Returning to In-Person Worship Letter – May 20, 2020

Below is a letter that was mailed out this week. Please also note the following documents, the first are the guidelines for Phase 1 reopening that were shared in April and the second are the guidelines for reopening worship spaces in Yellowstone County.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It has been a busy and stressful time for all of us and I am sure that many of us are eager to return to our lives as normal.  However, that isn’t quite what we get to do, at least not for some time.  In late April we sent out a brief newsletter keeping you up to date on what is going on at St. Stephen’s and briefly talking about plans for resuming in-person worship.  Now, as we approach resumption of in-person worship, I wanted to get in touch with everyone to cover some details.

First, a few basics… the first in-person liturgy will be held this coming Sunday, May 24, 2020 at 10 am.  This will be a celebration of Morning Prayer – Rite II and will be used to get us back into the swing of things a little.  On Saturday, May 30 and Sunday, May 31, we will, hopefully, resume celebrating Holy Eucharist together at our normal service times.  Also, all services will continue to be live streamed to YouTube and also uploaded later to Facebook for the indefinite future so that those who do not feel comfortable coming to worship in-person can still participate.

Now, there are some important details that we must cover, so please bear with me. 

  • All worship services for the indefinite future will take place in the larger worship space to allow for room to spread out and socially distance
  • All books have been removed from the pews to prevent contamination, so we will be using full service bulletins for the time being. For Saturday services, we will have a standard Rite I Eucharist bulletin that will work for all services.  Sunday service bulletins will be customized and include music for hymns.  All used bulletins must be disposed of after worship and cannot be reused.  
  • We will not pass an offering plate during liturgies to minimize contact with a common surface, a plate will be left out for offerings to be placed in it either before or after worship (also remember that online giving is now an option)
  • Ushers will keep a list of those attending worship services to aid in contact tracing, if needed

We are still in Phase I of reopening and so there are some specific details for our worship during this time. 

  • Family members from the same household can sit together, but people from other households should be spaced out at least six feet in all directions 
  • Everyone needs to wear a mask that covers the mouth and nose throughout worship services to minimize possible spread of the virus 
  • No physical contact with people outside of your household
  • Vulnerable individuals are strongly encouraged to not participate in in-person worship during Phase I or Phase II.

The state of Montana defines vulnerable individuals as the following: 

  • People over 65 years of age and/or
  • Those with serious underlying health conditions: including high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and those whose immune system is compromised such as by chemotherapy for cancer and other conditions requiring such therapy. 

So, you might be wondering what this means for celebrating Holy Eucharist. Well, it will be a work in progress.  The plan for May 30 and 31, as we gather to celebrate Pentecost, is for communion wafers to be placed individually in small envelopes prior to worship.  They will then be consecrated during the liturgy and when it comes time for the distribution, people will line up and receive their envelope.  Once everyone has received his or her envelope the entire congregation will gather up and go outside, distancing ourselves appropriately, remove our masks and then together receive communion.  Then we will say the post communion prayer together and be dismissed.  This is designed to allow us to receive communion together, but safely.  It will likely be a little awkward at first and take some time to get used to, but I think it is the best option.  

As we continue to find our ways through this difficult time, I ask for your continued patience as we try to find the best way to come together while remaining safe.  Please continue to pray for those who keep our world going, even in the midst of crisis and for those who care for the sick and the suffering.  We can make it through this, we just need to remember Jesus’s call to us to love God and to love our neighbors.  

Lovingly yours in Christ,

Father Stephen

Author: Father Stephen

Father Stephen started serving as the rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on January 10, 2020. Prior to that position he served as priest-in-charge in Miles City and Forsyth, Montana. He is originally from West Virginia and has experience in youth ministry, mission work and more.