Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I trust and pray you are all well.
Last week, I publicly unveiled our plan for Sunday School, set to begin next month. I must say, that our Sunday School teachers and administration have worked very hard to create (from scratch) our best offering during a time of great challenge. Some families want to return to live Sunday School. Some are not ready. Some teachers feel comfortable teaching live classes. Some do not. Governments, school boards, universities, professional sports leagues, corporations, movie studios, small business, households and yes, even churches, have done their level best these past seven months to negotiate through the realities of a new normal.
St. Anna’s is no different. Nobody gave us a road map or a manual on how best to operate, minister or provide services for our people. In February, our community was full of excitement and the anticipation of being in our own church building. Five short weeks later, we were locked out of our own space and forced to worship via the internet. Months later, our church re-opened again. We did our best to accommodate our new realities, circumstances and limitations.
In re-opening, we followed the directives of our State, Metropolis, Archdiocese, and the best advice from our own Medical Advisory Ministry Team (MAMT)- a group of St. Anna medical professionals with differing experiences, political affiliations and scientific backgrounds – but ALL united in the Body of Christ and wanting to create the safest environment possible. Why would I mention politics? Because there are some, perhaps more than a few, who believe that our policies were politically motivated, not governed by data, obedience to religious authority, respect for civil authority, and good, common sense.
This brings me to our decision to begin on-line registration for Sunday church attendance. Although this has been a common practice throughout the nation once our churches reopened, this is admittedly something unique to our area. To my knowledge, here are no other Orthodox parishes in Utah that are resorting to this.
I owe you, the parishioners of St. Anna’s an apology for rolling out such a practice without a proper explanation. This lack of communication on my part has left a slight vacuum filled with assumptions, misinformation and yes, even people’s unwarranted political suspicions. So please let me make something perfectly clear:
While it is true that due to coronavirus, participation in live worship has been reduced, it is equally true that Sunday participation is still active. On more than one occasion, we exceeded more than 70% of our total capacity to accommodate live, social distanced participation. In other words, people have thankfully continued to come to church. And with space nearly filling up, even before Sunday School begins, we felt it necessary to follow the lead of multiple Orthodox communities and offer on-line registration. This way, we would know if and when we reached capacity, BEFORE turning people away because the church filled up. Would you like to be the person who got up, dressed up, and came to church, only to be turned away? I thought not. Again, I am sorry for not properly explaining the necessity for such action.
I am also grateful for our church leaders who continue to seek solutions, find the best ways to serve our parishioners and bring glory to our loving and merciful Lord. Your parish council and I are still searching for the proper balance of safety, ministry, and active participation.
When you come to church this Sunday, and I pray you do, you will notice that an additional 43 chairs have been added to the seating capacity of our sanctuary. I won’t explain how, you can see that for yourself. Our parish council, together with the best advice of the MAMT will determine if these additional seats will allow us to forego, at least for now, the necessity of preregistration for church attendance. Maybe we found our answer to our immediate challenge. Maybe we did not. But at least, as always, we will continue to think and pray ourselves out of a challenge. We will make our decisions based on love and the best way to serve the people of God. There are no other influences which determine our courses of action. If it’s determined that the best way to accommodate an increase in Sunday participation is to have you sign-up on line, I will trust that you know it is done out of blessed necessity.
This community was formed, not too long ago, based on faith, vision, authentic unity and the desire to break influences of negativity. Please join me in prayer, that the beginning of our Sunday School will be successful, that our families, and all families remain safe, and that our Lord Jesus Christ will be the center of every motivation in each of our hearts. I remain,
With Love in Christ,
Fr. Anthony Savas