Revisiting Worship in the COVID Era; Boca Investor Looks To Buy Sun Sentinel

covid-19 church
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Viewers on five continents watched the Christmas Eve service at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Boca Raton. The COVID-19 pandemic caused it.

A year ago, after restrictions had kicked in with little notice and congregations were scrambling as Holy Week approached, I spoke with The Rev. Andrew Sherman, St. Gregory’s rector. We spoke about what has changed, what hasn’t changed and what he doesn’t want to change.

Which brings us to that Christmas Eve live stream. “Our impact was global,” Rev. Sherman said, still with wonder in his voice. “We don’t want that to stop.”

Indeed, Rev. Sherman said St. Gregory’s in the last year through virtual services—started when worshipers couldn’t come—has “identified a number of people who are not residents (of the Boca Raton area) but have connected” with the church. Live stream services also allow seasonal South Floridians to stay close to places of worship. Rev. Sherman has heard similar sentiment from the area’s rabbis and imams.

In addition, St. Gregory’s created a virtual pilgrimage to the Holy Land that the church showed during Lent. “It was pretty creative,” Rev. Sherman said, and quite popular. He anticipates that and similar productions becoming permanent features of the church.

Those are the hopeful developments from the pandemic. Rev. Sherman acknowledged, though, that the day-to-day pandemic grind has worn on him and the staff. “It can be tiring to constantly reinvent yourself.”

St. Gregory’s now holds in-person services with limited capacity and virus precautions. There’s no public signing. Many of the rules come from the Episcopal diocese. “We’re very hierarchical,” Rev. Sherman said of  his church.

The hybrid format continues to “challenge some of our older members” who feel safer watching but have few or no computer skills. According to a Pew Research poll, only about 40 percent of Christians in the United States plan to attend Easter services in person, compared to 62 percent in a normal year.

Among the St. Gregory’s congregants, Rev. Sherman said, there have been “several” deaths from COVID-19 and “many cases.” One of those was his, last July, even though he had followed all protocols. His case was mild and he has been vaccinated. Boca Raton Regional Hospital included clergy when it vaccinated health care workers.

Amid the reinvention, the mission hasn’t changed. St. Gregory’s now has an outside shower for those in need. The church has opened what Rev. Sherman called “a 24/7 food pantry,” in partnership with B’nai Torah Congregation just west of Boca Raton on Southwest 18th Street.

Like all houses of worship, St. Gregory’s especially worries about mental health 13 months into the pandemic. “It’s been trying for many,” Rev. Sherman said. “I’m feeling it, too.

“Rhythms are good things. We need them back. The simple act of touching is incalculable.”

Yet the crisis also brought into even sharper focus what those in the clergy mean to the community and their congregants. Even as the pandemic conditions drain him, Rev. Sherman said, they renew him.

“God hasn’t been quarantined. Our work is life-giving and sustaining. It’s what we are called to do.”

Vaccinations in PBC

vaccine

Palm Beach County is doing better than the rest of the state and the country on COVID-19 vaccinations.

According to the latest data, 57.1 percent of county residents 65 and over are fully vaccinated. That compares to 49.3 percent in Florida and 45.9 percent nationally.

Overall, 17.7 percent of county residents have received both shots. Statewide, it’s only 14.3 percent. Nationally, the total is 14.7 percent.

Elective surgeries back

boca regional

Here’s one sign of normal life amid the pandemic. Boca Raton Regional, a spokesman said, is on a normal elective surgery schedule.

Like all hospitals, Boca Regional stopped elective procedures last spring, to free beds in case of a COVID-19 case surge. The hospital resumed them after a few weeks, but then cut back. Public health experts now worry about a fourth wave as people begin traveling more.

Hospital donor seeks to buy Sun Sentinel

A Boca Regional donor has become part of a major media story.

Mason Slaine, who most recently gave Boca Regional $1.5 million last summer, is part of an investor group that wants to buy Tribune Publishing. The company owns the South Florida Sun Sentinel and eight other newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun and the New York Daily News.

Slaine owns a minority stake in Tribune. He has a media background—CEO of Thompson Financial, which in 2008 merged with Reuters News Service.

Like most traditional media companies, Tribune has been pummeled by the loss of revenue from print advertising. Facebook and Google dominate the digital ads that newspapers had hoped to attract. Tribune already sold the Los Angeles Times and wants a buyer for the others.

Alden Capital is Tribune’s largest shareholder, at 32 percent, and wants the whole company. Tribune’s board recommended Alden, but Tribune journalists know that Alden has drastically cut staff after acquiring other papers. Staffs at most newspapers already have been gutted.

Enter Stewart Bainum, chairman of Maryland-based Choice Hotels International. He had struck a deal to buy the Baltimore Sun from Alden. Now Bainum, whom associates say believes in community journalism, has entered the competition for Tribune.

When Tribune representatives questioned whether he has the financing for such a deal, Bainum brought in Swiss philanthropist Hansjorg Wyss and then Slaine.

Tribune staffers hope that the Bainum-led consortium wins. So should the community. The Sun Sentinel–for which I write a column and editorials–has won two Pulitzer Prizes for public service in the last decade. The threat to daily journalism is a threat to democracy.

Delray Beach Golf Club water issues

delray

The Florida Department of Health doesn’t just have issues with Delray Beach’s water system. The state recently found several violations at the Delray Beach Golf Club.

Inspectors found five high priority violations, seven intermediate violations and one basic violation, all of which bocanewsnow.com first reported. Among other things, there was “mold-like growth” on food. Other food was not in “a wholesome, sound condition.” There were problems with temperature control. The club’s license had expired. A “person in charge” couldn’t answer “basic” questions about how to operate safely.

City commissioners have discussed the club and course for years. There is general agreement that both need more money. There is little agreement about where the money should come from.

State may still cut budgets

money

I reported last week that local budgets for next year appear in much better shape than city administrators had anticipated early in the pandemic. State legislators, though, may trim some city revenue.

The issue concerns how property appraisers value timeshare units when they are sold. Disney and other large owners of timeshares want the system changed after losing a court case in Central Florida.

Marriott, which owns a 900-unit timeshare in Orange County, reportedly crafted the bill. The lobbyist is former State Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, who once represented Palm Beach County. Analysts estimate that the bill would cut city and county revenue statewide by $170 million, with the biggest impact on governments near Disney World.

This is one of many attempts to undercut home rule. The legislative session ends on April 30.