After Gov. Bill Lee issued an executive order asking businesses to have their employees work from home when possible, the Diocese of Nashville decided to have its employees begin working remotely beginning Dec. 22 and continuing through Jan. 11, 2021.
“The Diocese of Nashville has been receiving inquiries as it relates to any plans, given the recent address on Sunday, December 20th and an Executive Order from Governor Lee,” diocesan Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer Brian Cooper said in a statement. “With the heightened levels of COVID-19 cases and deaths occurring throughout Tennessee, the diocese wishes to demonstrate solidarity and show support with the governor’s initiative, taking proper and extra precautions during this critical timeframe.”
Diocesan employees already were scheduled to be off for the Christmas holidays beginning Dec. 24 and returning on Monday, Jan. 4.
Employees at diocesan offices and ministries at the Catholic Pastoral Center will work virtually Jan. 4-11, and then begin to transition back to in-person operations, according to Cooper.
“All Offices and Ministries will be in-person at the CPC no later than Tuesday, January 19, 2021, following the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday,” Cooper said. “While the CPC remains a very safe working environment, these actions are being taken out of an abundance of caution and to show solidarity with the governor’s initiative.”
When the staff is working virtually, offices may be contacted by email or phone during normal business hours.
Catholic Schools scheduled to return Jan. 4
The diocesan Catholic schools returned from Christmas break to in-person learning on Monday, Jan. 4.
Superintendent of Schools Rebecca Hammel and school principals met on Dec. 30 to re-evaluate and assess current community conditions caused by the COVID-19 virus and determined that returning to in-person learning was viable with all the necessary precautions in place.
“School leaders are united in their determination that the strong protocols developed last summer, in direct consultation with public health experts in Nashville, have provided safe environments in our schools and provided a clear framework to respond to infections that have occurred,” Cooper said.
Mass attendance not limited by governor’s order
In an address to the public on Sunday, Dec. 20, the governor noted that the state is seeing about 10,000 new cases of the COVID-19 virus every day, with more than 100 deaths daily.
“We are in a global pandemic that’s been crippling our country for months and now Tennessee is ground zero for a surge in sickness,” Lee said. “We are in a war. With the arrivals of the first vaccine, we have launched an offensive that will end this war. But it is the next few weeks that is going to be the most critical for our state.”
In his executive order, the governor called for a limit of 10 people for indoor social gatherings unless there is room for groups to maintain 6 feet of social distance from other groups.
The order specifically states that the 10-person limit does not apply to religious worship services, although places of worship are strongly encouraged to continue to follow safety protocols and to livestream worship services online.
The diocese’s 58 churches will continue to follow the safety protocols that have been in place for several months, including social distancing, required masking, and limited occupancy. Many of the churches are also livestreaming Masses.
The dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation continues to be in effect indefinitely, and Bishop J. Mark Spalding has consistently encouraged people to protect their health in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those who have an active ongoing illness (including infection, flare of a chronic illness, etc.), anyone over the age of 65, those with a history of heart failure, lung disease, diabetes, ongoing malignancy, any immunosuppressive disorder, those on steroids or other immunosuppressive medications, those who have been advised by a health care professional not to attend Mass, and those who live with anyone with any health vulnerability, are strongly encouraged to remain at home at this time and watch Mass online or via television.
Additionally, those who are worried that attending Mass would add undue stress or jeopardize their health or the health of a person with whom they live, are also encouraged to remain at home.