Hey, Fam. How are you doing?
I’ve been blogging this week about utilizing the metaphor of being shipwrecked to help us make sense of this time, so that we can move forward into accepting that most likely, we will be living in this partial-quarantine way for a while. And if we are going to be living like this for a while, perhaps we can assess our resources, and make some adjustments that better suit our current circumstances.
One of the things that has made this pandemic time so difficult is the level of uncertainty we are living with. It is scary, that there is no one who has a crystal ball and can tell us when this will all end. I think back on my family’s time in “cancer land” which was terribly frightening, but at least a plan, a protocol, was laid out for us. We knew, give or take a week, when the treatment plan would end, and we could at least hope that our lives would go back to normal after that.
There is no protocol for this pandemic. We do not know the end date.
I wish I were with you as you’re reading this, because I think it’s a lot for all of us to take in. This is uncharted territory. There is no expert I can turn to on “how to do family life while under indefinite quarantine.” In my home, I have one daughter planning on moving to Michigan to begin college in September, while her younger sister tries to practice for Fall marching band, and her older sister prepares for her senior year in another college town.
And none of us knows whether any of that will happen.
There is also no expert that I can turn to, no book written about “How to Pastor a Church Through a Global Pandemic.” I’m trying to do the best I can, and learn from my colleagues who are struggling through this at the same time. I’m grateful to be in a church with so many gifted leaders – we are trying to manage our own anxiety, seek out the best information we can, and serve the unique needs of our community in this time.
For our church leaders, my role is to equip them with the best information I can find, so that they can make the important decisions that will help Live Oak thrive. To be nominated by our church to be a Board leader is a significant honor, and to be elected shows the confidence that this congregation has in you. But especially now, our leaders, including our new leaders to be elected this Sunday, are carrying a heavy burden. There are no “How to be a Church Leader During a Pandemic” books for them, either. (Please let them know you support and appreciate them – frequently!)
There are no books, but make plans we must. Given the best information I could find at this time, I sent our current Board my recommendation (with footnotes, because I am a Unitarian Universalist and we believe in identifying sources) about plans to resume in-person gatherings. You can read it here, and I hope you will. It’s only 3 pages long, but in it are months worth of research, and thinking, and consulting with others, and yes, even praying. I will give you the words that will probably jump out at you: September 2021.
This is not any kind of an official announcement. That is not my decision to make, it is the Board’s. As a Unitarian Universalist congregation, we select our own Board members, and then trust them to make the best decisions for our church that they can.
This is merely my best guess at what we should plan for. Our time and energy is limited, and right now, we are stumbling around in a dark room. I believe that accepting that we will be doing our worship and other large gatherings online for the next year will free up our creativity, our ingenuity. Okay, if this is how it’s going to be, how do we do this the best way possible? What opportunities does this open up for us?
But first, take time to be sad. For those of us holding on to the hope that this was just for a couple of months, maybe 3 or 4 at most, we need time to grieve. I’ve been doing that. I want “normal” and “ordinary” back so bad! I want to hug, and be together. My heart aches. Grief takes different forms. One form is anger. I’ve had that. Bargaining – boy, have I been doing that. “But if X happens, then we can still get together.” Take time to honor your grief.
In the report I sent to the Board, there are links to research and statistics. But I also asked them to read one news story. I ask you to read it now:
These are tough times. There’s no way of avoiding that truth. But in the words of Rev. Wayne Arnason, “Deep down, there is another truth: you are not alone.” I am filled with hope at what can be. I’m filled with hope because this congregation is filled with the most creative people I know, and I know that we will find great ways to do church over the next year. I’ve seen it happen so many times. Ideas will begin bubbling over — in fact, it’s already happening! (Expect information soon about an online talent show in late June!)
In our online worship services, I am now wearing a small “visitation” stole. On one side is embroidered a dove, on the other, a rainbow. Like Noah in the story, I am eagerly awaiting the messenger dove that will arrive with an olive leaf in its beak, to let us know that our time of isolating is over, and soon we will be able to return to in-person church gatherings. Make no mistake: accepting and planning for extended online church liberates us to make plans, but in no way are we constrained by those plans. It took us 7 days to move from in-church worship to online worship.
When that dove arrives with the good news that through vaccine or treatment, our members will be safe to gather? We can be ready for that in 7 MINUTES! As we sing in Hymn #146, “Wait and see, wait and see!”