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Even as the diocese prepares to shutdown in-person church services again in response to the raging pandemic, Grace Episcopal Alexandria, true to form, ignores diocesan guidance and common sense regarding office operations.

Here’s what the diocese says:

In a nutshell, the diocese is saying, “Do only those tasks that cannot be done via telecommuting. Get in and get out as quickly as possible. Take all possible safety precautions.”

Now, here’s what Grace Episcopal Alexandria’s website says:

In essence, the church is saying that the office is open five days a week, even though it doesn’t specify the hours.

That begs the question: Is this really stuff that can’t be done remotely? Given the age of the office volunteers, all are at high risk during the pandemic. And let’s not forget that Patient Zero in the DC area manifestation of the pandemic was an Episcopal priest in Georgetown, who zealously followed guidelines about hand sanitizer, social distancing, etc. So while I’d be the first to say that masking, hand washing, and other precautions are essential, nothing beats STAYING. HOME.

Moreover, it’s not like the office is hugely productive. I have heard from several folks, interested in learning more about the parish, who have emailed the parish administrator and clergy about being added to church email distribution lists, only to be ignored.

Perhaps the issue is that the parish fears bloggers will access its gnostic secrets.

Or more likely the issue is just that people are being lazy.

If nothing else, that begs the question: What on earth is the parish administrator doing all day if he can’t follow-up with those interested in the church? 

Regardless of the answer to that question, if the church can’t welcome the stranger, then it stands no chance of reversing its precipitous decline.

And rest assured — while Grace may be indifferent to those seeking a church home, or fall back on its usual Jesus-babble about “welcoming people with open arms,” in a day and age of plummeting church membership and attendance, plenty of churches out there, ranging from evangelical, to Roman Catholic, to mainstream, to home churches, will jump at the chance to add folks to the email distribution lists, to drop off a welcome packet, or to invite people to dinner.

(That reminds me — a note to the Mormon missionaries: No, I am not coming to Christmas dinner. No, I would not make a good Latter-day Saint. Yes, I have tremendous respect for many aspects of your faith. And I am rarely at the Fairfax address these days, so quit bugging the neighbors. You get my drift. Merry Christmas, and a happy New Year to you and yours.)

Or, as June Huber wisely put it in her recent article for Grace Notes, if Grace Church wants to survive, it needs to let God distract it once in a while.

In the meantime, I hope that folks at the church will be sensible, follow diocesan guidelines, and do their utmost to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by keeping the church office closed unless absolutely essential.

In the meantime, how about having the courtesy to at least reply to people who are interested in your parish? In fact,  you could even have an auto reply set-up for membership inquiries that would add people to the email distribution lists, while sending them a membership packet. It’s really not that hard. And the fact that the automated sign-up feature on the website hasn’t worked in years is appalling. What message do you think that sends to prospective members and the community at large?

Showing enough respect to at least answer your email would be a great first step towards growing the parish.