An Invitation to ReflectAs more and more people receive their vaccines, the question becomes, when will life return to “normal” or move to a “new normal?” Over the last year, we have heard our fair share of pandemic updates. If you are like us, you might feel allergic to any talk of numbered “phases” or “journeys to reopening.” It has felt hard to feel things that we care deeply about, that affect our health and the things that matter most to us, numbered and set into stage “3b-1”. Shutting everything down can happen quickly, but coming back feels like it is set in fits and starts measured by bureaucracy. As we start a conversation about what it means to return to some form of in-person gathering, let’s take a moment first to be grounded in the human reality of this experience:
First, I would invite you to feel within yourself what it is like to be in this ambiguous place. We have been at this for a long time. Many of us have had the feelings of vacillating between optimism and defeatism, and you may find yourself along that spectrum at this moment. Each of us has been under stress and in the midst of grief, and each of us may be in a different place from day to day and hour to hour.
Next, I would invite you to picture someone in this church that you care about, whose experience may have been different. There have been so many ways that this pandemic has been difficult, from those who have been exhausted by perpetual work, those who have been isolated and lonely with too much time, students who are exhausted by screens, and those who have grieved a loss without being able to gather with loved ones. In the midst of all of these different experiences, we are now adding in vaccination status, which can give folks a dramatically different experience of risk.
Finally, I would invite you to reflect upon what is our deepest call as a church. When asked what the most important laws were, Jesus said to love our God with all our heart, mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. As we approach how we will return, our guiding principle is what does it mean to love our neighbor, especially across difference, and how we can live out the call to embody the love of God in community. We have a call to love our neighbor, by caring for emotional needs, by following the best of science and public health for physical risks, and living out a call to welcome especially for the vulnerable.
A Convergence of the PathsWhen we held our first virtual service on March 8, 2020, we didn’t know when we would once again walk into our beautiful sanctuary. We only knew that public gatherings had to stop. As society begins to re-open, our re-emergence will be gradual. On Tuesday, March 16, 2021, Church Council voted to allow small gatherings, masked and distanced outside. Over the next months, we will move through various stages, with decisions to move forward or back, made by church council with input from case rates, vaccination rates, and public health guidelines.
Path forward in words:As a first step, we would like to offer to small groups to meet outdoors when the weather permits. Increasingly, public health officials have named outdoor gatherings as being much safer than indoor. As we recognize that folks have different levels of comfort and risk, we would ask that we care for the most vulnerable by remaining masked and not offering communal food or beverage that would involve removing masks. For the time being, we are not able to offer building access for restrooms. With the current weather, it may be our youth groups that will be the first to brave outdoor gathering. For other groups, there is no pressure to meet in person at this time. Leaders are especially encouraged to make sure people feel included and comfortable. As the weather improves if your small group would like to talk about an outdoor gathering, please be in touch with the church staff for logistics.
We know what we are longing for—big communal worship with optional masks, singing, coffee hour, and joyful community. We also know that this is likely the last thing that will return. Along the way we are likely to go through stages of first gathering small groups outdoors, then indoors, then perhaps worship with masks and without singing, and then whole group together. It could be that depending where you are at, this may feel too fast or too slow of coming. With love to one another, we seek to stand in this ambiguous place, as we discern one step and the next along the way.
We give thanks for the community that has brought us through this time. We give thanks for the community that we have become, across vast swaths of distance. We look in hope to the community that we will yet be, gathered physically present and beyond, being a church that is now something new.
With Great Hope,
Pastor Lisa and Pastor Patty and Church Council
- No indoor gatherings of any size, pastoral exceptions for memorial/baptismal family gatherings.
- Outdoor small group activities (up to 25 people), masked, distanced, without shared food/beverage, or singing.
Likely steps along the way in the future
- Indoor small group activities, masked, without food/beverage.
- Larger indoor small group activities, masked
- Size limited communal worship, masked and without singing
- Large group worship, masks optional, choir, singing, coffee hour, with hybrid virtual options for participation
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