June 28, 2020
Dear Heavenly Rest Family,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
It has now been three Sundays since we resumed in-person worship services at the Church of the Heavenly Rest. It has been an incredible joy to have parishioners on the church campus once again. After almost three months of leading worship for a virtual congregation, I had almost forgotten how different it feels when there are people in the pews. Despite the adjustments we have had to make to our worship life, the energy and enthusiasm of the congregation have been palpable. Moreover, I am deeply grateful for how seriously most of you have taken the precautions we have put in place to keep everyone safe. I have said it before, but it bears repeating: the only way we can continue to worship in person is if we are willing to act sacrificially for the sake of the other people in our parish community.
There have been several developments in recent days that I feel are important for me to address. Over the past several weeks, the State of Texas has seen significant increases in the rate of infection from COVID-19. On Thursday, June 25, the state saw a record number of Coronavirus-related hospitalizations. In response to the statewide increases in rates of infection, Governor Abbott has paused the plan to reopen Texas and, as of the end of last week, has ordered the closure of bars and other amenities. In an interview given on Tuesday, the governor noted, “We want to make sure that everyone reinforces the best safe practices of wearing a mask, hand sanitization, maintaining safe distance, but importantly, because the spread [of the virus] is so rampant right now, there’s never a reason for you to have to leave your home...Unless you do need to go out, the safest place for you is at your home.” The City of Abilene and Taylor County have also seen the number of infected persons increase, though not currently at the same pace as other communities in the state.
All of this is a sobering reminder that COVID-19 has not yet been suppressed and continues to be a threat to public health. It also underscores the need to take protective measures seriously. In particular, wearing a face covering or mask in public is a simple and effective way to limit exposure to pathogens for the wearer and the people the wearer comes in contact with.
At the moment, we will not be suspending services again at Heavenly Rest. We will, however, not be relaxing any restrictions in the immediate future. Among other things, this means that we will continue our practice of Spiritual Communion at the 10:30 service for the time being. Additionally, I would like to underscore the importance of the precautions we are asking those who attend in-person worship to take:
Wear a mask or face covering. The most meaningful way we can show love to our neighbors and our fellow parishioners right now is by ensuring that we do not pass along any pathogens that we might be carrying. Wearing a mask is a simple way to care for the people around us.
Register for which service you would like to attend. You can register for services by calling the church office or by visiting heavenlyrestabilene.org/reservations. The purpose of this measure is to make sure we can inform those who attend worship if they have had exposure to someone diagnosed with COVID-19.
Let us know if you are sick. Please contact a member of the clergy if you are diagnosed with COVID-19. The identity of those with positive diagnoses will be held in strict confidence.
Maintain appropriate physical distance. Please remain at least six feet from those not in your own household. As much as we all miss hugs and handshakes, this measure is crucial to limit people’s exposure.
If you are part of a vulnerable population (over 65 years old or immunocompromised), or if you have any concerns about worshiping in person at Heavenly Rest, please consider worshiping online. We will continue to broadcast the 10:30 service of Holy Eucharist on our Facebook page or at heavenlyrestabilene.org/live.
A few Sundays ago, a parishioner mentioned that Heavenly Rest was the safest place to be apart from his own home. I believe that this statement is accurate, but the only way it can continue to be true is if we collectively embrace these measures and those outlined in the report of the Return Task Force.
It is my hope that we will not have to suspend in-person worship again. The idea of not having parishioners on the church campus is painful even to consider. At the same time, we will take that step if we feel it is necessary to protect the health and safety of the Heavenly Rest community. The Return Task Force continues to meet remotely on a regular basis to evaluate the risks we are facing as a community and the precautions we have implemented. Over the next several weeks, we will carefully monitor the rates of infection in the City of Abilene and Taylor County. Additionally, we will consider both the number of people attending in-person worship services at Heavenly Rest and the level of compliance with the health and safety protocols we have put into place. Needless to say, we will also abide by the directives of any civil or ecclesiastical authorities. While I believe that we have taken steps to ensure that worshiping at Heavenly Rest is a relatively safe activity, I cannot rule out the possibility that, for a period of time, we might have to return to exclusively online worship for the well-being of our members.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul invites the congregation to think of the Church as if it were a body. Just as the different parts of a body are at once distinct and interconnected, so also the members of the Church, while separate, are dependent on one another in both practical and mystical ways. As Paul observes, “If one member [of Christ’s Body] suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” By the same token, no member of the Church can operate without being aware of his or her connection to the other members of the Body. The Christian community can only function properly, in other words, when every member behaves as if his or her actions matter to the whole Body of Christ. This is a crucial lesson for us to internalize as we move through this time together. If everyone takes their responsibility to the wider community seriously, then we will not only be able to continue meeting in person, we will weather this challenge stronger than we were before. If, on the other hand, we all behave as if our actions have no impact on the people around us, then the whole community will suffer. We have an opportunity to be the Church in ways that we have never experienced before. I pray that we will embrace this opportunity, confident that God will bless our efforts to care for one another.
Know that you are in my constant prayers. As always, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if I can be helpful to you in any way. In the meantime, wear a mask, wash your hands, and trust in the faithfulness of God. May God bless and keep you, this day and always.
The Reverend David F. Romanik