Sunday, May 17, 2020


Today, May 17, 2020, was the first Sunday in which in-person worship was allowed to resume in the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina. The Episcopal diocese of SC will not re-start public worship until June 7 at the earliest. So, how did the much-anticipated "re-opening" go today? I was curious to know and so checked the Internet offerings of most of the major parishes listed in the Anglican diocese.

I scanned eighteen prominent local churches for their morning services of today on Youtube and Facebook. I found only two that had in-person church. These two also offered live-streaming. I found sixteen that were not allowing in-person worship yet but were continuing live-streaming services. These were the sixteen not having public services today:

St. Philip's of Charleston, 
St. Michael's of Charleston, 
the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul, 
St. Paul's of Summerville, 
St. Helena's of Beaufort, 
the Church of the Cross of Bluffton, 
Christ/St. Paul's of Yonges Island, 
St. John's of Florence, 
Prince George Winyah of Georgetown,
Trinity of Myrtle Beach
Christ Church of Mt. Pleasant
Holy Cross of Sullicans Island
St. James of James Island
St. John's of Johns Island
Our Saviour of Johns Island
Resurrection of Surfside

The two that I found that had in-person church today were Old St. Andrew's of West Ashley and St. Luke's of Hilton Head.

At St. Andrew's, I counted fourteen people in the congregation. There were four in the choir, a choirmaster, a pianist, and several robed men around the altar. Eucharist was celebrated and only the celebrant had the wine. The others around him took only the wafer. The people in the pews did not leave the pews in the communion. They did not go to the altar and the eucharistic ministers did not go to them. If the people took the wafers, I do not know how they got them. The few people scattered about the mostly vacant pews were wearing face masks as far as I could tell. Apparently, the service was printed in the bulletin. As far as I could make out, the congregation joined in the singing while wearing masks (the ADSC guidelines say "No congregational singing" highlighted in blue letters.)

St. Luke's of Hilton Head was a bit different. I counted approximately thirty people in the pews which were mostly empty. The service was projected on a screen but books were available in the pews. There were two people in the choir, several musicians, and several robed people at the altar. Eucharist was celebrated and the celebrant alone took the wine. At communion, the laity walked to the front, stood and each took a wafer. There was no kneeling at the altar rail. As far as I could tell, everyone was wearing face masks. Those around the altar removed theirs for singing and speaking.  

There may have been other local churches that held in-person services today. I did not look up every one of the parishes and missions. However, I think the eighteen that I did check give us an entirely clear picture on this first Sunday of the return of public services. 

Here is our take-away from today. The vast majority of local churches are not ready to resume in-person worship. In the two that did, the vast majority of the people are not ready to return to the church buildings. I do not know the usual Sunday attendance at OSA and St. Luke's, but I would guess it would be ten times the number of today. Could it be that only ten percent of the laity feel comfortable returning to church? If so, churches have a lot of work to do to reassure people that going back to church is a good thing to do.

If people believe that in returning to church they will be resuming their old church experiences, they will be sorely disappointed. "Coronavirus church" by necessity has to be radically different. The two public services I scanned today seemed to me to be awkward, flat and barely alive. In my view, they just did not function well as corporate worship. The lesson I see today for all church leaders is that they will have to work very hard in the near future to strike an effective balance between resuming group worship and protecting the individuals in the group from the virus. The two services of today show churches have an enormous challenge ahead.