COVID-19: On Resuming Public Worship

Saint Mary's Plans to Resume Public Worship on October 18

October 4, 2020


The Vestry and I have agreed today to resume public worship on Sunday, October 18. 

We discussed the reality that COVID-19 will be with us for months to come — if not longer — and that we are all having to discern how best to live with this continuing and very real danger. The Vestry has previously adopted (and the Diocese has approved) Guidelines for how we can share in worship while taking every reasonable precaution to reduce the risk of being together for worship. Please read these Guidelines (and more) on our website here: COVID-19. There’s also a video that describes what this will look like available here

While I will be sharing more details in the next couple of weeks, here’s some of what you need to know:

  • In-person worship will be offered only at 10:30 am. This service will also be available online for all who choose the safer option of staying home.
  • The noon service will continue online only.
  • The 8:00 am service will not yet be offered, though I hope to resume it either in-person or online only soon.
  • Everyone who attends will be expected to share in our mutual responsibility of caring for each other by staying home if you have a fever (over 100.4°), a cough, shortness of breath, any other symptom of COVID-19, or if you have been potentially exposed to the coronavirus.
  • Further, everyone will be expected to observing all the precautions of the COVID-19 Guidelines by: 
    • Social distancing;
    • Wearing a mask; and
    • Sanitizing your hands.

Throughout these months away, I have been continually impressed and inspired by the exemplary leadership of our Vestry in their caution and care. The decision to return to worship does not mean that there is no risk in so doing. We need to be honest and acknowledge that our actions can only minimize the risk of in-person worship, not eliminate all risk of gathering in a group. If you remain concerned about this, please choose the safer path: worship will continue to be offered online.

Our worship — at first, at least — will consist of Morning Prayer offered with a shortened Homily and no singing. This is to reduce both the time together in the riskier environment of an indoor space as well as the higher chance transmitting the virus associated with singing. I will also be working with the Vestry to craft further Guidelines to allow us to celebrate Holy Communion safely and in accordance with diocesan guidance.

Resuming public worship is not the end of our experience with the coronavirus, but it is an important and, I hope, a welcome step forward. 

As we take this step, may God continue to protect us and all whom we love.

Gary +

How will Saint Mary's Resume Public Worship?

The Vestry has adopted Guidelines for Resuming Public Worship, and these have approved by the Diocese. You may read this below, and a PDF of these (which includes a seating chart), may be downloaded by clicking the link to the right. 

Guidelines for Resuming Public Worship

About these Guidelines

These guidelines have been drafted to reduce our risk in the age of the coronavirus. Under the requirements of the Diocese of West Tennessee, we are permitted to offer in-person worship only by adopting these measures, crafted for everyone’s safety. While we cannot eliminate all risk, these steps are designed to minimize that risk. We will succeed only when all of us share in the responsibility for observing the safe practices described below regarding sanitization, hygiene, and social distance. By God’s grace we will once again resume public worship safely, returning to our church home where we are blessed by our Creator’s mercy, our Savior’s love, and the Spirit’s strength. — Fr. Gary Meade

Before We Can Reopen

    • These Guidelines for Resuming Public Worship must be approved by the Vestry and the Diocese.
    • While Saint Mary’s hopes to resume public worship in mid-June, the actual date will be decided as the Vestry receives expert advice on COVID-19 including the medical opinion of Dr. Mary Stuart David, currently employed by the West Tennessee Regional Department of Health.

Preparing the Facility

    • Worship and other public areas will be cleaned and disinfected weekly.
    • Cushions and books will remain in place but only if the worship space is used exclusively for a single service each week.
    • The Wheeler Room will be configured as a chapel for the 8 am Sunday service.
    • Six-foot markings will be placed at entrances to avoid crowding on entering.
    • Touchless hand sanitizer dispensers will be installed at each entrance.
    • Signs or markers will be placed on the pews to encourage social distancing.
    • The Holy Water font will remain empty.
    • Public worship will be offered at two services only each week:
      • 8:00 am service in Wheeler Room (enter through garden only).
      • 10:30 am service in Nave (enter through front door only).
    • Supplies that must be available include: disposable face masks; hand sanitizer; disinfecting wipes; touchless thermometers; facial tissue; trash cans.

Before Worship

    • Separate entrances will be used for the two services.
    • The door will be propped open for entry and exit.
    • On entering, worshipers will be directed to use the hand sanitizer available at the entrance.
    • Initially, the temperature of all participants will be taken with touchless thermometers. Those with a temperature of more than 100.4° will not be permitted to enter.

Ushers Will: 

    • receive training and participate in a “test service” to prepare to reopen;
    • pass out bulletins either wearing gloves or after using hand sanitizer;
    • use touchless thermometers to take congregants’ temperatures;
    • seat all worshippers according to the seating chart;
    • ensure that individuals and families maintain six-foot distancing;
    • use wipes to disinfect any surfaces touched;
    • direct worshipers as they exit, starting from the back of the nave; and
    • determine if capacity is reached and, if so, direct additional worshipers to view the service online.
    • Ushers will also record attendance and preserve that information for two weeks should it be needed by the Tennessee Department of Health for contact tracing. 

During Worship:

    • Individuals and family groups will maintain six-foot physical separation at all times.
    • Everyone older than two will wear a face mask or covering. Disposable masks will be available.
    • Congregants will sit according to a seating chart, following the directions of the usher.
    • An offering plate will be placed at the entrance and not passed person-to-person.
    • Congregational singing will not be offered at this time.
    • The altar party will process from the side rather than the back of the nave.
    • The person reading the lessons and leading the prayers will do so from the lectern.
    • All leaders of worship will wear face masks, removing them only when speaking.

Morning Prayer or Holy Communion?

    • In accordance with Diocesan Guidelines, only Morning Prayer (or the Liturgy of the Word) will be offered initially.
    • Once it is permitted, Holy Communion may be offered as follows:
      • Only the host will be shared (as receiving in one kind is still a full communion).
      • Fr. Gary “suits up” with gloves and N95 mask.
      • Communicants stay at their seats, and the host is brought to them.
      • Fr. Gary will drop the wafer into waiting hands without physical contact.
      • Where two or more are seated together, Fr. Gary will give wafers to the nearest adult for distribution to the rest of the party.
      • After Fr. Gary moves on communicants may lower masks and consume the wafer.


      • Only the large restroom in Calcutt Hall will be available.
      • A sign inside the restroom will direct users to:
        • Use provided disinfectant wipes on all surfaces touched; and
        • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds using the sink outside the restroom.

Guidance for Worshippers

    • The evening before the worship service, each member of the household planning to attend in person worship should check their temperature (should be less than 100.4°) and determine whether anyone has a dry cough or has lost their sense of smell.
    • If anyone has any of these symptoms, has been exposed to someone with coronavirus or has tested positive for coronavirus, the household members should remain at home and worship online.
    • Persons who are at higher risk for coronavirus (children, persons age 65 or older, those who are asthmatic, diabetic or have a compromised immune system) should assess the degree of risk that is acceptable for them and their household.
    • Please wash your hands before you leave home.
    • Please bring a clean face mask for each member of the household except for children less than two years old. Wear the face mask throughout the service and when you are near others.
    • Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from other persons at all times. 
    • Please do not shake hands or otherwise touch people who are not members of your household, including during the Peace.
    • There will be no congregational singing until health experts advise otherwise.
    • Please follow the ushers’ directions for entering and exiting the building. 
    • Please go straight to your seats at the beginning of the service and leave the building promptly after the service, following the ushers’ directions.
    • Please place your bulletin in the trash can designated by the church at the end of the service or take it home with you.

Other issues

    • A “test service” will be conducted with ushers and members of the vestry to evaluate the implementation of this plan and to allow adjustments as needed.
    • Worship will continue to be offered online.
    • Other gatherings remain suspended: coffee hour, formation, nursery, and outside groups (such as scouts, AA, and NA).
    • Based on actual experience and observations, this plan may be adjusted and changed as needed.

Once approved, these new procedures will be shared broadly with the congregation.

Approved by the Vestry on: June 7, 2020

Approved by the Diocese of West Tennessee on: June 8, 2020

Developing Our Guidelines

In developing our guidelines, we have followed the best guidance from the CDC, the State of Tennessee, the Diocese of West Tennessee, and local experts. Below are these resources you may wish to review for yourself. You may also view our plan to resume public worship. Please contact Fr. Gary directly with your questions, concerns, and comments as we work to be as safe as possible when we open the church doors once again.

Resources and Guidelines

The Federal Government offers a variety of resources on COVID-19 here:

The CDC has issued Interim Guidance for Communities of Faith.

Tennessee Governor Lee has issued Guidance for Gathering Together in Houses of Worship.

Bishop Phoebe Roaf has also issued Faith Community Guidelines for Resumption of In-Person Worship.

The Advisory Committee on Reopening the Church

Fr. Gary convened a small advisory committee to provide guidance to the Vestry on when and how to safely reopen our doors for public worship. The members include:

Dr. Mary Stuart David, a physician currently working with the West Tennessee Regional Department of Health.

Mrs. Lynda Thurman, a nurse with extensive experience in the Emergency Room.

Dr. Jimmy Hawkins, a dentist with hands-on experience designing and implementing safe protocols in his practice.

Mrs. Alicia Langford, Junior Warden (charged with caring for our physical plant).

Mr. Joe Emery, Senior Warden.

We are also joined by Mrs. Amanda McGriff, our seminarian.