March 11, 2022

Dear Beloved,

We have endured many sudden changes over the last few weeks, even as we continue to propel forward with the high energy of an installation/celebration of new ministry and a record turnout for Shrove Tuesday flapjacks. Unusually hot weather this week, a major land war in Europe, and, of course, new COVID-19 protocols at the federal, state, and local level—it can be difficult to keep up with all the shifts. The joy of the Transfiguration Mountain and the sorrow of the Mount of Temptation are both within earshot.

In an effort to answer questions about how the latter of these changes impacts public worship, we wanted to let you know where St. Paul’s currently stands with regard to masking. There are several overlapping jurisdictions that must be considered as we weigh the return to maskless, indoor, and in-person worship.  As the CDC has issued a new metric for masking, as California has implemented new mandates, and as the City of Palm Springs has lifted its mask mandate, we recognize that we have entered a new phase of the pandemic. At the same time, while St. Paul’s respects State governance, we also answer to two additional authorities: the Diocese/Bishop and our local governance of the Vestry/Co-Rectors. In other words, in order to return to a mask-free environment, we will need to receive the permission of our Bishop, as well as the approval of our Vestry and Co-Rectors. While the State runs around a multi-year election cycle, the Church often strategizes in terms of centuries. For better or worse, we often take our time when considering transitions. Sometimes this helps us and sometimes it hurts us. Overall, however, because we discern together as the Body of Christ, even if we move slower (2 Peter 3:9), we can move forward with confidence, knowing that with one voice we have a common vision and direction (Romans 15:5-6).

When making this decision, there are several factors to weigh. The first is what public health experts are recommending. The new State metrics are a starting point for those considerations. Along these lines, we recognize that we have many folks in our parish who are elderly or immunocompromised. In addition to the public health consideration, there is also the pastoral consideration. Should the Vestry, Co-Rectors, and Bishop deem it safe from a health perspective to return to maskless worship, we need to consider whether folks really feel comfortable worshiping inside without masks at this stage of the pandemic. Are we ready for this major change? We are sure that some of us are more than ready! At the same time, many of us do not operate with an on/off switch and need a more incremental transition.

Behind both the physical safety and psychological safety of our parish is the core value of caring for the weak and most vulnerable (Romans 15:1; 1 Corinthians 12:14-26). There can be a tension between this and the core value of holy risk, the kind of risk that asks us to walk with Jesus on water or march through the divided walls of the Red Sea. At the same time, we can often confuse the risk of faith with the temptation of presumption. We can think we are joining Jesus in holy risk, but actually fall prey to the Devil who asks Jesus to jump off the Temple and expect angels to rescue him from a terrible fall (see the Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday). Careful discernment is needed to avoid such a calamity.

Given these considerations, we will continue to remain with our current COVID-19 protocols until we have 1) consulted with our Bishop for further direction and 2) had a chance for the Vestry and Co-Rectors to deliberate over these important matters with the time and attention they deserve. The Vestry meets on the third Wednesday of this month and by then we will have more data to help us make an informed decision. In the meantime, we will continue to ask that all groups remain masked who meet on our campus and we will continue to be masked for in-person Sunday worship at both the 8:00AM service and the 10:30AM service. Coffee hour will continue outside. 8:00AM will continue to be vaccine-required and 10:30AM will continue to be vaccine-preferred. Of course, if anyone feels sick or is uncomfortable worshiping indoors, there is always the option of livestreaming the service from the comfort of your own home.

Thank you for your patience as we consider these matters. We have made it so far and do not need to rush across the finish line. We are in a marathon, not a sprint. If you have any questions or concerns about the process outlined above, please reach out to us. We are more than happy to hear about what is on your heart as we listen together as a community for next steps. And please pray for us. Pray for the Bishop, Co-Rectors, and Vestry. We have been entrusted in these times with the care not only of your souls, but also your bodies. We do not want to bury anyone before their time. The sufferings of the present are nothing compared with the glory to be revealed. You are deeply loved and nothing in all creation, not even a mask, can separate you from the love of God (Romans 8:37-39).

With the love of Christ,

Rev. Dan+ & Rev. Jessie+