Dear members of the Trinity community,
I hope you have been able to find some time and space for refreshment this summer as we continue to live through the pandemic and its related uncertainty and stress. I am grateful for your continued prayers and support for one another as we worship together online, gather for virtual fellowship, and check in through phone calls and texts. The love and care that bind the Trinity community have never been more evident.
Back in June, I told you that we were making plans for a phased reopening beginning just after Labor Day. Over the summer, we have continued our planning; last week we began to receive feedback from a parish-generated survey regarding a return to in-person worship. We have also engaged Dr. David Shulkin, former US Secretary of Veterans Affairs, to review our preparations and offer his feedback. Your responses to the survey and Secretary Shulkin's counsel have been enormously helpful in charting our path forward.
With that input, and with Labor Day approaching, I wanted to let you know that we are extending the church’s closure until Sunday, Nov. 29—the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new church year. Let me explain why.
My decisions have been guided, first and foremost, by a desire to keep our congregation, staff, and visitors as safe as possible. I am relying on science to guide our next steps. While I’m encouraged by the fact that New York State and the City have made progress in managing the course of COVID-19, there is still much that we don’t know, and can’t predict, about the virus. Back in June, the expectation was that the pandemic would ease over the summer—and that has not happened in much of the country. The reopening of schools and universities in September adds more uncertainty, and concerns around large indoor gatherings persist.
The tipping point for me was a conversation with Dr. Shulkin in which he advised us to consider whether we had a compelling reason to reopen the church now because, as he said, the longer we can wait, the safer we are likely to be.
Here’s what I’ve heard: While worshipping online is not the same as being together, most of you find solace and community in our online services. Many of you are eager to return to in-person worship, but many others are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of gathering in the church. While we are permitted by the state to open the church now, the measures we’ll need to take and consistently monitor—including social distancing, wearing masks, providing information for contact tracing, and limiting the number of people allowed in the church, the ways in which they can participate in worship, and fellowship opportunities before or after services—would make for a very different, and perhaps difficult, worship experience.
The fact that, by the grace of God and your faithfulness, we have been able to remain in community (albeit online) during this time tells me that we can persevere a little longer. In addition to our worship services—I hope you’re enjoying the beautiful singing and addition of lay readers—our committees and staff are coming up with new and creative online programming this fall. Moving our reopening date into November will give us more data about New York City’s ability to contain the virus’ spread, about any impact generated by school reopenings, and about the general status of COVID-19 around the country.
In the meantime, we will fine-tune our plans. Many of you asked to see more details about what exactly will be required once the church reopens, and we will share more of those specifics with you. We will continue to monitor the city and state healthcare metrics and, if by perseverance and some good fortune, New York City and State continue to contain the virus during the autumn months, we may consider opening to in-person worship before Nov. 29.
Beloved, we are in this for the long haul. No one looks forward to having you all back in the church more than I do, but it seems wisest right now to stay our course. The pandemic and its effects will be with us, our neighbors, and our communities for some time to come. Be safe, take care of one another and know that, as always, you remain in my prayers.
The Rev. Phillip A. Jackson
Priest-in-charge and Vicar