As things slowly begin to open around the state and around the valley, I want to give you an update on our process here at church as it relates to church, preschool, and Browse ‘N Buy. First, I’d like to acknowledge the wide range of thought and emotion around life returning to normal. Some in our community believe life may never be the same again. Others believe the cautious steps our community has taken over the course of the last several weeks are overly cautious and unnecessary. I, along with staff and vestry, have made careful decisions around our operations that lean toward the side of doing all we can to slow the spread of this virus. Additionally, you have seen our church respond to the needs of those most severely affected by the careful decisions we and others have made. We’ve worked to raise resource for those most severely affected, and we can be proud of and encouraged by our church’s generous response to the needs of our community. To date, you’ve given over a quarter of a million dollars of support. It’s my sincere hope, that when we remember this era, this season of pandemic, we remember that St. John’s Episcopal Church did what it always does—we step up to meet the challenges that face us with love, compassion, and generosity. Way to go, Church. Way to go!
You should know that we are in the beginning stages of planning our return to work, worship, and full operation. While we don’t yet have a date in mind, we have some clear steps ahead that help us arrive at that date. We are taking into consideration Town, County, and State recommendations, of course. We will be following the CDC guidelines for churches returning to worship, and we will carefully consider all steps required by the Diocese of Wyoming, including soliciting and receiving our Diocesan Bishop’s approval to get back to work! We should all take a deep breath and acknowledge that this summer will not be summer, as usual.
Sadly, our beloved Chapel of the Transfiguration will not be open for the summer season of 2020. I have been in contact with the diocese in regard to the Chapel, and I have been instructed to keep the Chapel closed for the season. Please know this weighs heavily on my heart. Many of you know, I have carried in the front cover of the Bible I use for daily reading a picture of the Chapel of the Transfiguration for over 25 years. The Chapel is a place of deep, personal, spiritual connection for me and for so many of you.
In order to close the Chapel and keep it safe, our plan is to place a lock on the door that can be removed when this season of pandemic has passed. We will also close the grounds, as the habitat is sensitive, and we fear the natural habitat will be destroyed beyond recovery if visitors enter as usual this summer. We will begin working with the park to deter tourist traffic on the road. Again, this decision is heartbreaking to me and so many others.
At present, Bright Beginnings, our preschool is closed. This piece of our ministry is fragile. Currently, we are taking the steps necessary to re-open our facility, yet there are several steps to take and many barriers in the way before we can safely and sustainably reopen Bright Beginnings. In our diocesan guidelines for reopening preschools, this type of ministry falls into “phase 3.”
In the coming days, we will organize a small strategy group around Bright Beginnings. We will be looking at recertification with the state, staffing and hiring, cleaning and disinfecting protocols, admission, and long term mission around our school. Before this pandemic hit, our preschool director, Julie Tobiason informed me it was her intention to pursue other opportunities come the end of summer. Julie has done a tremendous job, both as a teacher and a head of school. We will miss her care, nurture, enthusiasm and instruction of our kids. Happily, Julie and her family will remain a part of our St. John’s Church family.
It is our plan to communicate directly and transparently at each stage of our process in regard to Bright Beginnings. If you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Planning with no clear date in sight
At some point, Browse 'N Buy will reopen. Though the date is not clear, Lonnie and his team, along with other staff members are already working to create as safe an environment as possible for both staff and customer. No doubt, many of you have bags or boxes of clothes and housewares ready to come to Browse. We appreciate your patience. Currently, we are working on installing many of the modifications you’ve seen at our grocery stores and other retail locations that have remained open. Likely, we will limit the number of folks both dropping off and shopping during these first several weeks of returning to normal.
The offices for St. John’s will likely follow Browse. Our opening will be slow and staged with only essential staff and those who cannot do certain tasks from home returning first. When you visit the office, we’ll ask you to keep your distance. We want to be both hospitable and safe. Of course, if we find that someone becomes ill, we will close the office, again, for the right period of time.
As we see it now, church services will remain exclusively online at least through Pentecost (the last weekend in May) and likely for a bit longer. We are working closely with the diocese to determine when and how we might move forward with reopening.
We do know a few things already. When we reopen, we will need to practice careful social distancing protocols. Not as many people will be able to come to church as usual together. We will also be disinfecting prior to and following each service. It’s very likely that we will worship outside for a period of time. (Come on! It’ll be fun!) I would expect returning to worship in St. John’s Chapel to come last because of the small space and our inability to open windows.
Though we are not in the office, your staff is working VERY hard to insure that we don’t miss an opportunity to spread love. Some are doing their jobs while also serving as homeschool teachers. Others are stepping up and taking loads that some can’t manage given the circumstances. The team is coming together-apart to support the important work of St. John’s. Those folks, our beloved, deserve some extra thanks, so please shoot them some encouragement when you can. Onward through the fog!