St. Patrick’s to reopen its doors for worship

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Fr. Doug Neel

By Sally Neel
St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church

It has been a long, hard road for everyone. The pandemic of the COVID-19 virus put our nation and the world into a tailspin unlike any we have ever experienced. Businesses and schools, churches and restaurants, important ceremonies, gyms, concerts, plays all went dark and, suddenly, we are confined to our homes. The economy has suffered deeply as people have lost work along with the financial means to pay their bills.

Now, as we literally figure out how to live in the midst of a deadly virus, businesses are beginning to reopen with restrictions, people are cautiously emerging from their homes donned with protective face masks, hand sanitizers and physical distancing. 

“As a church community, we have entered into the second phase of our precautions following months of only worshiping with prerecorded services online,” said Fr. Doug Neel, rector of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church. 

St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church is reopening its doors for a scaled-down version of its normal Sunday liturgy. Rather than singing hymns, listening to a choir and receiving communion, worshippers will use a liturgy called Morning Prayer. Morning Prayer involves reciting Psalms and Canticles and prayers, hearing a sermon, the reciting of the Apostle’s Creed, along with a space for special music. There will be no Holy Communion, no choir and no hymns.

“We will be taking the most aggressive precautions that we can to insure our worshipping community’s protection,” said Neel. 

There will be two services, one at 8 a.m. and the other at 10 a.m. Worshippers are asked to sign up in advance with a maximum of 40 people allowed to attend. There will be a person at the door taking temperatures with a thermal thermometer that does not touch the skin. Anyone with 100 degrees or more will be asked to worship at home and encouraged to seek medical advice. Masks are mandatory and will be provided for any who come unprepared.

Chairs in the church are cordoned off to seat families together and individuals 6 feet apart. There will be no passing of the peace, a time during the service when parishioners are encouraged to greet one another. Music will be limited to the organist and possibly one other musician. No hymns will be sung due to the dangers of spreading germs. Bulletins will be placed in the seats for onetime use.

“Sadly, as a community, this disease has caused us to drastically reorder our customary habits to ensure against spreading the virus,” said Neel. “It is not easy on any of us. Masks feel confining, distancing seems awkward and constantly being on guard is exhausting.

“But, the bottom line is that this virus is very dangerous and extremely contagious. It can and does indiscriminately affect anyone who casually comes near it. We cannot pretend it isn’t there. But if we are considerate of those around us and help to protect them as they help to protect us, we can get through this.

“I believe that as a community, we have a responsibility to keep each other safe. Our worship services will continue to be broadcast online for those who do not feel comfortable worshiping in public and wish to do so from their home instead. Our services have been published on our webpage, www.stpatrickspagosa.org, and will be updated weekly. I encourage anyone who wishes to worship with us to do so.”

St. Patrick’s has proven that the church is far more than a building. Its Food Box Ministry has continued to serve our community during this crisis, handing out free food to any who need it. They have also continued to help prepare food for Loaves and Fishes, offering free take-out meals on Thursdays at the Parish Hall downtown. Bible studies and group meetings have been conducted via Zoom.

“St. Patrick’s has not been closed,” said Neel. “We have simply adjusted our ministry to accommodate the situation at hand. As we move into this next phase, I look forward to seeing some of our parishioners in person and greeting them with a joyful ‘hello!’ — but no hugs for now.”