Wednesday, March 2, 2022
Dear St. Philip family,
Over the past two years, we have felt the strain of the pandemic -- on our healthcare system, in our schools, in our places of business, on essential workers, in our families and social circles, and of course in our church community life. The pandemic has disrupted virtually every facet of our daily lives, and we continue to live with the reality of a “new normal.”
The new CDC guidance released on Friday seeks to address how we are to live in this new normal. We have learned a lot about the COVID-19 virus over the last several months -- including how best to analyze data and interpret those results in a way that keeps our communities safe and healthy.
Up until this past week, the CDC has relied on data reflecting the levels of community transmission of COVID-19. Counties were either considered “low,” “moderate,” “substantial,” or “high.” With this data, the CDC recommended indoor mask wearing by everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in areas of “substantial” or “high” community transmission. As with much of the country, including Cook County, we have been experiencing such rates of community transmission. This is the guidance we have been following at St. Philip since last summer when the CDC reinstated its indoor mask recommendation for all.
As of Friday, the CDC has updated its recommendations based on data that now reflects the burden of COVID-19 on healthcare systems, including the percentage of new COVID-19 hospital admissions and the availability of inpatient beds. Counties are now assigned “low,” “medium,” and “high” statuses based on these numbers. Cook County, as well as our immediate neighbors in Lake, DuPage, and Will counties, is currently considered to be at a “low” COVID-19 community level. Based on CDC guidance, persons who are fully vaccinated are no longer required to wear a face mask in most public settings.
What this means for St. Philip:
Throughout the past two years, we have relied on two guiding principles to inform our COVID-19 mitigation protocols:
Science: We trust the data and the guidance of scientists, medical professionals, and public health officials who interpret that data and make their initial recommendations.
Faith: We love our neighbor, and we aim to live in such a way that reflects that love, especially for those who are most vulnerable.
Effective March 2, face masks are strongly encouraged, but not required, for all persons in our building. This applies to in-person worship, Bible Study, GLOW, and other St. Philip-sponsored events. Facility users and individual ministry teams/small groups are free to make their own decisions within this framework.
We encourage everyone who is eligible to do so to get vaccinated, including booster shots as appropriate.
Current CDC guidance also reminds us that people can and should wear a mask based on personal preference, informed by personal level of risk. This includes anyone who is immunocompromised or at high risk for severe disease. We respect and support these individual decisions.
If you are not feeling well or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or if you have tested positive or been exposed to someone who has, please follow appropriate self-isolation measures and join us for worship online.
If you do test positive and have recently attended worship or another in-person gathering at St. Philip (within 48 hours of experiencing symptoms or positive diagnosis), please contact the church office so appropriate (and confidential) communication can be shared with others with whom you may have been in contact.
Beginning on Ash Wednesday, communion will resume distribution at the altar rail with bread and individual cups of wine/juice. Communion assistants will sanitize their hands before serving and wear masks during distribution. Pre-packaged elements will continue to be provided for those who prefer to receive communion from their seats.
Ash Wednesday worship will also include the imposition of ashes. The presiding minister will sanitize their hands beforehand and wear their mask at all times, given the close proximity. We also ask those coming forward to wear a mask during this portion of the liturgy, at minimum.
During children's messages when children are present in-person, the presiding minister will continue to wear a face mask.
Just as we are able to make our own thoughtful, informed decisions, we also want to remind everyone to please respect the decisions of others. If you choose not to wear a mask, please respect the decision (and personal space) of those who are masked. At the same time, if you choose to continue wearing a mask, please respect the decision of those who are not masked. Be good to yourselves, and be good to other people.
In the event CDC data for our county and/or mitigation recommendations change, we will make every effort to communicate any changes in our protocols in a timely manner to our community members and facility users.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to any St. Philip Council Leader or myself.
Rev. Josh Evans