They say every journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first step, and you might think that for Christ Church, our first steps to re-opening would be clear. But as the Property Use in Pandemic (PUP) task force is learning, it’s just not that straightforward. This ad hoc group has to continuously hold two potentially competing desires in their minds at the same time. As one task force member puts it, “We’re balancing two desires. We know many parishioners long to gather again for worship, preferably in the sanctuary. We also know, from talking to members, that they understand that keeping each other safe amid the pandemic is everyone’s top priority.”

The Bishop’s directives provide very clear guidance on some points:

  • Masks must be worn at all times
  • Activities deemed higher risk (like singing or sharing in the Eucharist) must be avoided to reduce the possibility of infection
  • Anyone entering the buildings must have prior approval, and must submit certain information to allow for contact tracing if necessary

These directives are instructive, but there are a substantial number of decisions being left to each parish, and those are the issues that the PUP task force has to consider. No detail is too small, and even what used to be a simple act now raises a host of questions.

In the last three weeks, the church had several “firsts” since the pandemic began. The PUP Task Force had to prepare for, and then learn from, each of them. Each one had its own challenges, yet each offered lessons for the future.

Some of the use cases that the PUP has considered lately:

Outdoor services. The Rite 13 Class held their Celebration of Womanhood, which will be included in this Sunday’s worship video. This was our first gathering since the church campus closed, and these types of events give us encouragement about what an outdoor service could look like in the near term. But thinking through all of the details of these services isn’t easy! For example, the PUP team had to grapple with how many people could fit on the Woodbridge lawn, vs. in the courtyard or the parking lot. There were questions of who could attend, and how many family “bubbles” seemed safe, and even whether or not it would be acceptable to have cookies (rest assured, the cookies made the cut, but only if packaged and consumed off premises).

Indoor services. Last week, Rev. Emily presided over the interment of the ashes of Elizabeth Hammond Beltz in the columbarium. The family had urgent reasons why the service could not be postponed, and this marked the first sacred service in the building in months. Because there are no easy ways to generate air flow in the sanctuary, even with the columbarium door open and fans blowing, the group of seven people spent only 10 minutes inside and continued pastoral conversations outside. The clergy, vestry, and PUP Committee believe it is best throughout this pandemic to reserve use of the sanctuary for such small, brief, essential pastoral services.

Building Repairs:  Contractors who will be preparing bids for the floor repairs had to conduct walkthroughs of the Sanctuary so that they could gather the necessary information for their estimates. They entered the sanctuary in safely masked and distanced small groups to evaluate the sinking floor at certain pews near the East and West walls. But before this was possible, the space had to undergo a deep cleaning with disinfectant by a team in what resembled hazmat suits. These deep cleanings are both the right thing to do and necessary, but they come at a steep price. So far, we’ve paid $5,000 for a set of three cleanings – one of which we used to enable the floor walkthrough, and two we hold in reserve for future use, for example if we learn that a visitor to the building has tested positive.

These are just our first forays into safely re-entering Christ Church. Next steps include working with others who share our space, like Opera MODO, Joys of Recovery AA, and the congregation of the Reconstructionist Congregation Synagogue, to determine what their building use might look like. We’ll also be asking you for your input, which is critical to our understanding. Please complete the Re-Entry survey (provided via email) by Sunday, July 26th and thank you for your thoughtful consideration!