Committee on Return and Renewal
Response to Covid-19
Sunday worship is online and in person. Masking is optional. Seating is set aside in the Sanctuary for those who prefer or need to socially distance and mask; however, masked worshippers may sit wherever they like.
The church office and building are open weekdays from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM and Sundays from 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM. Masking is generally optional, but individual groups in coordination with their leaders may maintain a mask mandate.
Masking and social distancing are generally optional. Groups, in consultation with their leaders, may maintain a mask mandate if preferred. The same applies for offsite church groups.
February 27, 2022 Update: Masks Optional
For previous updates, see here.
(Remarks delivered by Mike Donley, Chair, to the congregation on February 27, 2022)
The Return and Renewal Committee was created in May 2020 to assist the Session in working through the many public health issues affecting Westminster’s worship and church activities. Together, in the interest of our community and those most vulnerable, and using the best available guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, and State and Local Authorities, we as a congregation have imposed restrictions on ourselves, relaxed them, and imposed them again – adjusting along the way as the Covid pandemic has ebbed and flowed.
The faithfulness, concern, and diligence of Dr. Hayward and the staff to this work -- and above all, your patience and support as a congregation, have been much appreciated by our committee. You have done right by this church and our community.
After two years and all we’ve been through, it is tempting to say that we’re done with Covid --- but, as the saying goes, Covid is not done with us. Nonetheless, we’re getting closer, and we have reached an important milestone as Covid trends from pandemic to endemic status.
On Friday, the CDC issued new standards for measuring the impact of Covid on community health. In addition to tracking levels of Covid cases and community transmission, the new metrics track Covid hospital admissions and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by Covid patients. These metrics are summarized in community risk ratings of Low, Medium, and High. Under these new standards, our community is currently rated “Low” – and masking is no longer required.
The CDC emphasizes that people with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with Covid should wear a mask. At all levels, people can wear a mask based on personal preference, informed by their personal level of risk.
Based on these changes, the R&R committee met yesterday, February 26. We recommended to Session, and the Session approved, the following changes to our posture here at Westminster:
- Indoor masking throughout our facilities will be optional.
- We recognize that families with young children, immunocompromised individuals, and others unable to be vaccinated remain among us, participating in various activities in the life of our church. So in consultation with their leaders, individual church groups may choose to continue with a masking requirement for their respective events.
- Continuing our practice for the past few months, we will set aside seating in the sanctuary for those who choose to worship in person but need or prefer to mask and social distance. You may also attend worship masked without sitting in the specially designated section.
- The Session approved these changes to take effect on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, consistent with similar changes in schools across the Commonwealth, including here in Alexandria, and in time for Ash Wednesday worship services.
Of course, we’ve been through this before and this posture is subject to change based on evolving public health conditions.
- We respect individual decisions on masking and when and under what conditions individuals and families participate in church activities. Within our church family there is no stigma and no judgment regarding these choices. Given individual and small group choices, we are likely to see each other with masks on and masks off as we move around the church, or between different church activities – and that’s okay.
- At this point, there are no remaining Covid-related constraints or limitations on the conduct of worship, indoor or outdoor church activities, or use of church facilities, including food, beverages, or use of the kitchen.
- Thanks to the vision and technical capabilities resident in our congregation, we have literally “Zoomed” up to new levels of connectivity and outreach over the past two years. God willing, as we return to more normal patterns of in-person worship and congregational activities, Westminster will continue to use virtual and other new technologies to advance the ministry of the church.
As Presbyterians we are a Reformed church, and through our experience over the past two years, Westminster has proven again that we are always reforming. The world is learning how to live with Covid and we must remain mindful of, respectful toward, and careful for those around us who are vulnerable. Still, this decision is an important step on the road to Return and Renewal.
What is the Return and Renewal Committee?
The nature of the current public health crisis poses significant barriers to returning to worship at Westminster as we knew it in February 2020. Nearly every aspect of our Sunday worship experience is challenged by public health guidelines intended to reduce transmission of the COVID-19 virus. The timing and manner of a return to Sunday worship in the sanctuary therefore needs to be considered carefully and deliberately, based on the best available information and guidance from medical professionals, government agencies and others, and in a public health environment that continues to evolve.
On May 27, 2020, the Session approved the creation of the Committee on Return and Renewal, which will monitor and assess relevant information and recommend to the Session plans for a gradual or complete return to the facilities of Westminster, as well as the resumption of ministries and programs that occur beyond our facilities. In addition to recommending long-term plans, the committee may need to receive and advise the Session on shorter-term, specific requests as they arise.
When the people of Israel “returned” to the land after the exile, they renewed the covenant and shaped their worship and service to God in ways that were different than before, but reimagined and reborn (Nehemiah 8-10). The committee has been intentionally named “Return and Renewal” (as opposed to “Re-open”) out of recognition of the tremendous degree to which the ministry of Westminster has remained open – much of it digitally – through this time of pandemic, and out of acknowledgment that when we are able to return to the facilities, many of our ministries will have changed or need to be changed.
Members of the Committee have been appointed by the Session upon recommendation of Pastor Larry Hayward, who serves as the primary staff for the committee along with the Director of Finance and Administration, Lavinia Davis-Laux. Contact the committee at [email protected].
Doug Anderson – Vice Chair
Vice Clerk, Session
Chair, Worship Committee
Chair, Digital Ministries Committee
Member at-large, Nominating Committee
Chair, Westminster Foundation Board
Mike Donley – Chair
Chair, International Mission Committee
Former Chair, Christian Formation Committee
Vice Chair, Buildings & Grounds Committee
Member, Youth Formation Subcommittee
Chair, Congregational Life Committee