Hello St. Stephen’s,
We had hoped to be sending you information on our plans to resume our usual 9 am and 11 am in-person Sunday services as of September 12th however, as you can appreciate, the most recent announcements from our provincial health officials have forced us to revise our plans for this period of time while those health orders are in place.
We remain hopeful that the resumption of both our services is not too far away, but also realize that we all need to be patient as we deal with this new stage of life amid COVID realities. And please know that it is our full intention to resume both services as soon as all restrictions are removed and the province finally moves to Step 4 of the BC Restart Plan.
For now though, while we remain in Step 3, we have had to make some revisions to our original plans. We expect and understand that many of you may prefer not to gather with a large group in-person until the rate of COVID transmission drops back to much lower levels. For this reason we have adjusted our plans accordingly.
As long as no further restrictions are announced, we plan to begin having one service each Sunday at 10 am, starting on Sept. 12th. We hope this will accommodate those who are comfortable with resuming in-person worship, while still reducing the number of volunteers needed for each Sunday.
Our music groups are adjusting as they will be required to sing with masks, which brings its own challenges. Because of this, and in an effort to make the services a little shorter, there will be less music than we normally enjoy but it will be a combination of both our traditional and contemporary music styles.
In addition we will continue producing an online service each week that will be available to you every Sunday as we have done since the pandemic began. So you really are free to choose which works best for you, “Sunday online” or “Sunday in-person.” Both services will be just about the same, with the exception of the music included.
Please know that we support each one of you in making the choice that you feel comfortable with for Sunday worship. And also please know that if you choose to remain at home and worship with our online service you will not be missing the celebration of “coming back.” Those will wait until we get to Step 4, have no more restrictions, and can truly return to both our services in the way we are used to them.
As you consider whether you are comfortable coming to in-person worship this fall, we would like you to have some idea what to expect and to know about the measures we are taking, and asking you to take, to ensure that our gatherings keep any risk of viral transmission as low as possible. Our decisions regarding these measures are guided by the provincial health officials and our regional denominational officials’ recommendations.
#1 – Worship online if you are sick. Please stay home if you are unwell. This is one of the most important things we can do now to mitigate the spread of the Covid virus (and others). As promised above, we will continue to offer online services every Sunday so you don’t need to miss worship if you are sick. Just join us online that week!
#2 – Vaccination status. As you will have heard, worship services are exempt from the provincial mandate requiring vaccine passports be shown. Because of this exemption and the advice being given by the national office of the United Church of Canada we will not be asking people to show any proof of vaccination status. However we strongly encourage anyone who can be vaccinated against COVID-19 to do so. Being vaccinated protects you and your neighbours and loved ones by curbing the spread of this virus. If you aren’t vaccinated you are far more at risk of contracting COVID and so your best decision may be to not gather as part of a large group and continue worshiping online for now.
#3 – Masks. In line with the province’s mask mandate we are asking all who come to in-person worship to wear a mask while in the church building.
#4 – Distancing. While there are no specified social distancing requirements in place, we encourage you to spread out in the sanctuary, when you are lining up, or when you find yourself in smaller spaces with others. Keeping the 2 m space between us significantly reduces the risk of viral transmission.
#5 – Passing the Peace. Sharing the peace of Christ is a very important part of our life together and we will continue to include this in our worship services. However for now we ask you to pass the peace verbally. Rather than hugging or shaking hands, you may want to turn to those around you and say, “May the peace of Christ be with you.”
#6 – Hand sanitizing. There are hand sanitizing stations for your use throughout the building. We encourage you to sanitize your hands as you enter the building and before receiving communion.
#7 – Singing. The choir and worship team have started practising (which is now permitted by health officials) and they will be prepared to lead us in singing when we gather but will be doing so masked. Singing in a mask can be challenging for some so we will leave it up to each of you to decide if you are comfortable joining in singing with your mask on or if you’d prefer to just listen.
#8 – Communion. We will be adjusting the way we serve communion to minimize the risk of virus transmission. Bread will be served to you in individual portions using tongs and juice will be served in individual communion cups. We will not be passing the elements or sharing a common cup.
#9 – Offering. We will not be passing the offering plates during the services. We ask you to place your offering in the offering container (which will be located at the entrance to the sanctuary) as you enter or leave. Your service host can help you to find the container. Or, even better, we ask you to consider giving electronically through PAR (Pre-Authorized Remittance) or through our website (www.ststephensucqualicum.ca) by selecting the “Give Online” button on the home page.
#10 – Coffee Time. We had hoped to resume coffee time but, for now, we have decided not to. The added restrictions make it far more complicated to do and would really limit the amount we are able to connect with each other. However we encourage you to visit with others outside the building when the weather permits. Parking lot chats are good and encouraged! While we would love to see you all in-person, we completely understand that it may be some time before everyone is comfortable coming. We hope that having our online alternative means that we are all still able to participate in weekly worship, so whether it is in the church building or in our homes, we can truly be together in spirit and in truth. Thank you all for all you have done over the past year and a half and continue to do to love your neighbours and help to keep them safe and well.
We can’t wait to see your beloved faces again!
On behalf of the St. Stephen’s Board of Elders,
One more important message from the Board: “The Board at St. Stephen’s United Church truly appreciate all of the significant energy and leadership that Rev. Dianne has extended to interpret both the Health Care Directives and the procedures recommended by the National and Regional governing bodies of our church. Thank you Dianne for all of your significant commitment and effort in assisting the Board as we have been moving through this pandemic. “