Regathering indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic: what will it be like?
Worship indoors, at least until the pandemic subsides significantly, will be different than we are used to. We will still glorify God, hear God’s word proclaimed and preached, pray for ourselves and the world, make offerings, participate in the mystery of the sacrament of Christ’s body, and be sent forth in the name of Christ. We wanted to share a little bit more about what the experience might be like. You can also view some helpful guidelines here.
You have arrived at church on a beautiful morning. Approaching the front steps you see a line of people on the sidewalk spaced six feet apart, all wearing face coverings. If it were raining heavily you would enter through Sydnor Hall on the lower level where a spaced line would form indoors. You noticed another parishioner in a wheelchair entering through Sydnor Hall today to access the elevator. An usher greets you with a friendly wave and invites you to join the line.
When an usher in the narthex waves you inside, you stop at the welcome table where a greeter asks if you pre-registered. You did not register this time, but thankfully we still have room. The greeter takes your name and contact information for contact tracing if needed. They ask you a few health screening questions. You truthfully answer “no” to all of them and head into the nave, stopping to sanitize your hands. You see some bulletins on the table but decide to use your electronic tablet to find the bulletin online.
Another usher is ready to escort you to a pew which is three pews behind the last person who came in. “Can’t I sit in my usual pew?” you ask. The usher reminds you that we are seating people from front to back as they arrive so that we can avoid additional path crossings and confusion. Most of the pew doors are closed as spacer pews. You notice some tape on the pew seat marking a zone where you should sit. Some pews have people sitting together who came together. Others are singles.
Before sitting down, you decide to make a bathroom visit. This requires timing your movement so as not to cross with someone else in the aisle (next time you’ll go before you are seated). You wait until the usher at the top of the stairs in the narthex tells you it’s clear, then you visit one of the restrooms downstairs, leaving the nave-level handicap accessible bathrooms available for that person in the wheelchair. Taking a sanitizing cloth from the container provided, you give a quick wipe of surfaces you may come into contact with. Afterwards you remember to put the cloth in the trash, not down the toilet.
Back at your pew, you sit down and notice the lack of a cushion, as they have all been removed to make sanitizing easier between services. Next time you might bring something soft to sit on. One of the clergy welcomes everyone while facing a camera which is set up in the front of the nave to share the service online. The clergy person reminds those present that only the choir will be singing the hymns, but please hum along while keeping your face covering on throughout the service. The service begins, and you are glad to be here.
At the Peace you wave to others instead of shaking hands. At the offertory you reach for your wallet but then remember you saw the offering plate near the entrance. Instead of having to remember to give afterwards, you decide to make an online donation through the website.
At communion, you wait until the usher invites you forward to receive the Body of Christ (just the bread, not the wine). Along your way you see a hand sanitizer pump and help yourself. Using the tape marks on the floor, you can stay distanced in line. You approach the priest on your side of the church who drops a wafer into your hand without making contact. You hold it carefully and wait to consume it until you are back in your seat and can remove your mask briefly to have a reverent moment with the Body of Christ.
After the final hymn you stay seated until an usher dismisses your pew. You close your pew door so that it can be sanitized afterward. Then you walk out, keeping distance using the tape marks, through the closest of the three front doors. You avoid gathering in groups but instead wave and say farewell to friends as you Go in Peace to Love and Serve the Lord. Thanks be to God.