By the Rev. Barbara Threet
Well, we’re drawing to the end of a MOST peculiar church year! Who would ever have imagined last December that in just a few months, churches (and schools, and sports arenas, and shopping malls, and barber shops, and so much more) would all be sitting empty and idle? Who could have imagined that so many of us would figure out how to use Zoom, or at least how to muddle through? “Social distancing” and “flattening the curve” were phrases we’d never heard, let alone “Covid-19”. So much has changed!
Perhaps the first thing to say in reflecting back on this year is to acknowledge what tremendous courage, compassion and perseverance has been shown by so many. By medical personnel, obviously. By parents who suddenly had to become teachers too. By grocery store clerks and shelf-stockers, by postal workers, by trash collection personnel, by those factory workers who kept producing goods we all want and goods we suddenly discovered we needed urgently. We’ve learned to wear face masks and stand 6 feet apart, we’ve learned what it feels like to encounter empty shelves in our stores – shortages of toilet paper and flour – and we’ve discovered what it feels like to just stay home, for good or for ill.
Our churches have showed those same qualities of courage, compassion, and perseverance. We adapted. We accepted odd glitches in our new, on-line service with grace and good humor. Our Boards figured how to function on line, even adding extra meetings when needed. Our members continued to support one another in many ways – phone calls and emails, grocery runs, offerings of food, encouragement. We’re shared stories online, and poetry, jokes and heartaches. Our services have welcomed those who have moved away, who are suddenly able to join us again through the miracle of Zoom.
And now we approach the time of year when many of us are used to being somewhat apart from church. A few summer services maybe? And if so, what might those look like this year? Other small gatherings? In person or on Zoom, and where? Some planning will be done for the next church year – but with what parameters? The guidelines for what churches can do, and when, and for how many people are still emerging as I write this. Over the next few months (and maybe well beyond) our Boards will need to weigh out what’s safe and wise for us to do, as well as considering what’s possible. Our congregation is overwhelmingly in the ‘at-risk’ group – over 60 and/or with underlying health concerns, and so we’ll need to consider that reality in all of our deliberations. There will inevitably be differences of opinion which we’ll need to negotiate: we’ll have different perceptions about what’s safe, or overly cautious, or prudent, or responsible. We’ll need to listen carefully and respectfully, and we’ll need to respond thoughtfully.
There are other conversations going on about our church too, though. One of the most exciting is: how can we nurture the connections between us in the coming months? What might emerge that we’d never thought of before? Zoom book groups? Hikes, with participants walking in a straight line holding a string marked at 6 foot intervals so we won’t inadvertently drift closer? Parking lot services? On-line talent shows? How will we find out when one of us needs extra support, and what can we realistically offer one another, given that we’re all at least somewhat stressed, confused, and overwhelmed? There are many questions, many of which we’ve never had the need – or the opportunity – to explore before.
A few things will help. Read your newsletter. Encourage other members to do so. If you receive an email from the church asking for feedback, please respond, so that decisions which are made include as much input as possible. Over the coming summer months, stay in touch with one another. I will take a vacation in July and study leave in August although I will remain near home (sadly!), and I check email a lot less often. Other than emergencies, I generally respond only to emails from the Board President (Will Aitcheson) or the Vice President (Elayne Leonelli), so please go through them, or indicate in your subject line why it’s important I contact you directly. And get ready for a new church year, with all that we had a year ago even though it may have a different form. May your summer hold many moments of peace and discovery and gentleness, along with everything else!
Shalom and Salaam, Rev. Barbara