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Austin mayor, Travis County judge ask faith leaders to voluntarily stop in-person services

Travis County Judge Andy Brown and Austin Mayor Steve Adler sent the open letter to faith leaders on Tuesday.

AUSTIN, Texas — Travis County's judge and Austin's mayor are calling upon local faith leaders to slow the spread of COVID-19 any way that they can.

In an open letter to faith leaders, Travis County Judge Andy Brown and Austin Mayor Steve Adler stated that health experts have said if the area's current trajectory of COVID-19 cases is sustained, "we will soon reach a crisis." The two are hoping faith leaders will help assist in preventing that from happening.

"During this time of year, many of us are looking to reconnect with our faith, family and friends to restore our spirits. We recognize your unique leadership role and your responsibility to tend to the needs of your congregation," the letter reads. "As our community heads into this important time, we are writing again to ask for your voluntary assistance to keep our community safe, and to help prevent Austin/Travis County from moving into Stage 5 during the holidays."

Brown and Adler ask faith leaders to consider virtual worship if their congregation has digital capabilities. If their congregation doesn't have that as an option, the pair asks leaders consider other changes to holiday services, including enforcing mask use and social distancing and avoiding sustained contacts among those in large groups, especially to protect vulnerable community members like the elderly.

"We are so close to getting the vaccine to these neighbors that we feel it is especially necessary to urge their protection now to the greatest extent possible," the letter reads.

Read the letter in full below:

KVUE spoke to Pastor Jim Rigby of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Tuesday night. He said for the majority of the pandemic, his congregation has kept its services virtual. The only in-person operations are the food pantry and homeless ministry.

He believes keeping service online during the holidays is the right thing to do. 

"So, to honor the doctors and the first-line workers and immunologists that are saying, 'Just stay distant a little while longer and we're going to control of this thing,' I think that's what faith means right now," Rigby said. "For the holidays, we will have online services and I think, you know, whatever faith you have, that there will be opportunities to go online and get as close as you can possibly get. You know, it's, it's very frustrating. But if we can just be patient a little while longer, we'll be able to come back together again and be able to actually be in the same room."

KVUE also reached out to the Diocese of Austin for comment and information about their plans for the holidays. A spokesperson for the diocese said there could still be in-person mass option, as the choice is up to the individual parishes. You can read the Diocese of Austin's response below:

"Throughout the pandemic, the parishes in the Diocese of Austin have followed safe protocols for the celebration of Mass, based on CDC guidelines and recommendations from health experts. These protocols, which continue to be followed, encourage all congregants at Mass to wear masks, observe safe distances between households, wash or sanitize their hands when entering the church, and receive Holy Communion by the hand. Additionally, parishes disinfect the pews and other touched surfaces between Masses. We hold to our belief in the sanctity of human life, which calls us to remain vigilant in our care for one another through these proven protocols. We are grateful to our civil and health leaders who have walked with us through this challenging time and continue to advise us on ways to maintain the safety of all. The Church will diligently follow these protocols for the sake of all God’s people and the common good of our community."


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