I’m experiencing the truth of that premonition now. The congregation has been meeting with limited in-person services for six weeks now. The rules in place stipulate no more than 30 people in our 100-seat sanctuary (although so far the most we’ve actually had is about 20). The rules also say that everyone who attends must be vaccinated and wear a mask. The COVID task force and the board of trustees both consider these rules at least monthly, and it’s hard to stay current. During the safest part of the pandemic—June and July—we were still figuring out how to do our hybrid services. By August, when we first met in person, the cases were starting to climb. Now the local situation is much worse. With the spike in cases, we considered closing down in-person worship services altogether. We decided, however, that our protocols (distanced, vaccinated, masked) made our gatherings pretty safe—and that individuals could decide for themselves if their tolerance for risk fit our safety precautions. We decided to continue with the same rules for the coming month—except we decided to suspend singing to make worship even more safe. This is based on the idea that singing expels more droplets and more air than talking.
The decisions of the COVID task force and the board this month were difficult, and included dissent and discussion among people with differing opinions. This is likely to continue as we wrestle each month with changing realities of the pandemic and measure those against the needs of the congregation. The way we do things one month may not be how we do things the next month.
The ongoing challenge of the pandemic is how it divides the congregation. During the months of Zoom-only worship, it was a digital divide: those who were willing and able to attend a video-streamed worship service, and those who weren’t. Now it is more complicated. There are those who feel comfortable enough with the precautions to attend worship in person, and those who don’t. There are those who are not vaccinated—by choice, due to medical reasons, or due to being 12 or younger—who are excluded from attending under our current rules.
Re-opening is messy. The world of before the pandemic is not coming back. As a minister, I am called to serve the many parts of the congregation: vaccinated and unvaccinated, young and old, those who are comfortable meeting in person and those who aren’t. As we all negotiate the changing world of this messy re-opening, I invite all of us to consider what holds us in common.
Spirit of Life and Love, God within each one of us; God between us in the form of Love: be here now.
Help us to navigate the difficult transition of returning to in-person spaces. Help us to understand one another: those who are ready to take the risk of sharing space with one another, and those whose caution guides them to stay separated. Help us to remember the needs of the young. Help us to see the worth and dignity of those who choose not to be vaccinated.
Divine spirit within us and among us, remind us that we are all connected, that we are all one.
May it be so.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
September 30, 2021