Our Response to COVID-19
An Update on Parish Policies During the Pandemic
September 10, 2020
Dear Good People of St. Mark’s,
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. –Philippians 1:2
A Word of Hope
We are reminded as the season changes from summer to fall of that wonderful reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season.” Though we remain in a season of pandemic, it will not last forever. Dr. Anthony Fauci met with Episcopal Bishops in August and told them to have faith: the pandemic will end.
A Word of Caution
Dr. Fauci also said that for now, it is best for us to remain vigilant and hold to the best practices that are well known to all of us. It is best to gather outside. Being indoors significantly increases risk as the airborne virus lingers for a considerable amount of time. The onset of regular flu season and increased gathering at schools and elsewhere also escalate risk for any gathering, indoors or out. We are committed to protecting our clergy, staff, and volunteers as they serve the congregation and the community. Therefore, we will hold our course steady and maintain the practices that we have followed during the spring and summer to good effect.
The hallmark of our church is love, and during the season of pandemic, our top priority is to meet the pastoral needs of the community while minimizing risk. We must continually weigh how much risk we are willing to accept for the various choices we make. Some things are so crucial to our mission that they warrant taking extra risk. Others are not. In addition, some activities have sufficient–if not ideal–lower risk alternatives. We apply a decision process for activities at St. Mark’s by asking these questions:
• How crucial is this particular gathering to our core mission?
• Are we uniquely suited or called to provide this for the congregation or community?
• Is there a sufficient lower-risk alternative?
Summer and September
Under this approach we have had ten holy and beautiful outdoor Eucharists in addition to the equally holy and beautiful streamed Eucharists. There have been deeply meaningful funerals, baptisms, and marriages, all outdoors. The Food Pantry has served its ever-increasing client community, in part with abundant produce from the Gospel Garden. Morning Prayer has continued faithfully on Zoom, as well as meditation, house churches, praying the rosary, poetry, and more. Most of the staff works remotely, and our buildings have remained closed to the public. These practices will all continue.
Joyfully, St. Mark’s Preschool (SMP) welcomed students back on Tuesday, September 8. This reflects our understanding that the unique developmental needs of our youngest children must be met primarily in person. Preschool Director Prisca Spitz has led the creation of an extraordinarily well-designed program that meets all of the guidelines set out by the state Department of Health and the Office of Early Childhood Education. The teachers, staff, and families have committed to protocols designed to minimize risk, all with our support. We are grateful that we are able to provide a school environment that meets SMP’s commitment to the social, emotional, spiritual, physical, and intellectual areas of learning preschoolers need to thrive.
The wider community is undertaking a great experiment in September as students of all ages return to school. We have chosen to be more “control group” than “test subject” during this time. Next steps at St. Mark’s will be informed in part by the data that comes toward the end of September from the back-to-school experience. Then we will again take stock of the public health environment, our risk tolerance, and the needs of the parish. We will consider whether the alternatives are still sufficient, and what creative approaches we can bring to our life together.
Meanwhile, the clergy and staff are completing exciting plans for fall offerings in Adult Education, Children’s Ministry, and Youth Ministry. You will hear more in the coming weeks on all of this.
We are so thankful for the steady and thoughtful ministry of the Regathering Task Force in which we are joined by Suzanne Harrison, Lauren Clancy, David Kalal, Teresa Ressel, John Scheler, Rev. Elizabeth Garnsey, Fr. Justin Crisp, and Jill Sautkulis. We are thankful also for the staff and lay leaders who have leaned into living in pandemic with grace, resilience, and love. Most of all, we are grateful to all of you for the way you have cared for St. Mark’s and for one another in this extraordinary time, and for your support as we navigate these uncharted waters.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. –Romans 15:13
The Reverend Peter F. Walsh
Father Peter interviews Mike Handler, Director of Emergency Management in New Canaan, to discuss the COVID-19 outbreak and response.
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