What a lot has changed, and so very quickly.
I returned to work on March 10 after a two week vacation. At the Board meeting that night, we talked a bit about the novel coronavirus. San Diego had had only one case of COVID-19 so far (diagnosed just the day before in someone who had been traveling). We knew that changes to congregational life were probably coming, but it wasn’t clear when.
The very next day, March 11, California Governor Gavin Newsom advised that gatherings of 250 people or more shouldn’t happen, and that no gatherings should happen unless social distancing (6 ft. between people) could be observed. By Thursday, March 12, local authorities had mandated the Governor’s recommendations, and we announced by email to the congregation that because we cannot observe social distancing in worship, going forward, Sunday worship would be held online at 10 am.
Fortuitously, we had worshipped online using the Zoom platform one Sunday last summer, before construction of our new building was finished. So I was not as overwhelmed moving our worship online as I might otherwise have been, and congregants weren’t quite as disoriented as you might have been either.
Our March 15 service was called “Stay Away and Stay Connected.” By March 20, the Governor had ordered residents to stay at home except for essential outings like buying groceries (“essential work” was also identified in the order, with essential workers allowed to be at work).
As I write this on March 27, there are now 417 diagnoses of COVID-19 in San Diego County. And we know that there is insufficient testing available, which means the real numbers are likely much higher than the official count. We have several Chalice congregants with symptoms that seem like COVID-19, but they do not “qualify” to be tested. This is one of the great frustrations of this particular moment.
We have not been told anything official for when the stay-at-home order will end. And whenever it ends, it is likely we will still need to maintain social distancing for some time. At this point, I am thinking and planning for at least three months of online worship, while keeping in mind that it could be considerably longer than that.
As so many of you have commented to me, as hard as things are right now, we can be grateful for the technologies that let us still “meet” together online, to hear each other’s voices and see each other’s faces. With Zoom technology, many of our groups are continuing to meet. And on Sunday morning, we are still able to be together.
We have hard times ahead of us. Our staying at home is to slow the rate of spread so the hospitals are not overwhelmed. Many of us will get sick, and there will be losses. Our work now is to stay as calm and grounded as we can, to lean on each other for support, to focus on getting through one day at a time, and to be as safe as we can given what we know.
Blessings and love to each of you, Sharon