We’re entering the sixth month of the Coronamadness, with no end in sight. Or, more accurately, no end in sight before November 4, 2020. If Trump wins, the madness will ratchet up a notch or two. And if Biden wins, full socialism will be implemented beginning on January 21, 2021. Which will undoubtedly closely resemble the “new normal” we have become accustomed to since early March.
I’ve written a number of times in this space about the difference between my local Food Lion and supermarkets in Charlottesville and other metropolitan areas. Food Lion is at the low-class end of the grocery store spectrum, which means it predominates in small rural towns. The one I frequent had been a refuge from the insanity of stores in Charlottesville. It had an ostensible mask rule, but it was not enforced, and most of the time only about 50% of the people in the store — staff or customers — wore the Corona Hijab. The atmosphere was relaxed. No one screamed at anyone else for not wearing a mask. And the social distancing rules were largely ignored.
All that changed a few days ago. The two Food Lions nearest me have instituted “Entrance” and “Exit” doors, and a Coronavirus Compliance Officer is stationed at the entrance to make sure every customer wears a mask. If you don’t have one, a mask will thoughtfully be provided for you.
Food Lion is now indistinguishable from Whole Foods and Walmart and all the other major retailers in Woke cities like Charlottesville.
The only remaining places of refuge are the Amish markets. There are substantial Amish colonies in this part of Central Virginia, and once an Amish community reaches a certain size, its entrepreneurs open up a market to sell bulk foods, deli items, and other odds and ends. Evidently the Amish don’t believe in masks, because you never see any of the staff wearing them. Some of the customers do, while others like me brazenly enter the store with a naked visage.
It’s a good thing the Amish markets sell a lot of stuff I need, because I’m going to do as much of my shopping there as possible. There’s a big one on a remote back road not too far from me, and I expect I’ll be visiting it frequently. It usually has some really good bargains.
I’ll bet the Amish didn’t close their churches during the lockdown. And I doubt Governor Coonman would have had the nads to try and force them to.
I haven’t yet experienced the new coronacompliant Food Lion firsthand. I learned about it this morning at (for want of a better word) “church”.
You’re probably wondering why I put the word “church” in quote marks. Let me explain…
Since Governor Ralph “Coonman” Northam relaxed his lockdown rules for churches, some congregations have been holding limited services, while others haven’t. I’ve heard that the Catholics are celebrating mass in some form, and there’s at least one Presbyterian church in the area that has opened. Baptists, being a fissiparous denomination, vary in their policies — some churches are open, others not. I saw a group of (masked) congregants outside a Baptist church near my house this morning. As I understand it, some congregations are holding outdoor, socially distanced services. Others are gathering in church parking lots and sitting in their cars to hear the word of the Lord.
The Methodists are still locked down, however. And so are the Episcopalians, of which I am one.
After the governor, in his infinite wisdom, issued a new ukase that softened his draconian lockdown order, our diocesan bishop meditated on the situation and came up with a set of “guidelines” — they are mandatory — for parishes that are considering reopening. Below are excerpts from the lengthy document sent out to vestries:
Re-gathering for worship — detail practices to mitigate the risk of contagion, including:
- Assuring 6-foot social distancing (36 square feet per person or family). This will most likely limit the number of worshipers allowed in the building at one time.
- Establishing, where possible, patterns for the directional flow of participants entering, exiting, or moving about in the worship space to assure that social distancing is maintained to the full extent possible, and where possible, establish separate doors for entry and exit.
- Removing all Prayer Books, Hymnals, and Bibles from the pews. Additionally, pew cushions and portable cloth kneelers should be removed temporarily.
- Encouraging worshipers to bring personal Prayer Books from home, if available
- Discontinuing use of the holy water font
- Establishing hand sanitizer stations and, where possible, hand washing stations near entrances and exits
- Suspending the use of alms basins and providing a touch-free method for the collection of offerings
- Postponing congregational and choral singing for in-person worship. A small number of instrumental musicians, not to include woodwinds and brass, is permissible, provided 6-foot social distancing is maintained. Use of singers during Phase One is permissible only for live-streaming and recording for use in virtual services and only so long as social distancing protocols are followed and fresh air ventilation is employed.
- Discontinuing the physical passing of the peace
- Requiring, in accordance with the order of the governor, that all worship participants wear face masks covering the nose and mouth. Masks may be removed for specific aspects of worship (to read Scripture, to preach or address the congregation, or to receive communion, if offered).
- Developing a plan for dismissal of congregants in an orderly way that maintains social distance
- Planning for thorough cleaning and sanitizing of all public spaces before services and in-between services if multiple services are anticipated
- Considering, when possible, the use of outdoor spaces for services. Outdoor worship, where possible, limits use of enclosed spaces, thereby mitigating the risk of virus transmission. Even so, social distancing and the wearing of face masks are required at outdoor services.
- Recommending the wearing of gloves, if indicated, with appropriate instruction about proper wear and disposal of gloves
- Developing and implementing a plan to educate the congregation about expectations of all who attend public worship, practices which each participant must observe, and the differences worshipers will encounter as they re-gather, to include the wearing of masks, following of protocols, abstinence from singing or exchanging the peace, and the like. Additionally, this education plan must make clear that no one should seek to attend worship if they are feeling unwell or are experiencing any symptom or symptoms associated with COVID-19.
- Posting signage stating that no one with a fever or symptoms of COVID-19 or who has known exposure to COVID-19 in the prior 14 days is permitted to participate
- Posting signage regarding the mandatory observance of CDC and Virginia Department of Health public health standards including the wearing of face masks, 6-foot social distancing, and not attending if ill or symptomatic.
- Tracking the number of persons present in person or virtually for worship
- Recognizing that during Phase 1, the safest option for worship is either Morning or Evening Prayer or the Celebration of the Eucharist with the administration of spiritual communion, some congregations may include plans for the physical distribution of communion. If so, communion may be distributed to worshippers provided the following guidelines are observed: [details omitted]
Additionally, re-gathering plans must include the following:
- Continued suspension of in-person coffee hours
- Continued provision of virtual services
- Offering adult Christian formation by virtual means only
- Offering of children’s worship, Vacation Bible School, or other children’s programming by virtual means only
- Assuring that all nurseries remain closed
- Cancelling or postponing all mission trips, pilgrimages, etc.
- Addressing the needs and concerns of other groups seeking to use the facilities, including AA groups, Scouts, day schools, etc., as necessary and appropriate. Serious consideration should be given to limiting or eliminating availability of the church facility for use by such groups, but if the decision is made to permit limited use of the building, outside groups should be required to observe the same standards employed by members of the congregation: wearing face masks at all times, maintaining 6-foot social distancing, not attending if ill or symptomatic, complying with all applicable CDC and Virginia Department of Health guidelines, and sanitizing any spaces used both before and after usage.
- Planning carefully to offer support services through existing food pantries and services to the homeless in a manner that safeguards the health of all and mitigates the risk of virus transmission.
So no traditional communion, no singing, no shaking hands or hugging during the passing of the peace, no coffee hour, and we’d have to wear those damnable masks at all times.
That bears no resemblance to anything I would call “church”.
Fortunately, our priest feels the same way, and so does about two-thirds of our tiny congregation. The other third consists mostly of older people (although one is my age, which is old, but quite a bit younger than some of the others) who are afraid. Some of them are really, really afraid. They want to follow the guidelines to the letter.
I’m not willing to submit to the dictatorial rule of a diocesan bishop, so I’m not going to that church anymore. The church building, that is. And here’s where it gets interesting…
Our priest and the non-afraid members of the congregation have been gathering on Sundays at a parishioner’s house. The priest is not being paid, and the services are unofficial. We gather in the living room, where there is a baby grand piano. Our organist is one of the unafraid, and she plays the piano as proficiently as she does the organ, while we all sing. We celebrate a normal Eucharist, with real communion. We pass the peace with hugs and handshakes. And then we have lunch or snacks in the adjacent dining room afterwards.
Nobody wears a mask or maintains social distance. And nobody is afraid.
It’s important that we don’t get all smug about our status as coronadissidents. Not being afraid isn’t something that can be willed. It is a gift from God. Those who are afraid have no control of that feeling. Being fearful can induce one to do nasty things, but the fear itself isn’t under the control of the fearful person.
We dissidents don’t talk to the fearful ones about what we’re doing. There is a private email list through which we keep each other informed. Nevertheless, this is a small rural community, and the fearful ones have caught wind of what is happening. Needless to say, they are not happy about it…
Fortunately, we are completely within the limit set by the governor — we are fewer than ten people. Mind you, there are pesky little details, like wearing masks and sitting six feet away from each other. But in the unlikely event that someone called the deputies on us, the chances that we would be cited for any coronacrimes are virtually nil.
And what can the bishop do? Call out the diocesan palace guard and have us locked up in the Tower?
Our priest’s sermon this morning drew on the Gospel lesson (the miracle of the loaves and fishes) and reminded us that the early Christians didn’t meet in an institutional building, but in people’s homes. And always in danger of being discovered by the authorities.
So that’s the church I attend now. And, really, there’s no need at all to put quote marks around the word.