St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Johnstown currently provides Morning Prayer via Zoom every Sunday at 10:00 AM. Bulletins for the service are provided electronically to our usual email communication list, as well as placed on our Facebook page and website. For those members who do not have access to a computer, tablet or smart phone the bulletin is sent to them every week via regular mail so that they can worship with us at home.
We will reopen for In-Person Sunday Morning Worship Services at 10:00 a.m. on September 13, 2020, although we will monitor the status of the COVID-19 cases in Cambria and surrounding counties in the interest of the safety of our congregation, clergy and visitors. We will continue to do Morning Prayer at first and will move to Holy Eucharist when reopening “bugs” have been worked out.
Question 1. How will you prepare your facility and your congregation for reopening?
1. The congregation will be sent a copy of this reopening plan either electronically or via the postal service and a copy will be placed on our website and on our Facebook page.
2. The congregation will be asked to direct any questions they may have about the process to the priest or members of the vestry. Phone numbers and email addresses will be included in the cover letter.
3. Signs will be placed where appropriate to inform members how to comply with the rules presented here.
4. The building is being cleaned and sanitized by our sexton at least once a week since we have kept the office open on a limited basis during the pandemic in order to keep the church functioning. The nave is being used only on Sunday. The office and bathrooms and all touched surfaces are being cleaned and sanitized every day of use.
5. On Sunday, only one door, the one leading from the courtyard into the building will be open. If weather permits, it will be propped open so no one needs to touch it. If it must be closed, there will be a greeter at the door to open it for those entering and exiting. The greeter will also direct them to the nave for the service. After the service, everyone will be directed to exit through the same door into the courtyard and asked to not congregate in groups. Before and after the service everyone will be moving in the same direction. For safety reasons, the other exit doors in the building will open from the inside even if they are locked from the outside.
6. The parish hall and kitchen will be closed during the Sunday service and signs will be posted. 7. The nursery, classrooms and the bathrooms on our upper floor will be closed and signs will be posted.
Question 2. What alternatives will you provide for parishioners who cannot or choose not to attend in person?
1. We will ask that those who do not feel well or think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 to stay home and stay away for at least 2 weeks. Those who are part of the cohort with risk factors such as age, heart and/or lung disease or are immunocompromised will be encouraged to stay home as well. They will be reminded frequently that they are loved and cared for by the church and will be welcomed back when it is safe to do so.
2. We plan to continue to provide the service electronically via Zoom even after we reopen. As mentioned in the introduction above we will continue to provide the bulletins via the postal service to those who do not have access to a computer, tablet or smart phone.
3. When we resume the Eucharistic Service, distribution of the elements will be done in such a way that no physical touching will happen and that it will be done as safely as possible. The Altar Guild will be trained to prepare the elements for communion to ensure the safety of the clergy and the congregation.
4. At that time, Lay Eucharistic Visitors will be trained to take the Eucharist to the homebound using the no-contact protocols provided by St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon and are available to the priests of the diocese.
Question 3. How will you keep your facilities clean and encourage appropriate hygiene practices?
1. Our sexton will continue to clean and sanitize the building and the church once a week and more often if the facilities are used more than once a week which is not planned at this time.
2. Approved hand sanitizer will be available at every entrance to the building, in each sacristy, office and bathroom and signs will ask everyone who enters to use it or wash their hands for the recommended 20 seconds.
3. Bathrooms will also have sanitizing sprays and cleaners available along with instructions on their use. Anyone who uses a bathroom will be asked to sanitize before leaving the room so that anyone who comes in after them is not exposed to the virus.
4. Everyone who enters the building will be asked to wear a mask. If someone does not have a mask, one will be provided. If someone refuses to wear a mask or comply with the rules in any way, they will be asked to leave, If they refuse, the service will be cancelled.
5. Everyone will be asked to maintain social distancing requirements of 6 feet or more. Examples of the 6-foot distance will be placed just inside the entrance doors of the building.
6. Everyone will be asked to refrain from touching anyone else unless they belong to a family unit that lives together. There will be no contact while passing the peace.
7. There will be a lock box available in the nave to place offering envelopes, etc. The contents will remain in the box for at least 72 hours before the offerings are counted later in the week.
8. Open trash containers will be available by all the entrances to the building and will be emptied safely by the sexton later in the week.
9. All hymnals, prayer books and bibles will be removed from the pews. A bulletin for the week will be available for use during the service and each person will be asked to either take it with them or discard it in the trash container on their way out.
10. Music will be provided by the organ or piano but there will be no singing permitted. There will be no choral singing either.
11. Pews will be marked with tape so that proper distancing can be maintained during the service. The size of the nave can accommodate at least 40 individuals safely and will allow family units to sit together. We do not anticipate that many people attending at this time.
12. Parishioners will be asked to leave the building at the end of the service without getting together in groups. There will be no coffee hour until further notice.
Question 4. How will you manage the numbers in attendance so that physical distance can be maintained?
1. Because of the large size of our nave and the small size of our congregation, we do not anticipate a problem with social distancing as outlined above. If it becomes apparent that we do have a problem, we will either start a reservation system or have another service (perhaps Saturday evening) with proper cleaning and sanitizing between it and the main service Sunday morning.
2. A member of the vestry will be designated each week to note who is in attendance at each service so that if contact tracing is necessary we can provide the necessary information.
Question 5. How will you assist congregants to maintain physical distancing and in other ways reduce the risk of spreading the virus?
1. Much of this information is already present in the answers to questions 3 and 4.
2. At this time, we have only one child attending services. She just turned 2 years old. According to her mother, she will not be in church until such time as it is safe or she is able to stay in her pew with her family.
3. The church cats will not be present in the church during services.
Question 6. How will you communicate your policies to your parishioners and guests prior to and throughout the process of reopening?
1. As mentioned above, we will communicate our policies through the Grapevine, our parish newsletter, and electronically via email, Facebook and our webpage. For those without electronic access, the information will be sent by the postal service.
2. Signs will be posted throughout the church building to remind members and guests of our policies.
3. Before each service, the officiant will remind those present of appropriate rules for that service.
Question 7. How will you apply your policies to parish activities other than public worship and to outside groups that use your building?
1. We have already used most of these policies for our Pet Food Pantry which we have continued during the pandemic due to so many needing help because of loss of employment, etc.
2. Vestry meetings, bible study groups, book study groups, etc. will be held via Zoom or other electronic means until such time as it is safe to meet in person once again.
3. When we do start to allow outside groups to use our facilities again, we will give each group a copy of our policies, ask that each group comply with them and sign an agreement that they have read a copy of these policies and intend to comply. They will be observed from time to time by a member of the parish to be sure they are complying. If they are not, they will be asked to leave.
Note: The above stated plan has been approved by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.