May 29

From Your Pastor ~ May 29, 2020

May 29, 2020

Dear Fellow Parishioners,

The past week has been a roller-coaster of contradictory messages from several sources claiming to have authority regarding the re-opening of churches in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

On Friday, May 22, President Trump announced that places of worship were “essential” and should be re-opened right away. He added that “if they don’t do it, I will override the governors.” Shortly thereafter, Governor Newsom indicated that he would issue new guidelines for opening churches on Monday, May 25. In reliance on these announcements, many pastors began considering plans to re-open.

On the same day as President Trump’s announcement, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied a request by the South Bay United Pentecostal Church for permission to hold in-person religious services immediately, while the underlying legal issues are appealed. This ruling can be interpreted as contradicting the public statements of the president and governor.

On Tuesday, May 26, Governor Newsom announced that churches would be allowed to hold indoor religious services under Phase 2 of California’s re-opening plan and would leave the decision to each individual county to decide when they would allow churches to reopen in their counties. Hours later, Dr. Sundari Mase, the interim Health Officer for Sonoma County, said that churches would remain closed.

On Thursday, May 28, Sheriff Mark Essick announced that he would not enforce these stricter county public health orders. A mere twenty hours later– while I was composing this letter– the Sheriff reversed himself and said that he would enforce the county public health orders after all.

During this short week, the pastors met several times with the bishop to discuss a proper response to these ever-changing rulings and guidelines. Every time I thought I understood when we could re-open, the rules of the game were being changed on a daily basis. Planning graduations for our two schools has been no less frustrating.

I believe Bishop Vasa wants all pastors to follow the county guidelines, if only we can come to a settled understanding of what they are. Frankly, it has been like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall, a reflection not of the church, but of contradictory directives by civil authorities, elected and appointed.

The most important thing is to keep our “eye on the ball.” Looking for new angles in an overexposed news story, some people and media outlets are now characterizing the COVID-19 situation in terms of politics, authority and defiance– i.e., “Who are you to tell us what to do?” This, in my view, shows a lack of focused seriousness.

We must keep our “eye on the ball.” This is, first and foremost, a public health crisis and must be approached as such. To open too soon after two months of sacrifice, only to be re-closed if there are infections traced back to our parish, is a self-defeating project. When approaching serious dangers whose dimensions remain unclear, I prefer prudence, caution and order.

It is under these circumstances that we have been asked to decide how and when to re-open our churches. Parishioners are understandably frustrated, calling and e-mailing the office, asking why our church isn’t open, and when it will be. Nobody is more aware of the desire and need to re-open than I am, and any re-opening will require trade-offs. It is under these circumstances that I ask your continued patience.

Consequently, we will remain closed for the weekend of May 31, and will re-visit this matter next week with the intention of re-opening for a combination of weekday and weekend Masses as soon as possible. The clergy and staff of St. Vincent’s will keep you informed by all available means as to when the next steps will be taken.

With prayers for faith, hope and health,

Rev. William P. Donahue