May 13, 2020
A Guide to Gathering in Person: The Diocese of Olympia’s Phased-In Plan for Resuming In-Person Worship and Activities
The Office of the Bishop of Olympia has crafted this document sketching out how churches in this Diocese might proceed through the complicated process of reopening safely. Be aware that, as this guide was written for parishes of many different sizes, some of the guidelines do not apply to a community the size of Saint Mark's Cathedral. As the Dean states below, the cathedral's approach will always be one of extreme caution.
May 1, 2020
"We will not be one of the first churches to open..."
In this video, Dean Steven L. Thomason reflects on the past 40 days of distancing and closure, as we look ahead to the future. You may read a written version of this statement here.
March 23, 2020
The Dean Thomason, the cathedral leadership, and Bishop Rickel have carefully reviewed Governor Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy directive issued on March 23. They have determined that cathedral livestreamed services can continue, while remaining fully in compliance with the order. Livestreamed services will continue with a strictly limited number of participants, with social distancing practiced at all times.
Update from Dean Thomason: Cathedral now closed
March 11, 2020
As I reported in my message to you a week ago, when I met with Governor Inslee on March 3, he alluded to stricter interventions to come. As of today, March 11, 2020, those interventions have now been implemented. The directives delivered to us all this morning now necessitate the closure of the cathedral campus as a public gathering place. We do so with a deep sense of concern for the well-being of those most at risk by COVID-19, and we echo the governor’s compassionate petition to please be mindful of these directives in all aspects of your lives, for the sake of all people, but especially the most vulnerable among us. (See the official news release here.)
- 11 a.m.: Livestream of the Holy Eucharist with Hymns and Anthems of the Lenten Season
- 9:30 p.m.: Livestream of the Office of Compline led by members of the Compline Choir
Anticipating this development, your staff leaders have already begun work to develop creative ways we can be community, even if not present together for a time. We will share more about those in the coming days, but let me reiterate a few things here we’ve already shared:
- If your ministry group or committee needs to meet, please know you can use the cathedral’s Zoom account for videoconferencing. Contact your staff liaison for assistance.
- Participate in worship weekly. Even if you cannot be present in the flesh, your spiritual presence is palpable and important as we strive to be the Body of Christ in this place.
- Many of you responded to the inquiry about assisting others who become homebound and isolated. The clergy will coordinate those encounters as the needs arise. Thank you!
- Consider reading the book Sabbath as Resistance: Saying NO to the Culture of Now, by Walter Brueggemann. We will launch book groups via Zoom in a couple of weeks for those who opt in.
- If you haven't already, considering following Saint Mark's on Facebook andInstagram—it's another place where we can experience community during this time.
- Check in with one another, and hold each other and this community in your prayers.
In the fall of 1918, Saint Mark’s closed its doors during a similar epidemic that saw Seattle largely locked down for about six weeks, but the letters and reports we have are that it actually brought families and communities closer together. Trying times and great challenges have a way of doing that—serving as catalysts for transformation. I believe we are in just such a crucible, and I am looking for the transformational opportunities for this wonderful community, as we press on. I hope you will join me in that effort to see what good comes from all this. I am,
Your companion on the journey,
New Viral Outbreak Update from Dean Thomason
March 7, 2020
I am sure you have all been attuned to the news of the growing numbers of people in our region testing positive for coronavirus infection (COVID-19), and the sad news of several deaths. The words I have heard from public health officials, politicians, and other clergy are “out of an abundance of caution…” We are taking steps, as a society, and as a faith community, out of an abundance of caution. We want to be safe while resisting the anxious impulse to overreact. It is a fine line, and I anticipate we will all, collectively and individually, do it with much grace and good will, even if not perfectly. With this in mind, I am reporting three general updates here, for you to consider, but I trust you will make the best decisions for you and your family as we move through the coming weeks.
I. Sunday Worship
There has been no directive to cancel worship, and unless that directive is given, we will continue to have worship services at Saint Mark’s Cathedral. We are modifying a few of our usual liturgical practices for a time “out of an abundance of caution.” These include:
- We will cease to share a common cup at the Holy Eucharist. This means that instead of receiving bread and wine, we will only receive bread. There is a long theological tradition that says communion “in one kind” (i.e., the bread) is sufficient to receive the full grace of the sacrament.
- We have drained the baptismal fonts, decreasing wet surfaces where viruses can survive and spread, and eliminating the practice of dipping fingers in the water.
- We will pass the peace without touching. Instead of hugging or shaking hands, we will nod or bow to one another.
- We will collect offerings without passing the plate.
- We will sanitize surfaces frequently. Click here for more info on our enhanced efforts in this regard.
- We will practice “social distancing” when together, spreading out in the worship space in an effort to minimize sustained close contact.
- We will all continue to practice personal precautions. Click here for a review of those practices.
- We will livestream worship at 11 a.m. Sundays and make the video recording available as soon as possible for those who must stay at home.
- We will continue to post updates on this page (saintmarks.org/virus)
If you are in a high-risk category (immune-compromised, have underlying chronic medical conditions, or over the age of 60), public health officials encourage you to seriously consider remaining in your home at least through March 31, when they will reassess. If you are sick, please do not come to church. If you are home-bound and need assistance, please let one of the clergy know how your faith community can be of support.
II. Church Meetings, Classes, and Workshops
Guided by current public health advisories, the following steps are being taken at Saint Mark’s. We will assess and update this weekly and as needed, based on further guidelines promulgated by those officials. Again, regardless of our approach, you must do what feels right for you and your family.
- Choir School and Choirs. We will follow the current health guideline for schools—that we remain open and choristers will rehearse and sing as scheduled unless one involved tests positive for coronavirus. That said, we’ve modified certain aspects of rehearsal, and stepped up cleaning procedures out of an abundance of caution.
- Wednesday evening meals are prepared by professional food service providers using an abundance of caution in the meal prep and service and will continue to serve the choristers and others at this time. Feel free to join this meal if you want.
- Other gatherings. We are taking a blended approach with the leader of each group or ministry team communicating whether/when/how a particular group will meet:
(a) In addition to onsite meeting spaces still being available (and cleaned assiduously), some meetings may have an option of joining via videoconference using the Cathedral’s Zoom account. Leaders should contact their staff liaison for instructions about setting up a meeting and sign-on information for participants.
(b) Or, leaders can choose to cancel meetings if no urgent business is to be addressed. Please inform Scheduler Stephen Eddy and Facilities Manager David Wagner if you cancel a meeting, so that the calendar and facilities needs can be kept updated and accurate.
(c) Again, each participant should do what they feel best.
- SPECIAL NOTE: Inquirers’ Class, Book Group, Cathedral Yoga, Wednesday evening Cathedral Commons offerings (Wisdom School Vulnerability Series), Tuesday Bible Study, and 20s & 30s Bible Study have been postponed at least through March 31. Sunday Forums will be suspended from March 15 until after Easter. These groups derive much of their value and meaning by virtue of the personal conversations—not easily translated to videoconferencing. Watch for announcements when they will be rescheduled this spring.
- If you have questions about a particular event or meeting, please contact your ministry leader, staff liaison, or the church office.
III. Reframing the challenge
Every Lent we retell the account of Jesus’ forty-day retreat in the wilderness as a time of temptation, but also as a time of prayerful discernment, for Jesus and for all who follow him. Jesus began his worldly ministry in earnest only after that time apart. With this in mind, I wonder if we might see this time as not only a challenge but also an opportunity—to see it as being afforded a time in which life is changed, and to ask ourselves, for what purpose?
Or, to extrapolate, what if we were to frame this time in which many of the daily practices in the busy-ness of life are reduced, or withdrawn, for a time—in this way, can we see it as sabbath time? What would you do differently if you saw this as sabbath? More rest, more recreation (re-creation, as God intended), more quality family time, more time to pray, more time to journal, and to do so with intention. What will you do?
With the prospect of fewer meetings, and with this image of sabbath in mind and on my heart, I am engaging my centering prayer practice with more intention, and I am going to re-read two books—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s landmark book The Sabbath, and Walter Brueggemann’s wonderful book Sabbath As Resistance: Saying NO to a Culture of Now. I might encourage you to explore one or both, and perhaps later this month, if the health crisis persists, as I expect it will, we will make plans to host on-line book discussion groups using Brueggemann’s book. (I’d encourage reading this book regardless!). We can and will continue to form community in life-giving ways!
I write this while away on Lenten retreat myself, at a small gathering of folks in Connecticut as we breathe in the beauty of the place while pondering the majestic wisdom of Julian of Norwich, a great mystic of the Church. I planned this several months ago, and am glad I am here, even as you all are on my heart. I bid your prayers for the Church and the world, and I want you to know of my fervent prayers for you all, and for all affected by the virus across the world.
I leave you with a quote from Julian in which she describes a mystic experience she understood as divine showing:
“At the same time, he [sic] showed me something small, about the size of a hazelnut, that seemed to lie in the palm of my hand as round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought, What may this be? And I was answered: ‘This is all that is made.’ I marveled how it could last. It was so small it could suddenly fall to nothing. And I was given to understand: ‘It lasts and will forever because God loves it. And so all things have being by the love of God.’”
We press on, friends, trusting in the pervasive presence and love of God as the guiding force for us all. I am grateful to be on this journey with you all! I am,
A Prayer for Coronavirus Healing
Jesus Christ, you traveled through towns and villages “curing every disease and illness.” At your command, the sick were made well. Come to our aid now, in the midst of the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may experience your healing love.
Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health through quality medical care.
Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbors from helping one another.
Heal us from our pride, which can make us claim invulnerability to a disease that knows no borders.
Jesus Christ, healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow.
Be with those who have died from the virus. May they be at rest with you in your eternal peace.
Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry and grieve, defend them from illness and despair. May they know your peace.
Be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help those affected and who put themselves at risk in the process. May they know your protection and peace.
Be with the leaders of all nations and all public officials. Give them the foresight to act with charity and true concern for the well-being of the people they are meant to serve. Give them the wisdom to invest in long-term solutions that will help prepare for or prevent future outbreaks.
Whether we are home or abroad, Jesus Christ, stay with us as we endure and mourn, persist and prepare. In place of our anxiety, give us your peace.
Jesus Christ, heal us. Amen.
Dean Thomason's Viral Outbreak Update
March 3, 2020
On Tuesday March 3, 2020, I joined twelve faith leaders in meeting with Governor Inslee at the State Capitol. We discussed a few legislative matters, but devoted considerable time to listening to the Governor address the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19). As you know, the situation is changing by the day, and I want to communicate, first and foremost, that I was impressed and gratified by Governor Inslee’s concern for the citizens of this state, his good working knowledge of the viral outbreak and public health implications, and his fervent commitment to provide leadership guided by sound science in this crisis. I am convinced he has gathered around him a team of public health officials who are providing good counsel to him, and to the 7 million residents of this state.
The Governor shared with us a few details that will unfold publicly over the next few days.
First, the good news—while Washington state is at the leading edge of the outbreak in the U.S., our public health officials have been quietly doing good epidemiological work of identifying index patients and their contacts, using sound practices of isolation for those who are sick, and quarantine for those who may have been exposed to the disease. They have a team of more than 200 identifying and following up with contacts. This early and proactive work will have positive results downstream.
Central to the effort to combat the outbreak are proper handwashing, cough hygiene, disinfecting surfaces, and remaining home from work or school when sick. For more info about personal precautions, click here. For more info about cathedral cleaning procedures and special precautions we are taking, click here. All of this is part of “Phase One” interventions.
However, with the escalating prevalence of COVID-19 infections in our region, we are now entering a "Phase Two" of public health advisories—with steps to be taken in addition to those of Phase One. We will continue to have church services and gatherings of committees, ministries, choir school, forums, and other meetings, BUT, if you have a serious underlying chronic illnesses, or if you are immunocompromised, the recommendation now is that you strongly consider refraining from group activities and public spaces until the outbreak subsides. This may mean not attending worship or meetings at church, or not leaving your home for most activities. And if you become ill with respiratory symptoms or fever, contact your health care professional immediately.
If you are otherwise healthy, in this second phase, you should practice the Phase One personal precautions AND consider practicing “social distancing” by maintaining at least six feet of distance between you and others (especially if they may be sick).
The Governor said “Phase Three” interventions, should they become necessary, may include mandated closure of public spaces. This could happen, but he does not intend to do that unless conditions warrant it. And we are not at that point.
So What Does All This Mean for Us as a Community?
This obviously presents challenges for us to be together in worship as a full community, but it does not mean we cease being community. It means we have an opportunity to be community in different ways in the coming days and weeks. What might this look like?
- CARING for those in isolation, quarantine, or who are homebound as a result of these interventions. If you are healthy, would you be willing to help those who are homebound by assisting with delivering groceries, supplies, or medications to their doorstep? If you are homebound as a result of this viral outbreak, would you be willing to have others at Saint Mark’s help you with groceries or other supplies? If the answer is yes to either, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Erik Donner at email@example.com, or call either one of us at 206.323.0300.
- CLEANING. Would you be willing to help the Cathedral Facilities team wipe down common-use surfaces on occasion? If so, email Facilities Manager David Wagner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- ASSISTANCE. If you have loss of income because of quarantine or isolation, and need assistance, please know that the Clergy Discretionary Fund may be used to assist financially in certain situations. Contact one of the clergy if you would like to discuss this. The fund is limited, and for one-time use, but exists for circumstances such as this. This aid is confidential.
- LIVESTREAMING of worship services. If you cannot attend church, please make an effort to join in worship via livestream (Holy Eucharist, every Sunday at 11 a.m.; Choral Evensong, first Sunday of the month at 4:30 p.m.; and special services). Your presence in spirit matters, even if you cannot be present in the flesh. Maintain your connections to the community, and let us know how we can be of support.
Lastly, we are called to pray together, and so I share with you all the prayer below, and beseech you to pray for the Church and the world, and for all affected, as we press on, as the community of Saint Mark’s, to be a beacon of hope and the Body of Christ, in a time such as this. I am,
The Very Reverend Steven L. Thomason
Dean and Rector
Dean Thomason's Message on Community Gathering and Viral Infection
February 29, 2020
I have received communication from several in the cathedral community expressing concern about its potential impact on us in the Pacific Northwest, and I so I writing today to address various aspects of our common life, and ways we have and will be adapting in light of the concern.
First, as a physician, let me reiterate what hopefully you’ve heard before (even if it is not headline news)—you are much more at risk for contracting or transmitting the common flu virus than you are of coronavirus, and getting the flu vaccine will reduce the risk to you and others. In fact, you are statistically about 50 million times more likely to contract the flu right now than you are the coronavirus.
Of course, that statistic may change in the coming weeks, but there is no evidence suggesting that we should curtail worship attendance or cancel other gatherings at this point. But there are some precautions we are taking to minimize risk to one another. Here are a few:
- Hand washing. Washing your hands properly and often is the best preventive method to reducing infectious diseases like coronavirus. Review the CDC guidelines for hand washing here. Alternatively, or additionally, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers (minimum 60% alcohol) on your hands. The Eucharistic ministers have been doing this for years; we now have large containers of hand sanitizer in the rear of the nave for your use. We encourage you to use them.
- Exchanging the Peace. This ancient practice is an important part of our liturgy, but please know that bowing to one another, and greeting the other verbally without handshake or hug, is an acceptable alternative. In this hypersensitive time, we might all consider adopting the practice of bowing.
- Refrain from Intinction. Many believe that dipping their bread into the cup of wine is preferable to drinking from the common cup, but the scientific research proves just the opposite. Intinction is the most risky way to partake of communion. Bishop Rickel’s recent video delves more deeply into this topic, but for now, we ask that you commune in one of two ways—either drink from the common cup, or receive the bread only (our theology is very clear—receiving the bread only is entirely sufficient to receive the grace of the sacrament). We use fortified port wine which studies show minimize risk of transmission of disease. For now, we ask that you not intinct since hands will touch the cup rim and sometimes the wine as well, increasing the risk for all who follow. For those not inclined to drink from the common cup, please receive communion in one kind (the bread).
- Clergy greeting after services. We always delight in greetings folks on leaving the cathedral, and will continue to do so. Greeting us with a bow (as at the peace) is perfectly acceptable. Good will can be conveyed in a variety of ways, so do what feels comfortable to you.
- Stay home if you are sick. This is perhaps the best way you can care for others, by reducing the risk of exposure if you are infectious. Remember, we livestream the 11 a.m. Sunday service, monthly Evensong (first Sundays, Oct.–June, at 4:30 p.m.), and special services.
I suspect we will hear more dire news in the days and weeks to come, and it is naturally enough for us to be drawn into that orbit. As a cathedral community, we will be guided by the CDC and our public health professionals, but I encourage us all to avoid the impulse to reactive fear. Coronavirus is a relatively weak viral infection for most. Use common sense, proper health techniques, and access the health care system readily if you think you may be ill.
Your Brother in Christ,
The Very Reverend Steven L. Thomason
Dean and Rector