By now you know that Governor Baker has included places of worship in the first phase of services which are allowed to open up under his “Safer at Home” guidance. On Monday, the bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and Western Massachusetts also released a plan to move forward gradually. The Diocesan plan is called Journey by Stages, and I commend it to your reading. Bishop Gates reiterated on Monday that the directive for no in-person public worship and gatherings in churches is still in effect until 1 July. I am grateful for Gov. Baker and his leadership team, as well many other local and state officials, for their sensible and data-driven approach to this crisis. I’m grateful also for Bishops Gates, Harris, and Fisher and their teams for their prayerful and intentional leadership. We now need to consider how we continue to move forward at All Saints.
Please remember that when the Wardens, Facility Use Committee, and I make decisions about when it is safe to regather in person, we look to multiple sources of authority: The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, The Commonwealth, the Town of Brookline, and perhaps most importantly, to our own scriptures—which insist that our first priority is to love one another as Christ loved us. And Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians reminds us that while “‘All things are lawful for me’, but not all things are beneficial.” (1Corinthians 6:12). Like you, I long to be able to gather once again in our beloved space, and to share in communion, fellowship, and song. However, we must be guided first and foremost by the demand that we love and care for one another, which in this context means that when we regather in person, we must be able to do so safely.
The Commonwealth’s “Safer at Home” plan for reopening provides some mandatory minimum standards, and the diocese’s “Journey by Stages” provides additional guidance. However, every congregation and every worship space is different. Some of the guidance of what is permissible is not actually feasible in our space, nor would it be beneficial for our community. Now that we know what the minimum standards are, we are planning ways to implement them at All Saints. The staff, Wardens, and I will be working with the leaders of our relevant ministries to determine if, when, and how we will be able to safely allow gatherings in the space. Meanwhile, we continue to burnish our capacity to provide spiritually-engaging services online. In this effort, we join with many other Brookline interfaith congregations, and the Massachusetts Council of Churches in recommending and practicing a cautious and data-driven approach to regathering.
What this means for all who gather at All Saints:
- We will take this journey together step by step, and it is important to remember that we cannot assign dates after Phase 1, because the phases are keyed to specified public health indicators in the Diocesan guidelines.
- Facility Use and Recovery groups may be able to safely regather in phases 2 and/or 3. Guidance for how that will happen will be provided to those groups as soon as we are able after 1 July.
Phase 1—Now until at least July 1
- We will continue to hold services online (Sunday—live-streamed; the Daily Offices on weekdays via Zoom); meetings will continue via Zoom.
- No in-person meetings for any group in our buildings.
- Worship continues online.
- Small group gatherings for those at lower risk may be permitted, while maintaining strict physical distancing, sanitation and hygiene practices, with limitations on the size of the group as mandated by government and public health authorities.
- Worship continues online, with those at high-risk encouraged to continue participating in this way.
- Worship may also begins in person, with distancing, masks, and other strict sanitation measures likely. Communion distribution may resume with bread only. Social Hour may resume with physical distancing, sanitation and hygiene requirements observed; individually packaged food items and beverages prepared by a server – to be held outdoors whenever feasible.
- Congregational singing at worship may occur where significant distance from one another is maintained and space is open and well-ventilated. Children may attend with family, but there will be no youth activity or Sunday School.
- Larger group gatherings may resume with care given to observe physical distancing, sanitation and hygiene practices, and in accordance with government and public health guidelines limiting the size of gatherings.
- Worship continues online; those at high risk are encouraged to continue participating in this way.
- Worship also continues in person without limitations on number of participants, though those at greater risk should always take extra precautions.
- Congregational singing at worship resumes.
- In-person children and youth activities resume.
- Restrictions are lifted on sacramental worship and social gatherings.
In all phases everyone must remain vigilant to stay home when you are sick, and wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.
I remain so very grateful to all of you for your faithfulness and care that you are showing to one another and to all in your communities. Continue to hold one another in prayer and continue to extend patience and graciousness of spirit to all. As the reality of the pandemic and our communal response to it continues to develop, we will continue to evaluate and make changes. We will continue to work with all of the groups who use our building, to ensure that they can return in a way that is safe and beneficial to all. No one anticipates that this will be a linear process, but we live by faith and not by sight, and with God’s guidance we will once again be gathered together at the table, raising our voices in song and sharing in the abundance of creation.
The Rev. Richard Burden, Rector