COVID-19 Update from Interim Dean Patrick Williams

Greetings St. Mary’s Cathedral Community!

I am writing this letter as an update to you on where we are with COVID-19 and our – the Committee of Return's (COR) - thinking with regard to the process of reopening. First, however, let me say thanks to all of you who responded to the recent survey about reopening for in-person worship. We had 80 respondents to the survey and they were very helpful in letting us know the pulse of the congregation at present, in terms of a potential reopening. What we found out is that some of you do not plan to return to the cathedral under any circumstances until this pandemic is over. Many others of you can envision a return to in-person worship, with sufficient precautions in place, for worship taking place either in the sanctuary or in an outdoor space. Still others said that you would be willing to attend an in-person worship service both in the sanctuary and in an outdoor space. As we suspected, people are of varying opinions and that is perfectly fine. With so many different factors and risk levels to consider that really is to be expected.

At present, the COR has yet to make a decision about in-person worship in August but continues to monitor hard data about the spread of COVID-19. We also remain attuned to the evolving guidelines and guidance from officials at all levels, including our local officials as well as public health and medical community professionals and our diocese. As you are likely aware, the cases of COVID-19 in Shelby County continues to trend upward. Additionally, and, equally important, hospitalizations and positivity rates also continue to increase. These are some of the key areas that we are monitoring as part of our decision making process.

Despite the lack of a firm date for reopening for public worship, however, the COR continues its work of planning for the eventual reopening of St. Mary’s Cathedral. As such, I can tell you that worship will necessarily be different from what we have been accustomed to in the past. Some of the things that you can expect in a return to in-person worship in the initial phase include the following:

·      Worship will be limited to a max of 50 people in total – includes clergy, musicians, etc.

·      You will need to RSVP to attend worship – online or via telephone

·      Seating will be marked with 6ft of distance between persons, except a family unit that lives together can be seated together

·      Wearing of masks will be required at all times when in worship; persons who refuse to wear a mask will not be admitted – there will be a limited number of masks available for those who forget to bring theirs

·      There will be no congregational singing – only vocalists/musicians will sing

·      There will be a designated spot for the offering; no plates will passed around the congregation

·      There will be no passing of the Peace or touching of others

·      No Sunday formation on premises for adults

·      No children or youth Sunday School, Youth Group, Children’s chapel or nursery – all children will need to stay with family for the duration

·      No hospitality hour after worship

·      Plenty of hand sanitizer will be available around the church

The listing above is not meant to be a comprehensive list. It is only meant to give an idea of some of what to expect whenever there is a return to in-person worship and activity at St. Mary’s. Nevertheless, more detailed information will be available as we get closer to the point of return.

Again, I must stress that I, personally, and the COR, collectively, take your health and safety extremely seriously and that is our utmost concern as we seek to make these important decisions. Also, I am very aware that our time in exile from our beloved cathedral is now over four months. To that end, we have heard from you that it has been difficult to maintain a feeling of being connected to the community and that, in particular, many of you would like a way to participate online in live worship opportunities. As a result, we will look to our tradition and utilize the Book of Common Prayer to increase our weekly worship offerings. In particular, we will offer the following live options:

·      Monday Morning Prayer @ 8am – begins on Monday, August 3, on Facebook Live

·      Wednesday Noonday Prayer @ 12 noon  - begins on Wednesday, August 5, will be streamed on Facebook Live

·      Friday Night Compline @ 7:30pm – begins on Friday, July 17, and will be streamed on Facebook Live

It is our hope and prayer that gathering online for these times of communal prayer will indeed help us to reconnect or to maintain our feeling of connection as a community of faith. Part of the way that we hope to foster this is that we will be looking to you to volunteer to help keep these prayer services going over the long term. The clergy team is honored to get things started but we hope that many of you will also begin to sign up to lead the Monday morning prayer and Friday night compline services, particularly.

Please stay tuned for forthcoming information on how to sign-up to host these services once we get started. Also, stay tuned for a decision in the coming couple of weeks on whether we will return to in-person worship in August and please keep all of this in your prayers.

Finally, let me express my gratitude to you as a community. I am grateful for your patience. For your trust. For your strength. For your continued generosity and support and for your ongoing prayers that sustain us as a community. It is all of these ways that you express your faith in the living God that we will together discern the path that God has set for our future.

Peace & Blessings,

Patrick J. Williams+

Interim Dean