As we continue to navigate this time together, I want to share an update about our measured and deliberate approach to the possibility of reopening our physical church buildings for public Masses. Our team continues to closely monitor updates from local and state officials and public health experts, as well as the experiences of other local parishes. In addition, we have been gathering input and information from members of our community, individually and in small group discussions.
As you know, houses of worship are permitted to open in Phase 1 of Massachusetts’ Reopening Plan, with numerous and restrictive guidelines and requirements. The Archdiocese of Boston has defined further guidelines and restrictions for resuming public Masses. Attending Mass under these guidelines is a profoundly diminished experience of worship.
One restriction is a limit of capacity, with 40% of total capacity being the maximum allowed, and the reality being far less than that due to the requirements of social distancing. The idea of limiting the number of people allowed and requiring reservation of seats runs counter to our New Roads mission, vision, and values. Radical hospitality and welcome of all is a central component of our mission and vision and, in many ways, the rally cry of our community.
Over the last few years in particular, our community has worked tirelessly to create inspiring, relevant, and engaging experiences of worship. For me, requirements such as no singing allowed by the congregation during worship violate principles of liturgy itself. I recognize that many have a very real and heartfelt desire to receive the Eucharist, and while I have compassion for the fasting from the Eucharist which we are enduring as a community, I want us to celebrate the Eucharist in a way that reflects its true meaning and value.
I recognize that online worship is not a full expression of worship either. However, we are able to create a better experience of worship online than we can in person at this time. Many New Roads members are finding our online worship experiences to be engaging, relevant, and inspiring and new people are finding us and connecting with us online every Sunday. New Roads members are inviting friends. God is at work through our online worship.
We’re patiently waiting for a time when the quality of an in-person experience surpasses what we’re capable of accomplishing online. With our current circumstances, online is simply the best forum to clearly and effectively communicate the gospel and foster community. It also seems clear that the majority of our community continues to prefer to join us online at this time. This may change going forward and we will be tracking that and adjust as needed.
When we do reopen our physical churches for gathering in some way, we will start slowly with one church and a limited number of Masses. At this time I can’t imagine resuming our modern worship Masses with our worship team (band), kids programs, and hospitality team until the public health risk and the restrictions are significantly reduced or eliminated, and that may not be for quite a long time.
I fully appreciate that other churches are choosing to open more quickly and that some New Roads members will be disappointed with our slow though intentional pace. It is not my place to second guess the decisions and practices of other pastors and parishes. Every parish and collaborative is unique. My singular focus is on the best path forward for our community. Some of the things that have been unique to New Roads during this crisis and which have helped determine our pace and path forward include:
- Our ability to broadcast high-quality worship experiences online from each parish within a few weeks of the start of the pandemic
- Our ability to offer opportunities to new and existing members for connection, prayer, and engagement
- The financial commitment and support of our members which has resulted in offertory at St. Joseph being ahead of budget and offertory at St. Luke not far off of budget.
The engagement, participation, and financial support of our community is extraordinary and a testament to both the generosity of our members and the work of our staff team and volunteers to create meaningful worship experiences for our community during this time. Thank you for your support and engagement, and please keep it up. I am grateful we are not in a position where we feel we must open in order to survive financially or otherwise. Although I miss being together more than ever, I know God is at work in and through New Roads. We’ll keep doing everything we can to follow God’s lead to grow disciples and reach people for Christ.
Peace & blessings,
Fr. Thom and the New Roads team