, lead the psalm, and offer the Prayers of the People at a given service.
  • We will design the services to be about 40 minutes or less.
  • Offering plates will be placed at the entrances but will not be passed.
  • There will be no acolytes, altar servers, or choir assisting in worship.

This all is going to feel a bit strange, but these are strange times in which we are living.

Following these guidelines will enable us to worship together once again, but this is an organic process and adjustments and changes will need to be made along the way.

Some Additional Notes

The parish office is reopening on August 3rd. We have not been open to the public since mid-March, although Sarah and/or I have been available to answer the phone most weekdays.

St. Stephen’s Table continues to offer a “grab & go” meal Thursday and Friday evenings and fourth Saturday of each month. We will not have indoor seating in the near future.

The Cathedral of the Beloved’s drop-in center concluded the use of St. Stephen’s July 23rd. They are still using our kitchen for Sunday afternoon meals.

The Berkshire Immigrant Center is resuming its in-office ministry.

We are still working on how to safely allow 12 step programs to meet in our building.

This is all a work-in-progress. As you know, everything is in flux and we do not know what tomorrow may bring. Please, be patient, continue in your prayers and know, “that God working through us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

+ John