Latest Updates on COVID-19

MAY 4, 2020: An Update from St. Stephen’s Church Leadership: In-Person Worship, Meetings & Programs Suspension Extended

The Stay at Home Order Is Now in Effect through May 18th
On Thursday, April 30th, Governor Walz announced an extension of a statewide Stay at Home order effective through Monday, May 18th.  Our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Brian Prior, and our Bishop-Elect, the Very Rev. Craig Loya, now ask that faith communities within the Episcopal Church in Minnesota honor this extension for the health and good of the broader community.  To that end, we too will extend the suspension of in-person worship and gatherings and keep our facilities closed to general use through May 18th at least.

To be forthright, we expect that any return to in-person gatherings within church facilities remains many weeks away.  Current expectations for the state of Minnesota do not project a peak in COVID-19 infections before June or July.  So, as we continue to amend our ordinary practices to help mitigate the devastating impact of this disease, St. Stephen’s Church will continue for the time being to:

  • Provide Sunday morning worship and live gatherings via virtual means including Youtube and Zoom
  • Provide online Wednesday Morning Prayer, Live at Five virtual check-ins, educational and community virtual gatherings for Youth and Adults, and Compline (Night Prayers) at the close of day
  • Provide virtual Christian education and online gatherings for our children and families
  • Reach out to members and friends for pastoral care via notes, telephone, email, and Zoom
  • Maintain administration, finance, and governance through online committee meetings and staff collaboration
  • Develop other opportunities for fun and engaging community gatherings online

Imagining Our Renewal of Worship and Faith Community Gatherings
St. Stephen’s Church leadership and staff are following the guidance of our Bishop as we begin planning for conducting a phased renewal of in-person worship.  Our hope is that the Governor is able to ease some restrictions on gatherings as we move through the month of May so that our Bishop can allow a very small group of the church staff to return to our facilities to film worship.

Additionally, we will begin preparations for welcoming our members and friends to return to worship in stages… beginning with just a few in number and gradually increasing the size of the congregation as the effects of COVID-19 lessen.  We don’t yet know exactly when this phased renewal will occur, but we are planning to be ready when the time comes.  Regardless of the timing and future opportunities for a few to gather, we will continue to provide worship and educational ministries online as well.

With gratitude…
We are deeply grateful for your continued engagement with St. Stephen’s Church.  Hundreds of our members and friends have participated in online worship, learning, and gatherings.  Our clergy and staff receive regular messages of thanksgiving and encouragement for their virtual ministries.  Your financial contributions are helping to sustain these ministries in some uncertain times.  Your prayers are energizing and uplifting.

Our Bishop and Bishop-Elect continue to ask, “What does love look like in these times?”  Well, we believe it looks like what we are doing as a community of faith… staying home for a time, helping each other be as healthy and safe as possible, supporting medical personnel and those on the front line of the struggle with COVID-19, caring for the most vulnerable, and all the while looking out for each other through encouragement, communication, prayer, and generosity.

Thank you, members and friends, of St. Stephen’s Church, for living faithfully in these times.

 

 


PREVIOUS MESSAGES

MARCH 26, 2020: An Update from St. Stephen’s Church Leadership: In-Person Worship, Meetings & Programs Suspension Extended

Acting upon the current counsel of our Bishop, and in light of continuing efforts in the state of Minnesota to slow the spread of COVID-19, your Executive Committee is extending the suspension of in-person church gatherings through May 1st while continuing to evaluate data and recommendations coming to us from ECMN and national, state, and local health officials.  As the month of May approaches, leadership will reevaluate this suspension in light of the information available at that time.

This is a difficult message to deliver to our faith community, as we all feel the loss of personal fellowship and communion with one another in worship, prayer, and service. However, we believe it is the most pastoral approach as we share in the burden with fellow churches and citizens to help bring this time of epidemic disease to an eventual close.

We encourage all of our members and friends to take an active role in care for each other.  Take a little time to pick up the phone and call a fellow member of St. Stephen’s Church, or write a note to someone who may need a little blessing for their day. A copy of our 2020 Church Directory may be found here.  Know that our clergy are engaging in regular telephone and email contact with the faith community as well, and they appreciate hearing from you too.

VIRTUAL HOLY WEEK AND EASTER OBSERVANCES

Our church staff continues to develop creative means for online fellowship, learning, and worship.  Plans are in the works now for a virtual and interactive Holy Week, providing daily online worship and guidance for Holy Week observances in our homes.  Easter Sunday will dawn this year with a different kind of church fellowship, but we will indeed have ways to celebrate our shared hope in the Resurrection while seeking God’s help in these times.

Thanks for making “virtual church” a part of your life with the St. Stephen’s faith community.  If you have not had the opportunity to join in online gatherings, please do.  If you are in need of assistance on how to connect to St. Stephen’s Church online ministries, please contact Molly Reichard, Minister of Community Engagement, for assistance.

ONGOING STEWARDSHIP AND SUPPORT OF OUR MINISTRIES AND MEMBERS

We join with your Stewardship Ministry Committee in asking that all members and friends of St. Stephen’s Church faithfully continue to offer pledged contributions and other financial gifts of support for the continuation of St. Stephen’s ministries. Although the times are different, our mission has not changed.

Our parish continues to provide worship, pastoral care, children’s and youth ministry, connection with our senior membership, fellowship, learning, hope, and love. Your continuing contributions will sustain these ministries through a difficult time.

You can contribute to the church by:

  • Making an Online Gift
  • Setting up an Automatic Bank Payment; download a form and mail it to the church office or contact Nancy Wood for assistance.
  • Making a donation or pledge payments by check and mailing to the church office.

If you are experiencing financial challenges due to the current epidemic, know that we understand there may be changes in your ability to contribute financially at present.  We ask only that you do what is possible in these times, holding the church in your prayers and giving in accordance with your means. If you are in particular financial distress during these times, contact our clergy, Rev. Tom Cook or Rev. Amelia Arthur, so that they can seek some means of pastoral support for you.

If you are unable to leave your residence at all and you are in need of shopping help for food or basic personal items, we have parishioner volunteers who are ready to lend a hand. Contact our clergy for assistance.

The Lord bless us and keep us in these times.  Be in touch.  You remain in our prayers daily.

 

MARCH 13, 2020: An Update from St. Stephen’s Church Leadership: All In-Person Worship, Meetings & Programs Suspended

A lot has changed in our community, state, country, and around the world since we first wrote to you nine days ago regarding our parish’s response to the COVID-19 virus. This week our parish convened a response team made up of clergy, staff, and lay leadership. This group met several times and today we joined Episcopal leaders from around the state who met virtually with our Bishop and ECMN’s Emergency Response Team to review and discuss new guidelines and recommendations in light of COVID-19’s spread.

Out of an abundance of caution and taking into consideration the guidance from ECMN as well as state and federal health officials, we have decided to suspend ALL in-person worship, meetings, and programming from now through Sunday, March 29th. Our building will be closed during this period to all but clergy and staff. Our parish leadership will continue to monitor developments and stay in touch as decisions are made on next steps over the coming weeks.

This decision wasn’t easy. We believe we owe it to our community and our neighbors to take precautions to protect the vulnerable among us and to “flatten the curve” to slow the spread of this infection so as not to overwhelm our health care systems.

At times like these, staying connected to our parish family feels even more vital than usual. We are actively looking at ways to keep us all connected virtually through our website, Facebook page, remote meetings and using the good old telephone. We will share more about these opportunities in the coming days, but for now, here are key things we want you to know. 

THIS SUNDAY, MARCH 15th

While we will not be together to worship this Sunday, we encourage you to tune into worship via live streaming. You may tune in to a live stream view of worship at the National Cathedral this Sunday at 8:00 AM, 10:15 AM and 4:00 PM CST. This Sunday, the sermon will be given by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry. You may view worship live on the National Cathedral’s Facebook Page or YouTube channel.

Check your email early Sunday morning for our first virtual Sunday bulletin.

STAYING CONNECTED AS A COMMUNITY

While we aren’t together in-person, we’re looking to be intentional about how they can stay connected as a community. During this uncertain season:

  • We will continue to worship together and offer pastoral care to parishioners and the community in new and appropriate ways.
  • We will discover new ways to be the Church—to worship, learn, and care for one another as a community.
  • We will learn new ways to pray, both in solitude and together in virtual gatherings.
  • We will search for those in need and tend to their needs.  Please let us know if you, or anyone you know, needs pastoral care.

Look for more communications in the coming days for opportunities for the whole family to stay connected. In the meantime, as some of these virtual opportunities will happen on Facebook, join our new St. Stephen’s Parishioners Facebook Group and, parents, join us in our St. Stephen’s Parent’s Facebook Group. These groups will be key channels for us to stay connected.

CONTACTING CLERY OR STAFF

Clergy and staff will primarily be working remotely but that doesn’t mean we won’t be there for you! You may contact them via email and telephone. Clergy and staff contact information may be found here.

If you have pastoral needs, please call the church office at 952-920-0595, press 2, leave a message and our clergy will be in contact with you. You may also contact Rev. Tom Cook or Rev. Amelia Arthur directly.

God of healing and hope, in Jesus you meet us in our places of pain and fear. Look with mercy on those who have contracted the new virus, on any who are vulnerable, and on all who feel in danger. Through this time of global concern, by your Holy Spirit bring out the best not the worst in us. Make us more aware of our interdependence on each other, and of the strength that comes from being one body in you. Through Christ, our wounded healer. Amen.

–The Rev. Dr. Samuel Wells, St, Martin in the Fields, LondonPlease continue to pray for all who are affected by this virus, for medical personnel who tend to them, and for our public health and government officials. In the words of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, “We’re in this together. [. . .] God love you. God bless you. May God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.”

 

MARCH 12, 2020: LENTEN FISH FRY & BINGO POSTPONED

The leaders and staff of our parish continue to monitor and respond to ever-changing news coming from health and government officials regarding the spread of COVID-19 in our region and state. One of the ways to strengthen the ability of our healthcare system to respond to this crisis is to slow the spread of the virus — and that is most likely to be accomplished by avoiding large gatherings, especially those involving food. As such, we have decided out of an abundance of caution to postpone the Lenten Fish Fry & Bingo event which was to be held tomorrow night.

We will miss being together, but we’ll look forward to holding this event as soon as the conditions are right. If you have already purchased tickets for our Lenten Fish Fry, we will hold your tickets until the rescheduled event date is announced.

Please continue to pray for all who are affected by this virus, for medical personnel who tend to them, and for all public health and government officials as they continue implementing a right response for the well-being of all people.

In response to the rapidly developing COVID-19 pandemic, The Rt. Rev. Brian N. Prior, Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota (ECMN), has invited church leaders to a webinar tomorrow to review updated guidelines from ECMN. Following this webinar, look for a separate email update tomorrow for our community of St. Stephen’s Church. 

MARCH 11, 2020 – 3:42 PM: An Update From St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church Leadership

Leaders and staff of our parish continue to monitor information regarding the incidence of COVID-19 in our region and in the state of Minnesota.  In accordance with current guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health, we have not suspended gatherings for worship and church events at this time. However, given the current uncertainty regarding COVID-19 and the actual threat the disease could pose to members of our community should its spread bring us into closer proximity with the disease, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church expresses the following protocols.

WORSHIP AND CHURCH EVENTS – GENERALLY

Worship and church events, including the Fish Fry, continue for the time being in accordance with standards promulgated by the Minnesota Department of Health. However, whether you are vulnerable to illness, uncomfortable with large gatherings, or you find yourself feeling under the weather, we encourage you to make the choice that keeps you and those around you safe and healthy.

  • FIRST AND FOREMOST… IF YOU FEEL SICK or have been in close proximity with those who are sick, please stay home until it is certain you are well.  If you have symptoms of COVID-19 (according to the Center for Disease Control, symptoms include coughing, fever, and shortness of breath), seek professional medical advice and attention.
  • If you are concerned about your health due to personal vulnerabilities related to other medical conditions or age, it is perfectly acceptable to refrain from church gatherings for the time being.  Feel free to inform the clergy of your decision to refrain from attendance.
  • If you choose to attend worship or church events, practice the following good hygiene tips:
    • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water for 20 seconds.  In the absence of soap and water, frequently use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Refrain from physical contact with others.  Exchange greetings verbally rather than physically.  Forego hugs and handshakes for a slight bow or a wave.
    • When receiving Communion, know that the Clergy and Eucharistic Ministers are using hand sanitizer before handling and distributing the elements and vessels of Holy Communion.  If you are concerned about receiving from the common Communion cup, it is perfectly acceptable to receive Communion in the one kind of the consecrated bread only, foregoing the wine for the time being.

PROVISION FOR VIRTUAL CHURCH MEETINGS

Church administration is establishing a shared means for providing virtual meetings using an online platform called Zoom.  This is a flexible platform that enables groups and committee members to gather virtually via video and audio conferencing. If you are interested in holding meetings virtually, contact Deen Hubin, Church Office Administrator for details and assistance in setting up your meetings.

INDIVIDUAL CHURCH GROUPS, COMMITTEES, AND MEETINGS

Individual groups and committees within the faith community may also choose to postpone or cancel planned gatherings during the present times as a precautionary decision.  Consider the needs of your individual groups in making decisions, and alert Deen Hubin, Church Office Administrator, if you decide to postpone or cancel an event/meeting on the church calendar.  The clergy also stand ready to talk with you as you consider your decisions.

WATCH FOR FURTHER UPDATES…

As circumstances indicate and as the Minnesota Department of Health and local health officials advise, church leaders and staff will make amendments to these practices for the well-being of the faith community. We will continue to communicate updates via special communications, routine weekly emails, and public announcements.  You may always contact the church office during business hours for current information, and the clergy welcome your communication as we look after each other in these times.

Heavenly Father, giver of life and health:
Comfort and relieve those who have fallen ill
and give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs,
that they may be strengthened in their weakness
and have confidence in your loving care;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Rev. Tom Cook, Rector
Cathy Cella, Senior Warden
Jim Korslund, Junior Warden
Chas McKhann, Treasurer


MARCH 4, 2020 7:20 PM: A Message from St. Stephen’s Rector and Wardens

Dear Members & Friends of St. Stephen’s Church,

We are writing today to share information regarding our faith community’s response to the COVID-19, or Coronavirus, outbreak impacting the lives of so many people throughout the world.  In cooperation with our Vestry Wardens, St. Stephen’s clergy and staff are monitoring information and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH.) We will take all recommended steps to aid in the prevention of the spread of the virus while informing you of particular concerns in our communities should more information become available.

At this time, the Minnesota Department of Health reports that there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota.  The MDH and the CDC currently recommend that all citizens practice the same protocols ordinarily used to prevent the spread of influenza:

•    Avoid close contact with those who are sick;

•    Stay home if you are sick as much as possible;

•    Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough;

•    Clean your hands frequently with soap and water, 20 seconds at a time; if soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer;

•    Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible; and

•    Practice good health habits: plenty of sleep, good nutrition, healthy activity, and managing stress

We ask that all parishioners of St. Stephen’s Church make these recommendations a part of their personal practice.

The clergy and Eucharistic Ministers will use alcohol-based hand sanitizers prior to the consecration and distribution of Holy Communion.  Regarding the distribution of Holy Communion and the use of the common chalice or cup, the CDC has long held that the risk of transmission of infectious disease through the use of the cup is “…so low as to be undetectable” (American Journal of Infection Control, Oct. 1998, Volume 26, Issue 5).  However, should you have concerns about receiving from the common chalice or cup during these times of heightened concern, you may certainly receive Communion through the bread only.  And the clergy are always available to talk with you about your Communion practices.

Thank you for working with us to keep ourselves and our larger community informed and as safe as possible during these times.  If and when further information and best practices are issued through our public health agencies, we will inform the faith community and implement further actions as necessary.

Please continue to hold in prayer those presently affected by COVID-19 and those discerning and implementing a right response for the well-being of all people.

Heavenly Father, giver of life and health:
Comfort and relieve those who have fallen ill
and give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs,
that they may be strengthened in their weakness
and have confidence in your loving care;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

The Rev. Tom Cook, Rector
Cathy Cella, Senior Warden
Jim Korslund, Junior Warden