We aren't the sort of church that comes up with elaborate plans, preferring the adjust on the fly in response to current developments. We don't have measures or criteria for a return to in-person worship. We just know we will know when it is time. And we know it isn't time yet.
Here--for interested parties--is my report from last night's Parish Committee meeting. The meeting was pretty much unprecedented. We rarely have a session in August. The report is brief and vague in parts because we are still adjusting and adapting. We want to make sure we do the right thing, which will come organically rather than formally.
Midsummer Report 2020
I am abandoning the usual format to provide a quick update on our still-developing plans for the fall rollout. All of this information is in development as we return from our usual midsummer break, so please feel free to chime in with questions and concerns. Obviously none of us have had a church start quite like this.
Basic Plan for Worship: We are currently planning to stay online through YouTube, at least for our "big" service on Sunday morning. Over the summer we have built in some efficiencies, including hiring a film editor to up our game a bit and take some of the tech pressure off staff and volunteers. This will enable us to focus on some other non-tech areas as well as improve our virtual offerings. A schedule is being worked out. The September dates and themes will be in this Thursday’s Newsletter.
Mid-week Videos and Columns: I am looking for ways to update and deepen the mid-week videos that appear on Facebook and in the newsletter. These have fallen off a bit, in part because of the increased editing load for Sunday worship. In addition, I will be posting written material on my web-page weekly. The links will be in the newsletter.
Finally, Tara, Felicia, and I will be coming up with a plan around the newsletter(s). As all of these represent another opportunity for “contact” in this rather contact-free time, they are of greater importance than usual.
Small Gatherings: The various stake-holding committees are working on ways to gather in person, outdoors, and in small groups. The areas of need that have been brought up by a variety of people are many. Fortunately the distribution of interest is quite even so the groups will naturally be small! The target number of people will likely be 8 with a max of 10.
Roughly, though, they look like this:
Child RE: (RE Committee)
Adult RE/Pub Theology (Worship Committee)
Worship (Worship Committee)
Social (Membership Committee)
Office Hours: I am separating this one out because it falls to the staff to plan this. As of next week we (I) will begin outdoor office hours on the parsonage lawn. I might eventually move to the church once Tara returns, or have some in both locations so the two of us can manage any confidential conversations we might have.
If you want to meet with me in person this week, please drop me a line! The only reason I haven’t set a regular time yet is because my rehab schedule has not yet been set. Bring your own beverage. Frankly I could use the practice figuring out the logistics. As a dedicated festival-goer, however, I do have an awning for inclement weather.
We will be “piloting” some gatherings in all these areas soon and will work out a schedule of events for the fall before it gets too cold!
Note: If anyone has a fire pit, please let us know. We have ordered one for the parsonage lawn but they are back ordered. If you have one we may want to ask you to host a gathering or two. This is not a frivolous request. We will need them to stretch our outdoor offerings into late fall and early winter. Thank you for your help.
Tara Note: Tara will begin in late August. I am meeting with her next week. The plan--as long as she is allowed--will include time here in Natick.
Personal Thank You: I just want to say thanks for all your support over the past few months as I figured out my back problem and recovered from surgery. Allison and I both appreciate it a great deal and are so happy to be part of this caring church community!
It has been a month since I checked in. As I recover from surgery to "fix" my back, I have been able to do some study and some work. Worship planning is moving along in fits and starts. Just when I think I have it set there are changes, new ideas and new topics that need to be addressed. There are new approaches to old subjects as well.
But while all of this planning for church--we will be pretty much virtual in most respects this fall--has lifted up some exciting new possibilities, I am also now able to be aware of some of the things we lost at least for now. There is something to the "old way" we did church in these parts. We are a smallish congregation. We are a casual and familiar people, given to friendly chatter and informal gathering. Traditionally our approach to worship reflects that. So does the sacred time when we gather in person well before "official" worship begins.
Now things are different. Way back in January--and for over a decade-and-a-half before--my Sundays began in pretty much the same way. I arrived around 7 or 7:30, read through my sermon, and checked the Order of Service for rhythm and flow. Then I would sit behind the pulpit, experience the silence of the place, and silently pray for a holy and restorative sabbath. I believe that God lives in the world, not in the sanctuary of the church. However, the sanctuary is a gathering place for the community of God and I still value my time in it.
Then--around 8 or 8:30 people would start trickling in. Our Intern/Assistant/Associate (the title keeps changing with the individual) arrives and we go through old and new business, figure out who we need to talk to and about what, then we go over the service again. The choir, the deacons, the money-and-building people, the Music Director, coffee hour hosts and a few others who can't stay away until kickoff swing by as well. We catch up with each other and maybe do some light business (we have a "no business talk during coffee" rule that I occasionally forget). Then we are usually running late for the start and we rush to our places.
Then worship happens in all its human and Divine glory. During worship--even though most of us sit stock still as is our individual custom--we feel each other's presence. From my perch I can see everyone, but everyone knows who is there and often how they are feeling. We have looked around. We have checked in.
Sometimes--like on Pageant Sunday--it feels like we all are there to rehearse and plan the worship beforehand...then we just do it again. Those are the best times.
During the Postlude it is off to coffee. Some few rush out to various activities shouting their apologies as they hustle past me and through the door. Others stay...and stay...and stay. There is just so much we (or at least some of us) want to communicate to each other! Families bring two cars so the more verbose can talk until lunch. Then, when the last word is said I and the Intern/Assistant/Associate and the Music Director take a moment to collect ourselves, close the place up, and look forward to the next Sunday when we will be together with everyone again.
I guess what I miss the most isn't the structured part of worship, but all that used to happen around it. Structured worship we can still do. Thanks to judicious editing there are times when our recorded services are so much more organized and effective. Still, the people are not with us in the same way. "Virtual Coffee Hour" fills some of the requirements but there isn't the old flow and the constant distraction of other small, unplanned groups parallel chatting in the parlor and the sanctuary.
I miss the chaos and energy. I miss the snacks and the bored kids. I miss the party even a low Sunday can bring. I miss hanging out with my friends, people who have raised children together; who have gone through great victories and heartbreaking tragedies, marking their time with each other.
Anyway that is part of what I am thinking about these days as I get ready for a continuance of the strangest year ever. We are working on some in-person things, though. Maybe we can gather in people's back yards or by the river. Maybe we don't have to give up hikes and Pub Theology. Is it still "Pub Theology" if there is no Pub? BYOB(everage) and find out. Yeah these are small groups and the chaos is a different one, if still holy.
We will be fine but, man, I cannot wait to get back...whenever that may be.