Dear people of God,
With a deep sense of sadness, I am writing to inform you that we will return to online worship for Sunday, October 11. There will be no in-person liturgy at Open Season. Please join us on our Facebook page at 10:30 for morning prayer.
This past week, we have seen a tremendous and troubling rise in the number of cases in Arkansas county. As I write this, there are 117 active cases, an all-time high for us. This past week alone, Arkansas county has reported an additional 46.35 active cases per 10,000 people. By far, those are the highest numbers for all of Arkansas.
After consulting the advice of medical professionals, and after consulting our own bishop's guidelines, it is clear that we are already in the middle of a significant outbreak and need to take direct action. The ethical and Christian thing to do is to limit our own public gatherings. And please remember to limit your interactions with others, practice social distancing, wear a mask, and wash your hands.
We will still have our blessing of the animals liturgy at 5:00 on Sunday. Masks are required, and our animals will make sure social distancing is enforced. You may stay in your car in the gravel parking lot, if you would prefer, and I will come by for a socially-distanced blessing.
My hope is that we will be able to re-gather in person very, very soon. I am monitoring the numbers everyday. In the meantime, please be safe, and pray for our community. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Yours in Christ,
A Note from Junior Warden Jeremiah Moore
Good morning to my church family of St. Alban’s! I miss you all dearly, and look forward to the time we can once again reunite as a whole on Sunday mornings. I write this note in my capacity as your Junior Warden, and I am in need of your help. It is my duty to ensure that the church building and grounds are kept in working order and shape, even in this time of uncertainty and congregational absence. The A/C unit that keeps the sanctuary cool during these summer months is no longer in working condition. In fact, our entire unit system is on the verge of needing to be replaced, and this is the first unit to fail.
With that being said, Willie Ludwig and I have collected a number of quotes for replacing the broken unit, and we’ve secured the lowest bid at $6,190 + tax. Many thanks to Willie for his assistance in this matter. While we have roughly $7,000 in our church building fund, the near future seems to indicate that we will need much more than the cost of one unit. Besides that, the current roof does not have many years left, shown evident by some recent shingle damage during a recent storm.
But I do have good news! We have received a very generous anonymous matching donation to the building fund for $6,790. This means that for every dollar given to the building fund, one more will be added to it up to $6,790. You can give by sending a check to the church (PO Box 726, Stuttgart, AR, 72160), by dropping a check off at the church, or by giving online.
I completely understand that you all give generously in your monthly pledges, and for this, I am grateful. My ask to you is this: in addition to your current pledge, please consider giving to the building fund for these much needed current and upcoming repairs. We are a strong church family, and we can help create a solution as a family. Please donate to help us acquire the full amount of the matching gift. I am thankful to you all. Whether it’s financial contributions, work at the food bank, buying green beans, or praying for your church family and neighbors, thank you. Should you need anything from me, I’m just a phone call away.
Jeremiah Moore, Junior Warden
A Letter from Bishop Benfield
This year continues to present us with a combination of challenges that are unprecedented. There is the confluence of a long-overdue awareness of racism as an ongoing evil, a toxic political climate, and a frightening virus. The church, as always, is called to respond with compassion. Compassion in 2020 means that we must find new ways to relate to one another. We must work to heal the communities in which we live by responding creatively to old prejudices and ways of thinking.
In its own way, how we respond to the Covid pandemic as worshipping communities is going to rely on creativity as well, and it may serve as practice in how to think creatively about other, larger issues. Currently, only a handful of churches are meeting in-person for worship; most congregations continue to gather virtually. I continue to work with individual congregations whose leaders call me to discuss how best to worship and how to conduct special services such as funerals, weddings, and baptisms, even in areas where the infection rate remains high.
Given the likelihood that the virus will continue to be active for some time, we need to think about how congregations can meet safely in-person, and what such worship might look like. What we are coming to understand is that the primary way the virus is apparently transmitted is through the air when people are close to one another but not masked. The chance of transmission is far lower outdoors than indoors, and lower in shorter gatherings than in longer ones.
Even in counties where the active number of Covid cases is higher than ten per 10,000 residents, congregational leaders can consider how worship outdoors might be possible. For example, during these hot summer months, is it possible to meet early in the morning, very late in the evening, or under a covered outdoor area even if it is a location other than the church building? Could Communion be distributed on the front steps of the church? Could people sit in chairs under trees or in their cars?
No matter what each congregation decides, here in the diocesan office we want to continue to offer support to congregations in suggesting activities and ministries that can take place virtually, to advise congregations on what types of worship have an acceptable level of risk, and to plan for 2021 as both the diocese and congregations work on budgets and programs that will support the important work that our church is called to do to meet the serious challenges that face us as a society.
A Note from Bishop Benfield
We face challenges as a church in this age of pandemic, but we are confident that the church is up to the challenge. Over the next few months we in Arkansas will find ways to bring our community back together in person, always mindful that we will look out for the health of everyone around us.
In anticipation of opening our doors once again, we will spend the next month preparing. During the month of May, we will continue to worship online rather than in person.
Please remember that how and when to reopen will depend in large part on public health guidelines in effect at the time and the success, or lack of it, in overcoming the pandemic. Estimates of infection, illness, and death change from week to week, making it impossible to give precise dates in early May 2020 on when churches can reopen. But we will do so as soon as we feel confident that reopening is the right thing to do for our spiritual and physical health.
Below is a link to a four-page pamphlet outlining what we need to do in May, complete with a list of questions each congregation needs to be asking now, and what we hope to be able to do in June.
A Letter from Bishop Benfield
When this pandemic began and we closed our churches, many of us were looking forward to the Sunday when we would all return to church and it would feel like Easter at last. That sense of anticipation is probably more palpable now that Arkansas's governor will allow certain businesses to start operations again on May 4.
What we now understand is that the reopening of our churches will take place in a much more measured, careful way than as a grand reopening event. My staff and I working on the best strategy to do so, and thus are working with the help of other church leaders across the Episcopal Church. We will look not only at the governor's directives, but also at guidelines from the Centers of Disease Control and other public health entities. The last thing we want to do is take unnecessary health risks.
In the coming days I will work with our clergy and lay leaders on a set of focused steps for reopening churches. We will, for example, find social distancing as an ongoing reality for some time. It may be that our smaller, more rural congregations will be operating more normally sooner than our larger, urban congregations. It is likely that such events as small Bible study groups will be meeting in church buildings before Sunday worship recommences. And in the first phase of church re-openings, Morning Prayer is likely to be the Sunday morning liturgy rather than participation in the Eucharist.
What I miss most right now is making visits to congregations, confirming people, and sharing the Eucharist with them. Naturally, I have set aside my schedule as I wait to see when it will again be safe to visit congregations and what those visits will look like. In the meantime, while I cannot visit, I am presiding each Sunday at Trinity Cathedral's liturgy.
We have been through a challenging spring, but we have learned how to care of one another in new ways, and that is something that we will build on in the future. We are finding resurrection stories in our own lives, and in that sense every day is Easter Day; every week is still part and parcel of Easter season. I wish you continued joy in this season as we look into the future and the opportunities it will bring us.
JOIN US FOR WORSHIP!
Visit our Worship page for more on online worship.