I was pretty surprised to read the new Church guidelines on re-opening Church, although perhaps I should not have been surprised. Utah, by my reckoning anyway, has done a pretty good job with testing. My own (neighboring) state has done an abysmal job at it. In AZ, our Governor has lifted the official restrictions, but places like movie theaters are choosing not to open up yet, and weirdly, I’d be more comfortable going to a movie theater than to Church right now. That’s mostly because our local Harkins theater is 100% stadium seating, and we always sit up front where nobody else sits.
I was also surprised that the local Catholic Church around the corner from my house pretty much opened for business last weekend. I wouldn’t say it was packed, but there were a lot more people than I expected, and not a lot of social distancing from what I could see.
Our ward was not quick to adopt Zoom as a group. The Elders Quorum did one Sunday meeting on Zoom which was more of a casual “check in” with each other and not so much a lesson. The Relief Society utterly refused to even consider a Zoom meeting of any kind, although the teachers posted notes from lesson topics in an email attachment. The Youth did some Zoom meetings and a few virtual activities. Today, for the first time since March, there is an in person seminary graduation party at the teacher’s house with shared food. Hopefully we don’t die.
For the purposes of today’s quick post, I’ll assume you’ve read the guidelines for yourself. If not, here’s a link. Go read them, then come back to discuss.
Generally speaking, I’ve found the Church’s response to the pandemic to be very conservative and reasonable, in stark contrast to Evangelical congregations boasting of licking the floor for Jesus, etc., and in contrast to a handful of my fellow congregants who are essentially taking a “Come at me, bro!” stance toward the virus. To each his own.
Quite rightly, and in keeping with all the epidemiological advice I’ve heard (which is A LOT), funerals are to remain online. The increased risk is that when people are sobbing, they draw their breath, taking in more droplets than they would normally. I can hold by breath for several seconds while people pass in my space at the grocery store, but at a funeral, it’s tough to stand back and actually look sympathetic when someone is grieving.
There are a few things I found concerning in the guidelines they released:
1) They should probably not just scrap choirs, but all singing, if they want to be cautious. When you sing, you draw your breath in much deeper which is probably one reason choirs were so hard hit. I grant you that most congregants barely mumble their way through the hymns, but there are always a few who belt it out like they’re at the opening game of the World Series. While I don’t think Church would feel much like Church without singing, maybe someone could play a musical instrument before the sacrament, or if needed, play recorded music. It’s lame, but so is Covid.
2) As per usual, they are deferring A LOT to local leadership discretion. That’s fine if local leaders are thoughtful, intelligent folks who know what the heck they are doing, but that is by no means a given. In my own stake, I really have no idea what the background of most of our leaders is. On a spectrum of Michigan protester to mandatory masks for all, I don’t really know where they fall. Will they make good decisions for the hundreds of people in their charge? Beats me. As to encouraging these local Church leaders to “follow government regulations,” that’s probably a good idea, except that likewise, a bunch of local Governors haven’t behaved in a very responsible manner or haven’t been doing a good job actually addressing things. I’ve been mostly OK with our governor’s response, but some of these states seem to be run by idiots. I guess we can’t all be led by winners like Jacinda Arden or Angela Merkel.
3) We are relying on the priests to practice good hygiene. Cuz that’s totally in their wheelhouse. Right. Maybe I’d feel a wee bit safer if adults were in charge of the sacrament. Or if they just poured out croutons into the trays instead of using their fingers to tear the bread apart? Crouton sacrament doesn’t sound great either. I am not used to the body of Christ crunching. Basically, there should be some kind of individual packaging option here, maybe some ketchup packet water servings. The thought occurred to me that maybe that’s how the host was invented in Catholicism: a way to prevent spread of disease by having individual serving sized communion wafers. Having the priesthood holders personally pass the sacrament to each person rather than passing it down the row is not necessarily a great preventative technique either. We are putting a lot of weight on these guys’ presumed hygiene. I just have never seen the priesthood kids as any kind of golden exemplar of hygiene, even my own amazing sons, but much less the amazing sons of other people.
4) We are still relying on local leaders to clean the buildings using untrained voluntary labor. Quelle surprise. Not to gross anybody out, but it was several years of volunteering to clean the Church before I realized that as volunteers we were also supposed to clean the bathrooms. I know that’s a strange thing to admit, but I assumed that professionals were still coming in to do the real disinfecting work, and we were just doing a “touch up” clean. There is basically no training and no quality oversight for the cleaning that takes place in my experience. I have also seen questionable chemical mixing at times (e.g. not enough product to water). I don’t recall seeing any cleaning products that meet CDC disinfection requirements (although again, I didn’t think we were supposed to clean the toilets, and I basically never volunteer for that task, so maybe it’s there and I haven’t noticed).
5) As early as Phase 1, we can have meetings with up to 99 people in attendance? No offense, but we might as well mouth kiss strangers. With tongue. OK, maybe that’s hyperbole. Still, 99 people in our chapel = nothing resembling normal social distancing. And we can possible hold Primary during Phase 1?! So where are the adults during that time? In a crowded Sunday School or Relief Society room? Maybe if everyone is spaced apart in the gym… I dunno. As wide open as Phase 1 looks, Phase 2 looks like business as usual, cats and dogs living together, mass chaos, real wrath of God stuff. Basically there should probably be more phases here, or so I think.
The only other thing I will mention is that again, we are putting men in charge of making decisions about disease and hygiene when, on the whole, men have worse hygiene than women and take health care concerns less seriously than women. I’d at least like to know that someone in this decision making process is a doctor, although that’s by no means a sure way to avoid risks. A few docs have been pretty eager to poo-poo the risks where I live.
What are your reactions to this news?
- Are you confident in your local leaders’ ability to make the right call for your area?
- Were you surprised or skeptical about any of these guidelines or do you think they got it just right?
- How would you administer the sacrament to minimize risks?
- Did your ward do Zoom meetings during the crisis?
- Will you be returning to Church soon or do you want to wait a couple weeks to see if there’s an outbreak first?
 Slightly kidding. *laughs nervously*