This morning the clergy of the diocese had a Zoom call with Bishop Wright. He asked some Episcopalians who are in public health to speak to us about the Covid situation. The short answer is that it is not good. Georgia may look better than other states, but that does not mean the situation here is good. It just means it’s not as bad (yet) as other parts of the country. In fact, the numbers of cases and deaths are rising, and will likely continue to do so.
And we learned the numbers that are reported from Georgia are much lower than reality. Georgia only reports positive nasal swab tests, the kind with results for which you usually have to wait a day or two. We do not report rapid test results. Most other states do. So when you hear how many cases are reported in Georgia, know that is not the full story.
When the number of tests in an area are more than 5 percent positive it is an alarm bell to public health officials, a sign that more stringent protocols need to be in place. In some spots in Georgia (particularly parts of the northeast and central) the percentages are in the high teens and even low 20s. In metro Atlanta (Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett, and Clayton), the cases are from 5-7 percent. Again, better, but still cause for concern.
I asked the bishop if these numbers meant the diocese needed to enact stricter protocols, as we did last spring. You may remember that meant buildings totally shut down, no recordings or live-streaming on church property inside or outside. Later that loosened up to allow some services outside, like we did in October and early November. The bishop said he was not ready to make that call yet, but each rector has the discretion to decide what is best for her or his congregation.
With all of this in mind, I have made the decision to stop any in-person worship. We had to stop temporarily a few weeks ago after Cameron tested positive and I needed to isolate after being exposed. That situation is resolved but we’re going to stay all online anyway.
There are a couple of reasons for that decision. First and foremost, cases are increasing and everything I read and hear say it will get much worse before it begins to get better. I don’t want to take even the slightest risk with anyone’s health. Being faithful also means being responsible and caring for one another. The best way to be faithful right now is to worship online.
The second reason is more liturgical. Now that my technical assistant is home we once again have the capability of inserting pre-recorded videos into the Sunday morning live-stream. That gives Cameron much more flexibility in the kind of music he can offer. We can bring more of the music of Advent and Christmas to you by worshiping this way.
None of this gives me any joy. I long to see your faces, to pass the peace, to put communion in your hands, to hug you after church, to talk to you at coffee hour. And we will do all of those things again. But not yet.
It is easy to be discouraged, to give into pandemic fatigue, to let our guard down for the holidays. But this is the time to hang tight, to lean into our faith, and to know that somehow in the midst of all of this tragedy, God is there.