Dear St. Stephen’s Family,
Two weeks ago, I briefly addressed masking in church as the Delta variant began to spread in the United states. Due to our low numbers of COVID-19 cases in Northumberland County at the time, I asked that you decide whether or not you masked based on your comfort level, but as our numbers have risen it has become important for us to make a decision based on what is best for the whole of our community. While we are 100 percent vaccinated, several of you are immunocompromised and we have two small children who cannot be vaccinated worshiping among us. With the support of your wardens and vestry, we know that we have to respond to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Northumberland County. Currently Governor Northam is not requiring masking and the Diocese of Virginia has left decisions for worship protocols up to its clergy with input from our vestries and laity.
With this in mind, Northumberland County has gone from averaging 1 case per day to 5 cases per day, which has moved us from 8 cases per hundred thousand people to 41 cases per hundred thousand people. Our numbers have not been this high throughout the pandemic. In addition to this, the CDC lists our county as only 23% fully vaccinated. With input from the vestry I have decided to ask you to mask in the sanctuary during our 9am service. We know that vaccinated individuals can still carry the virus and get sick. While the likelihood of a vaccinated individual being hospitalized is low, there are several of you with underlying health conditions who still need to be kept safe.
When we move to coffee hour, masks will be optional and up to your discretion. While going to coffee hour and socializing is a personal choice, for our communal worship we need to provide a space in which all of us feel safe and healthy worshiping God. For many who have previously been shut in before vaccines were available, worshiping in church was something they missed deeply and were unable to attend, even when we were outside. For others they are protecting immunocompromised people in their families.
As outside groups continue to gather in our parish hall, I am asking that they mask as well.
I know that this is a complicated and emotional matter to address. Some of you may wonder why we have to do something if no one is watching what we do. I understand and empathize. Raising children in a pandemic is not how I envisioned my family, let alone the beginnings of my ministry in the church. However, it is because we don’t know where each other has been, who we come in contact with, how seriously we are each individually taking the pandemic, and what our visitors may be doing that I am asking and encouraging you all to mask. It is a simple way that we can take care of each other and love the face of God in each of us.
We will continue to sing, pass the peace in whatever form you are comfortable, receive communion in one kind, and you can continue to sit with your family and/or friends. The only new requirement is a mask for worship.
As we move forward, please do not be alarmed if I ask you to wait when entering my office or if I visit you with you mask on. As of the 30-week mark in my pregnancy my doctor has asked that I mask in all situations outside of my “pod” until the end of my pregnancy. While I am vaccinated and will likely not get sick, if I were to test positive at the hospital upon delivery, even if I am asymptomatic, I will be isolated from our sweet bundle of joy. So, for now, Scott and I have to be cautious.
These protocols will be in place for the next two Sundays as we watch our numbers. The vestry and I will meet again on August 31st to evaluate where we are and decide if we need to continuing masking.
In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns please reach out to me by phone or email and I will gladly set up an appointment to meet with you and our Senior Warden, John Hodges.
I hope to see all of you Sunday!
Yours in Christ,