May 9, 2021
Dear Heavenly Rest Family,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today marks the twelfth consecutive Sunday that we have gathered for in-person, indoor worship at Heavenly Rest. Not only is this the longest uninterrupted stretch of Sundays since the beginning of the pandemic, but it also ties the length of our longest suspension of indoor worship. It has been such a joy to worship with you over these past several months, as we have begun to rediscover the rhythms of our common life.
It is worth acknowledging how much the situation has improved since we last returned to in-person, indoor worship. Over the past month or so, the infection rate has decreased throughout the country. Locally, the number of Coronavirus-related hospitalizations has consistently remained in the single digits. It seems that this is at least partially attributable to the success of the vaccination campaign in Taylor County, where the COVID-19 vaccine is now available to everyone over the age of sixteen.
Meanwhile, at the end of April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance about the relative safety of various activities. Specifically, the CDC indicated that fully vaccinated persons who wear a mask can safely “attend a full-capacity worship service” and “sing in an indoor chorus”. These new guidelines also indicated that fully vaccinated persons can “attend a small, outdoor gathering” without wearing a mask.
In light of this new guidance, the improved public health situation in our area, and the widespread availability of vaccines, Bishop Mayer has relaxed a number of COVID-19 restrictions in the Diocese of Northwest Texas, including physical distancing requirements. Masks will continue to be required at all indoor worship services, and Communion will continue to be distributed in one kind for the time being. At a recent meeting, the Return Task Force discussed how the new directives will impact our life at Heavenly Rest. I am very pleased to announce that beginning on Sunday, May 16:
Registration will no longer be required to attend worship at Heavenly Rest
Pews will no longer be marked off
Communion in one kind will be offered at the front of the church, instead of being brought to worshippers in their pews (Communion will still be brought to those with mobility issues)
Members of the choir will sit together in the chancel
More congregational singing will be added to the liturgy
Masks will no longer be required at the 9:00 service of Morning Worship in the Courtyard.
We are inching ever closer to a more “normal” experience of worship at Heavenly Rest. It bears repeating that we will only be able to implement these changes if everyone who attends an indoor worship service wears a well-fitting mask. We are hopeful that the mask requirement will be lifted before too long, but public health officials and the parish’s own medical advisors indicate that we are simply not there yet.
As we relax restrictions, it is important for us to remain mindful that each of us has a different level of comfort being in large groups of people. I encourage you to err on the side of maintaining physical distance when you are at church, in deference to these different comfort levels. It is also worth pointing out that many of the CDC’s new guidelines presume that people are vaccinated. I realize that does not describe everyone at Heavenly Rest. Nevertheless, in this phase of the pandemic, it feels as though the burden of risk management has begun to shift from institutions to individuals.
We have all experienced this pandemic in different ways, and we have all had different experiences of church since March of last year. At the risk of generalizing, I think there are approximately five distinct ways people have experienced and are experiencing the pandemic at Heavenly Rest: there are those who were ready to come back as soon as the doors were open; there are those who waited until they were vaccinated before they returned to indoor worship; there are those who are vaccinated but continue to stay away out of an abundance of caution (either because their health is compromised or members of their household, including children, are not vaccinated); there are those who are waiting until the mask requirement is lifted before they return to church (a position I can understand), and there are those who are simply out of the habit of weekly worship.
Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list, and I don’t mean to imply any judgment whatsoever in offering these observations. I would say, however, that if you find you are one of the people who is “out of the habit”, I encourage you to embrace this new phase of “pandemic life” at Heavenly Rest as an opportunity to get back into the habit. One of the great joys I have experienced in recent weeks is welcoming people back to their church because it has reminded me that we are not fully ourselves unless we are all worshiping together. We will, of course, continue to offer worship online via Facebook Live, but I sincerely pray it is not too much longer before we are all able to gather in person as the Body of Christ.
This has been an incredibly long road, and I remain deeply grateful for your patience, your flexibility, and your devotion. As we move into this next phase of the pandemic, I encourage you to continue praying for those who are affected by this disease and those caring for them. In the meantime, please let me know if there is any way I can be helpful to you. I am blessed to serve you, and I look forward to seeing you in church!
The Reverend David F. Romanik