Dear Trinity Family,
As most of you already know, I am currently in a 14-day quarantine from direct contact with a resident of Lambeth who has tested positive for COVID19. After that exposure, but before finding out of her diagnosis, I presided at several large services on Saturday, Sunday and Monday (March 7-9). As my quarantine has become public people with whom I have had direct contact are reaching out to me personally to ask what they should do. Household members (and one presumes members of the church staff and community) require no specific precautions as long as the quarantined person remains asymptomatic.
Though at home I continue to work with Trinity staff regarding day-to-day operations and decisions and have met remotely with Trinity staff as well as the Executive Committee to determine what we are doing in light of COVID19. We all agree it feels a little like this is a slow moving hurricane in the gulf. We make decisions to avert disaster based on the best models available and sometimes wake up to a sunny day. However, assuming a sunny day and waking up to a hurricane is far worse. I have prayed many times over the course of the last week for wisdom.
The gold standard for making decisions is the Centers for Disease Control whose protocols for religious communities includes the following: "Cancel large gatherings >250 people” and, more importantly “For organizations that serve high-risk populations, cancel gatherings of more than 10 people.” (Link to CDC guidelines) High risk populations are anybody over 60 - which for the Episcopal Church is often a plurality of members. The goal in these numbers is to try to maintain at least six feet of distance from one another throughout this outbreak and it is difficult to imagining the practicalities of maintaining this distance while at Trinity.
I also had the opportunity for a lengthy conversation with Dr. Susan McLellan, a relative of Trinity parishioners and familiar with our family who has taught for 20 years at Tulane in infectious disease and now part of the University of Texas Medical community. When asked if she were in my shoes, knowing Trinity Church and our community what would she do, she suggested cancelling services for the time being to ensure that the medical community dealing with this outbreak isn’t overwhelmed. There are lots of numbers floating around but one consistency is that we will save lives by flattening the curve, that is, not allowing infection rates to spike and overwhelm hospitals which we do by social distancing. This article from 'The Economist' explains.
On these CDC protocols and medical advice from an expert, Trinity Church will abide by these guidelines which include cancelling Sunday services, mid-week services, Wednesday night Lent programs, the Trinity Artist Series, etc. until further notice.
I feel strongly that as the church is a place of social connection which is quite intimate - not just a common cup, but a common rail, common elevator, common doors, and at least in our chapel, confined spaces with poor circulation— we need to cancel, or drastically change for the foreseeable future the way in which we gather.
We are working on some creative ways to share Good News with our Trinity Family and others in the form of expanded reflections, video links to daily Lenten homilies, Facebook live or video streaming of classes, etc. This Sunday's service bulletin and sermon will be sent to you via email on Sunday morning, so that you can worship from home. I ask for your prayers for those affected by this virus biologically, economically, and psychologically. I ask for your patience as we try to make the best decisions that we possible can for the Trinity family and how our decisions affect the wider community as well.
One of the things I love about Trinity is that we are a high-touch community - we hug and kiss and live lives very close to one another. I encourage you while we are maintaining more distance than we might otherwise, to show people you love them in any way you can: a card to someone you know who is sick, a phone call to a member of your Trinity family at Lambeth to check on them, asking what you can do to help those in need. We may not be able to come together physically but we certainly can continue loving on one another.
God bless and thank you for being the wonderful Trinity Family that you are!