We’re now holding church services at our picnic grounds!

17 Jun

Dear brothers and sisters,

Christ is in our midst!

It gives me great joy to let you know that His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, has blessed us to hold in-person Divine Liturgies at Holy Ghost Park in Shelton (70 Nells Rock Road).

The approved instructions for this first phase of reopening in the wake of the COVID–19 pandemic are printed below for your review. I do ask you to review them carefully before deciding whether or not you will be able to participate in person, and especially review the revised section on requirements for wearing masks.

The Sunday outdoor Divine Liturgies will also be live-streamed on our parish Facebook page, while Saturday evening Vespers and other services will continue to be live-streamed on our parish Facebook Page from the church with a minimal “crew” of priest and singer (in other words, just my wife, Matushka Denise, and me for the time being).

We have been waiting for three months to be able to plan for being together again in person for the Divine Liturgy. Metropolitan Tikhon and the Holy Synod of Bishops have given us careful instructions on how we can go about doing this, taking the most cautious and conservative steps to protect everyone’s health to the extent possible and in conformity with the most widely accepted science. The Parish Council likewise has met this week to review specific preparation plans for serving Divine Liturgies at Holy Ghost Park.

Unsurprisingly, there will be a variety of opinions about this. Do we really need to have masks, take temperatures, practice social distancing and change our manner of receiving Holy Communion? The Scriptures have much to say about coming together as a Christian community when members of the Body of Christ have opposing views. As we all try to come to terms with steps for reopening, I ask you to all to exercise special patience and charity toward each other. Here, I think the best advice is from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, which we read on Forgiveness Sunday on the eve of Great Lent. St. Paul is talking about different opinions over fasting practices, but the same applies to different opinions over steps to reopening in the wake of COVID–19:

Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.  (Romans 14:3-4).

Especially note two things:

  1. In inclement weather, priority seating and standing under the pavilion at the property will be given to those parishioners who are either senior citizens or who have a disability.
  2. Our space is limited to 150 people in attendance outdoors, and our “doorkeepers”—mentioned in the guidelines below—will make sure we strictly adhere to that number of attendees. It needs to be accepted that these are early days in what will no doubt be a long period of discernment in the life of the Church.

Our bishops bear the heavy responsibility for taking concrete steps during this time of uncertainty. I therefore ask you all to accept voluntarily—whether happily or not—the temporary instructions approved by Metropolitan Tikhon. And if you feel that you cannot follow them, then please refrain from coming to the services for now, remain safe at home and continue to follow the services online. For those who have doubts about returning to in-person church gatherings just yet, you have a full blessing to remain home. I will find a way to ensure that you have access to Holy Communion.

With love in Christ, your pastor, Fr. John


Re-opening for Divine Liturgy at Holy Ghost Park in Shelton

Health and Safety Instructions for Parishioners in the Wake of COVID-19, in conformity with the requirements of the OCA’s Holy Synod of Bishops,  as reviewed and approved by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon (June 12, 2020)

 We will have designated doorkeepers for each service, who will make sure to understand all procedures and commit to arriving early. The doorkeepers will greet each household one at a time; all others must wait their turn to enter the area of the pavilion where services will take place. The doorkeepers are responsible for ensuring that these health and safety instructions are followed for the good of our parish and surrounding community:

Before entering the service, these precautions must be taken:

  • Anyone who currently has COVID-19 and has not recovered, or presents symptoms of it, must refrain from attending. View common symptoms of COVID-19 here.
  • Anyone who cares for someone who has been diagnosed with, or presents symptoms of, COVID-19 must refrain from attending.
  • If you are a vulnerable individual—that is, a senior citizen in frail health or have a serious underlying health condition such as high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, or compromised immune system—you are highly encouraged to stay safe at home and follow the services on line.
  • We will keep a record of who is attending services, in case there are outbreaks of the virus within this community.
  • Each person entering must wear a mask, and must be checked with a non-contact thermometer (the state of Connecticut has provided one to all congregations). In the event that a person exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 after attending services, others in attendance will be notified that they should quarantine for 14 days.
  • After parking your car, after 8:30 a.m., please go directly to Sue Maugeri, who will be taking temperatures and checking masks, and to Barb Dulin, who will be taking attendance. A table will be set up near the kitchen entrance to the pavilion for this purpose. Please do not enter the pavilion for the service without first checking in with Sue and Barb.

During the service itself, the following will be observed:

  • Family groups must stand six feet apart. You should bring your own chairs; otherwise the parish will have to make provisions to sanitize the picnic benches.
  • Please bring your own personal hand sanitizer (this will be appreciated since the parish has limited supplies);
  • No one over the age of 5 is permitted to attend the outdoor services without a mask, with two exceptions for children:
    • Children under the age of two should not wear masks;
    • Parents should judge for children between the ages of two and five whether they should wear a mask.
  • NOTE: If you are a vulnerable individual—that is, a senior citizen in frail health or have a serious underlying health condition such as high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, or compromised immune system—you are highly encouraged to stay safe at home and follow the services online. If any of these conditions prevents you from wearing a mask, please stay safe at home.

  • Please cover sneezes and coughs.
  • The choir will be limited to 3 or 4 people each week, standing at the front 6 feet apart from each other and at least 12 feet from the congregation. This is due to the possibility that the virus is spread especially through aerosol spray. Please refrain from congregational singing. We will softly recite the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer at the appropriate times.
  • A collection plate shall not be passed; instead it will remain at the entrance to the pavilion so that donations may be left as people enter or exit.
  • We will use multiple metal spoons (one per person) for distributing Holy Communion. While waiting for Communion, please maintain social distance. Individual tissues will be made available for reception of the Eucharist. While in line, take a tissue and wait to approach the chalice until the person in front of you has moved away. After receiving the Eucharist, wipe your lips with the tissue and place it in the container for that purpose (these will be burned afterwards). After Communion no bread and wine will be provided.
  • The blessing cross will not be offered at the conclusion of liturgy.
  • No food or drinks will be offered after the Divine Liturgy, but you may bring your own “coffee hour” drink and socialize six feet apart after the service on the grounds of Holy Ghost Park.

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