God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46.1)
Regathering Report: Executive Summary & Committee Recommendations
The Journey by Stages Advisory Committee began its work in June of 2020, using the charge from the vestry and the Journey by Stages guidance from the Diocese of Massachusetts. The committee undertook the work with a goal of striving to provide a plan for the safest environment possible with those guidelines, while understanding that it is impossible to mitigate all risk. Jane Hamel provides support as our diocesan regathering shepherd.
The questionnaire was our first effort and we were pleased when 178 parishioners responded. Summary pages for each question are found in the appendices and a link is provided to the full data set. Lauren Michalski worked on the questionnaire and Jane White took on the task of developing the charts and data set.
In the process of our work, we consulted with people involved in regathering efforts at Church of the Advent, Boston; All Saints, Brookline; Church of the Redeemer, Chestnut Hill; Christ Church, Andover; and All Saints, Chelmsford. Andrew Street connected us to the engineering firm that developed a plan for the ventilation system.
We have thought through and discussed many details involved in preparing for a possible regathering, most of them defined by the diocesan checklist. It is also clear to us that these are plans and with implementation, they will no doubt need to be amended and changed while retaining all required elements. The reservation system, in particular, is complex at the same time that we expect we’ve also missed things. The ability of the Reservation Coordinator to oversee the system and keep track of what is and isn’t working is very important to its success.
Plans developed by the committee cover the following areas:
This section of the document details procedures for preparation of the church before the first service, a structure for the use of bathrooms during and after services, disinfecting protocols, and the procedures for ushers, greeters, and parishioners on Sunday morning. A document to be used in training ushers is also included as an appendix. There are pastoral concerns to be considered for those who serve as ushers, as the diocese recommends that those 65+ consider not attending in-person worship, meaning that younger ushers will need to be recruited and trained. This will require time and care. Church will not really feel like church used to, making it important to communicate this new reality while also doing our best to make all who come feel welcome. Gloria Korta and Ginger Barrow gave particular attention to the work on the safety protocol.
Ventilation has come to be seen as a very important part of creating as safe an environment as possible. Epiphany is in the very fortunate position to already have a fan in the basement and the engineering firm was able to create the specifications for how to add components to what exists that will support making the air cleaner and therefore safer.
2. Reservation System
In some ways, defining how the reservation system would work became the most complex and detailed discussion we had. Planning for moving the current live streaming equipment out of the center aisle to a permanent home, increases the number of parishioners who can attend on Sunday, but we will be far from a full church, and the questionnaire data showed at the time it was submitted that not all who responded would be comfortable attending until a vaccine is widely available.
The committee worked hard to come up with operating principles that provide fair and easy access, working within the limitations defined by the state and diocese. While the system is not yet fully operable, the committee was able to ‘test drive’ a sample and modifications are underway. Jared Cumming and Jason Kinchen worked on the reservation system.
3. Live streaming capacity and longevity
The survey indicated that parishioners would continue to access the live streaming that has served to keep us connected for the last months. Live streaming appears to be here permanently and we want to do it well. To that end, the first priority is to move the equipment currently in the center aisle, for safety and capacity issues, but also to upgrade what exists toward a permanent setup that will serve Epiphany well for the future. Jason Kinchen worked on this aspect of the plan.
In completing its work, the committee recommends that the following items are of particular importance, if the vestry and clergy vote to reopen for Sunday worship:
1. As many as four Sundays should be used as an opportunity for a trial run with a smaller number of attendees, allowing for changes to be implemented prior to the maximum amount of seating, which still allows only limited numbers of attendees.
2. The assumption should be made that the safety and reservation system protocols might need modification after the trial period.
3. Consideration should be given to the pastoral and practical issues around the re-envisioned roles of greeter and usher described in the report, as the diocese strongly recommends that those 65+ not attend in-person worship services. Recruiting, training, and scheduling for these roles will require a significant amount of time. It is assumed that four ushers and two greeters will be required for each service. The committee supports the idea of recruiting youth to help fill these roles, with a youth and an adult serving as a pair.
4. A clear communications plan must be developed and thoroughly implemented to inform parishioners of all the components of reopening, including the suggested age limitation, the reservation system, and all safety protocols required while attending. This will support a smooth process and compliance with regathering requirements for parishioners.
5. The reservation system will require weekly management as reservations are confirmed, seats are assigned, and unforeseen changes occur, requiring a significant amount of time. This may require hiring a part-time person to consistently complete the tasks.
6. Disinfecting the church must be done every week, requiring a significant amount of time. Because the committee has identified a non-toxic disinfectant, it is not necessary to hire a specialized vendor to do this task. Bathrooms must also be disinfected, and the committee has identified appropriate products for use on Sunday mornings and for cleaning during the week.
7. The committee recommends that a cleaning company be engaged to clean and polish all wooden pews in the church with a Guardsman product that provides surface protection. The committee invested considerable energy in trying to determine how to disinfect the church without damaging the fragile surfaces on the aged wood of the pews. Using the Guardsman product initially and then periodically as needed, supports this goal. The plant-based disinfectant can then be sprayed on all high touch surfaces and left to dry.
8. Modifications to the ventilation system, as recommended in the engineering report, must be implemented to support creating the safest environment possible, particularly because airborne virus is currently thought to be a much more significant source of infection than surface contact.
9. Modifications to the current live streaming equipment should be made to create a structure for streaming services now and post-pandemic, clear the center aisle is equipment, adding additional units of seating for parishioners, improve the quality of live streaming for those who cannot attend, and create a safer environment for the volunteers operating the equipment and for parishioners.
10. Consideration should be given to hiring a security person for at least the first four weeks of regathering, when seating is most limited, and it is unknown how parishioners and others might react to the extraordinary circumstances of worship. Several options for financial consideration are included on the budget page.
11. Consideration should be given to both pastoral and practical issues when deciding whether the reservation system is available to the public or is only accessible to parishioners.
Update – Regathering Advisory Committee
Come up with a plan – that’s the quick way to describe the ongoing work of the parish Regathering Advisory Committee. And, that’s what we have been working on with almost weekly meetings since our first meeting in June. We are very clear that we are not the decision makers about opening, instead our job is to provide a plan that addresses the areas defined by the vestry and the diocese. Early on, we broke into subgroups to make the best use of the skills of committee members while we plan for:
We quickly discovered we are dealing with many, many details. We dove in and discovered, for instance, that the EPA approved disinfectant list has hundreds of products. Couple that with Epiphany’s very antique pews and then try to figure out how to accomplish the necessary disinfection without destroying the beautiful wood and do it with a product that is also non-toxic? We think we’ve got that one solved. Or, plan for how parishioners can make use of the bathrooms during and after the service. Easy you say? Once you plan the traffic pattern, how to mark it, and what the instructions will say on the wall outside the bathroom, we moved on to finding a quick kill disinfectant (back to that EPA list) to be used by parishioners inside the bathroom. Additional modifications in the bathrooms themselves will help to make them as safe as possible.
Our charge from the vestry is combined with the requirements from the diocese that must be completed before the diocese will sign off on our opening, should the vestry and clergy vote to do so. Hopefully, the advisory committee’s plan will provide much of the critical information that is needed to make this decision.
It is a daunting task, especially when we consider that our first priority is doing as much as we can to keep us all safe from Covid 19. We look forward to completing this work and turning it over to the vestry and clergy for their consideration.
Mary Street, chair; Ginger Barrow, Jared Cumming, Jason Kinchen, Gloria Korta, Lauren Michalski
June 29, 2020
Journey by Stages Advisory Committee Formed and Getting Started
The Journey By Stages Advisory Committee had its first meeting on Monday, 15 June, and they have begun the work outlined in the Vestry's charge to the committee. The members of the committee are
Mary Street, Chair
In addition to their strong faith and commitment to our parish, this group's professional gifts include deep medical, scientific, technology and public sector experience. Please be sure to thank them for the very important work they are undertaking to help us determine how we can open for in-person worship.
A Letter from Your Wardens and Interim Rector
Dear Epiphany Parishioners,
Yesterday – the Feast of Pentecost – we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit, promised to us by Jesus. Jesus refers to the Spirit as an “advocate,” sometimes translated as “comforter” or “helper.” It is a great blessing to have the Spirit’s help and comfort and guidance as we journey together through this difficult season of pandemic.
What follows is an important and full letter. We hope you will take the time to read, reflect, and pray with us. There are three key points we want to communicate up front, in case you can’t read the entire letter now:
There has been much for all of us to absorb recently. On May 12, Bishop Gates and Bishop Harris extended the restrictions on in-person public worship and gatherings in our churches until July 1. On May 18, Governor Baker released plans for a phased reopening of the state that included safety standards for houses of worship, and our bishops released that day their guidelines for a phased reopening of our churches, called A Journey by Stages. It is important to keep in mind that though the state and diocesan plans permit churches to reopen their buildings, they do not require any church to reopen its building.
We will love our neighbors by keeping our building closed for now
After careful review of these plans and consultation with the Vestry, we believe that reopening the church building in the near future would put the health of our parishioners and staff at unnecessary risk, and this risk far outweighs the potential benefits. We believe our best option is for our building to remain closed and to focus on enhancing our online worship and faith formation, while we monitor the local public health indicators of the progression of this pandemic. Staff members may continue to work in the building as necessary, but we may not gather in the building for worship, meetings, or other activities (with the exception of livestreaming and recording worship). To use the language of the bishops’ guidelines, we will remain in Stage One of the diocese’s reopening plan for the time being. We do not have a timeframe for when it will be safe to gather again in the church building. Other churches are also taking a cautious approach, and indeed, our bishops have advised parishes not to rush to reopen their buildings.
We know that this will be disappointing! We all long to return to worship in our beautiful sanctuary, and to gather in the building for meetings and activities and events. The psalmist expresses our yearning well: “How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord.” (Psalm 84.1). And yet, because Covid-19 continues to spread in our communities, and because there is not yet adequate testing and contact tracing in our state, there are risks to all of us in too quickly regathering in the church building, even with precautions. We believe this decision is the best way to safeguard the health of our parishioners and staff, as well as the health of our neighbors. Bishop Harris wrote in her May 29 pastoral reflection, “As St. Paul wrote, we must bear each other’s burdens, and care for the welfare of others, even over our own longings, desires and sense of freedom.” This is what loving our neighbor looks like right now.
An advisory committee has been formed to determine how we can reopen our building
In A Journey by Stages, our bishops encourage parishes to “consider appointing an advisory group to think through the limitations of each stage as it relates to your congregation, your buildings, and your capacity to create a safe environment.” And so, at a special meeting on May 27, our Vestry approved the creation of a Journey by Stages Advisory Committee to evaluate the logistical, financial, and pastoral implications of entering into Stage Two of the diocesan phased reopening plan. You can read the Vestry’s charge to the committee here. The committee is being recruited, and we are pleased that Mary Street has agreed to chair it. We want to emphasize that the completion of the committee’s work will not automatically signal that it is safe for us to regather in the building; the reopening of the building will depend instead on public health indicators and state and diocesan mandates and guidance.
The state and diocesan requirements for reopening church buildings present formidable logistical and pastoral challenges; our bishops describe them as “daunting.” In order for a parish to move to Stage Two in the diocesan reopening plan – in other words, in order to reopen a church building for worship – the following restrictions must be adhered to:
As you can see, these restrictions are formidable, yet necessary given the continued spread of Covid-19. Some have wondered about the possibility of gathering outdoors for worship, but our diocesan leadership has made clear that this entails the same logistical and pastoral challenges as worship indoors, as well as health risks. As our bishops note, “the many limitations on gathering in Stage Two may be difficult for some congregations.”
Our parish remains strong and faithful
As we wait for the time when we can safely gather again, Epiphany remains a resilient and faithful community, for which we give great thanks! Though the building is closed, the worship and ministry of Epiphany carries on in fruitful ways:
We are grateful to each of you for your prayers, your patience, and your faithfulness to Epiphany. We will continue to keep you informed as we walk this path together. We take to heart our bishops’ counsel from their reopening plan: “In every situation we must be guided not just by what is permissible, but by what will best safeguard the well-being of all God’s people.” That is our touchstone. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have questions.
Together in Christ,
Journey by Stages Charge from the Vestry
A Journey By Stages - Reopening our Churches
May 18, 2020
A Message from Your Clergy: Prayer, Care, and Online Church
March 20, 2020
Dear friends at Epiphany,
Though our church building is closed, Parish of the Epiphany remains a vibrant community of prayer and care. We have not stopped being the church! In fact, in some mysterious way, we are more truly and deeply the church of Jesus Christ in this uncertain time. In this letter, we want to share with you some ways we are continuing to pray and to care for each other, as well as some practical information for participating in virtual church.
As of today, we are planning on offering virtual church every Sunday and Wednesday for as long as we can (see more below). On Sundays at 10:00 a.m., you can go to our website and link to a service of Morning Prayer with music, and on Wednesdays at 7:30 a.m., you can link to a service of Morning Prayer. We have also started planning for how we might offer virtual Holy Week services. Bear in mind that, as with so much in our lives right now, our plans may evolve with any new guidance or mandates from local public health officials and our diocesan leaders. We will keep you posted!
And each of us at Epiphany is praying at home, offering to God our hopes and fears, interceding for those who are sick and in need, resting in God’s loving presence. Whether you’re finding strength and comfort in old familiar prayers or exploring new ways to pray, know that God longs for our prayers and listens with love to each one. Every prayer bears fruit in God’s time.
Our Epiphany Visitors, Eucharistic Visitors, and Stephen Ministers have been faithfully reaching out by phone to those parishioners they regularly visit, and other parishioners have been making phone calls as well. We encourage you to keep reaching out! A phone call can make such a difference to someone who is feeling isolated. It’s a tangible and beautiful way of sharing God’s love with each other.
We are also restarting our Parish Fellowship Groups. The names in our parish directory have been divided among Vestry members, and someone from the Vestry will reach out to you soon by email. This is another way to check in, to get a sense of spiritual and practical needs, and to enable people to offer help as they can.
We have added links to our website to access our virtual church offerings, which will be hosted on our YouTube channel. Accompanying bulletins for services will be accessible from our Worship->Schedule and Bulletins page. Be sure to tune in at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday for this week’s offering.
Also, this Sunday at 11:00 a.m., we will host a virtual coffee hour via Zoom videoconferencing. Please join us by clicking on this link at 11:00 a.m. https://zoom.us/j/630762881
If you haven’t participated in a Zoom call before, you can prepare for our virtual coffee hour by following this link: https://zoom.us/test You’ll be prompted to download the Zoom application to your device.
Finally, remember that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.39). As always, we hold you in loving prayer and are so very grateful for each of you at Epiphany.
Faithfully in Christ,
Important Information About Church Closure
March 12, 2020
Dear friends at Epiphany,
We want you to know that given the continued spread of COVID-19 through our communities, we have decided to close the church building through March 31. This means that we will not be gathering at the church for worship services, church meetings and classes, or events during this time. Staff members may work from home or may be in the building to work.
We encourage you to read this letter from Bishop Gates, sent today, in which he offers his support for those churches that decide to close. Though this decision is clearly necessary, we know that it will be difficult not to be with each other on Sundays and at other times. It will help us all if we remember that the church is not a building; it is the body of Christ. Whether we pray together in person or pray together apart, we are the body of Christ. And this is Christ’s work for us right now, to love our neighbors by doing what we can to slow the spread of this virus.
In the days ahead, we will reach out to you with resources for prayer and worship during this time. And of course, it’s essential that we each continue our own spiritual practices, to care for our souls as well as our bodies.
There is a strong network of pastoral visiting at Epiphany. Though in-person visits at most healthcare facilities are being discouraged or even prohibited at this time, we encourage our Epiphany Visitors, Eucharistic Visitors, and Stephen Ministers to offer pastoral care and support by phone to those they would regularly visit. Your clergy are available, as always, in a pastoral emergency.
We will continue to closely monitor this situation and will update you as necessary. For now, let us all:
Faithfully in Christ,
Important Information From Your Wardens and Interim Rector
March 11, 2020
Dear friends at Epiphany,
Today our bishops issued a letter along with a new set of mandated protocols and additional recommended practices. These materials were emailed to you earlier today. Click here to read the Bishop's directive.
We urge you to read and follow these important protocols. You’ll note some significant changes for when we gather for worship: Communion is to be distributed in the form of consecrated bread only; offering plates will be at the back of the church rather than passed among the congregation; and at the Peace and when greeting at the door, people should greet each other without physical touch of any kind.
We want you to know that your wardens, clergy, and Jason Kinchen (who is a Red Cross disaster chaplain) met this past Sunday, March 8, to discuss how we can be prepared as a parish to respond to this situation. We covered every area of parish life and have been following up with staff and ministry leaders this week. Though there is much information to consider and convey, we want to remind you of some basic ways we can help care for each other:
We will continue to email updates and important information – please read them! These updates will also be available on our Facebook page and a Coronavirus updates page on our website.
Please reach out to us with any questions or concerns. Be assured that we will continue to closely monitor this situation and adhere to guidance and mandates from our diocese and local public health officials. Above all, remember that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46.1) and that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.39).
Faithfully in Christ,