Dear St. Mary’s Community,
On July 15, I wrote an update to you about ongoing discussions and planning of the Committee of Return. Again, the Committee of Return (COR) is charged not only with thinking through the logistical issues related to a safe return to in-person worship but also discernment of the conditions whereby it would be deemed an acceptable level of risk to resume in-person worship.
At this point, I write to say that the COR has been monitoring the COVID-19 statistics of Shelby County and the State of TN. What we see is that the trend in number of cases, positivity rates, and hospitalizations continue to increase at a significant rate. Current information on the specifics on those statistics can be found here: https://twitter.com/ShelbyTNHealth and here: https://covid19.memphistn.gov/news/ among other sources. We also note that Governor Lee’s State of Emergency for the state of TN remains in effect until August 29. While the State of Emergency order allows houses of worship to be open, it also urges that houses of worship continue online services whenever possible. Given the rising statistics and the state’s urging to continue online worship, the COR still does not believe it is an appropriate time to begin a return to in-person worship. St. Mary’s will remain closed to in-person worship at the cathedral, indefinitely. To be sure, what the COR is looking for to be deemed a comfortable level of risk for a return to in-person worship is a sustained period of decline in the statistics that I have just mentioned, as well as the lifting of State of Emergency orders.
This is an incredibly difficult decision to make and one that we know is both difficult and painful for members of our community, as it is for members of the COR. To that end, our hope and prayer is that you might be able to trust that these decisions are always made with the health, safety, and well-being of all as our major priority. As I have said previously, this is way in which we are trying to live out the commandment of Jesus to love one another.
Nevertheless, not being able to meet for in-person worship Does Not mean that we are not joining together as a community in worship. Online Sunday services continue, and I will speak more about that later. However, recognizing the deep desire to be able to join together in prayer and be connected in a real-time sense, we have set out to offer prayer services at various points during the week that will happen live on Facebook. The prayer services are as follows:
· Monday Morning Prayer @ 8am on Facebook Live – beginning, Monday, August 3
· Wednesday Noonday Prayer @ 12 noon on Facebook Live – beginning, Wednesday, August 5
· Friday Night Compline @ 7:30pm on Facebook Live – already happening; next date is Friday, July 31!
Our hope is that the Monday Morning Prayer and Friday Night Compline services, in particular, will become services that are led by both clergy and laity. That is, not only by clergy but by you as well – individuals, families, St. Mary’s groups, etc. In the coming weeks you will see more about this, including a sign-up sheet and instructions for those interested in leading a prayer service. In this way it will truly be the church being the church, praying for and with one another and for the world!
We know well the deep desire and indeed longing that so many of us have to find a way to return to worship. We share that longing with you and will be so gratified when that day comes. Yet until we are able to return safely to in-person worship, we hope that you will join us as we continue to gather as a community of faith, now online. We have continued to work on improving the quality of our online worship experience over the past several weeks and have heard from many of you in recent days of your gratitude that we are moving in the right direction and that things are getting better each week. On average, we have about 100 views for our Sunday services on YouTube. Each view could be one person but also could be multiple persons in a household viewing worship. Though we do not know how many are actually viewing in a household, we invite you to be a part of that number, if you are not already, and share with your family and friends via YouTube and Facebook!
Over the longer term, we have also been made aware that not everyone will come back to the cathedral immediately, whenever we reopen, and may not return until there is a vaccine. Whatever the reason, please know that we are also working to establish a more permanent video system within the church that will ultimately allow us to effectively stream our services on a permanent basis, so that a return to in-person worship will not mean an end to online streaming of services for those who are not or who choose not to attend in person.
If you would like to donate toward this new video equipment and its installation, please send your contribution to St. Mary’s Cathedral with “new video system” written in the memo line of a check or you can use the donate feature of our website and select “Audio/Visual Project” for your donation. Know that your contribution is appreciated, and it will help us to ensure that our worship services will always be available for as wide an audience as possible.
Sisters, brothers, and siblings in Christ, these are tough decisions that have been made but decisions that have been made in love. As we continue to journey during this time of physical separation from one another and our cathedral, let us remember the One from we are never separated, regardless of where we are. As the Apostle Paul proclaims, “For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ (Romans 8:38-39; New Living Translation)
Interim Dean Patrick Williams