Though as recently as last weekend we had a chill in the air sufficient to make me contemplate lighting a fire in the parsonage fireplace, it is clear that summer is upon us. Daily the increase of daylight is palpable, and we’ve had crystal clear, intense blue skies that are seldom seen in this part of the country. I account it both to the season and also to the changes in patterns of driving and manufacturing due to the ongoing pandemic. I’ll be curious to see if my perception of the skies changes as the numbers of factories and commuters come back online. We’ve had a good number of warmer days, with a couple of downright hot ones. And the green! The lawns, the trees, the world has woken up. It’s doing my heart good.
Our 291st Annual Meeting is behind us now, and what a remarkable meeting it was! Held on Sunday, May 31st, it was our first-ever virtual congregational meeting. Those of us in leadership of the church had wondered if we would struggle to have a quorum, but that was far from the case! We had a larger crowd than usual, perhaps the largest attendance in an Annual Meeting for several years. The engagement we had with each other was a delight. Reports were made, questions were asked and answered, and details of essential outreach projects were shared and coordinated.
It is crystal clear — as clear as the intensely blue skies above! — that our church remains committed to improving our community through this time of global pandemic, with all of the uncertainty these days bring. We have redoubled our efforts with the weekly Tuesday Night Food Pantry, making sure the families in our area have the food they need. And we will find a way to implement our annual “Back to School” project, providing children in our neighborhood a new outfit including shoes and a hoodie, school supplies for the coming year (be it at home or at school!), and even healthy snacks. We will continue virtual worship for the immediate future. Plans are underway to increase participation in the leadership of our weekly live service by inserting recordings of members who will fill the traditional Worship Leader and ministry of music roles. Equipment has been ordered and donated to make this possible and should be delivered to us in the coming days. After a couple of successful practice runs, we’ll implement the new technology in our services of worship. I’m so excited to get others involved with me in worship! A key part of our identity as Congregationalists is that our service belongs to all of us, and is the responsibility of all of us, not just the pastor. This new equipment will allow us to return to our traditional ways of sharing worship leadership, and I’m grateful for that.
We will not be moving worship to Wednesdays in July this year. The Diaconate decided and the Board has agreed that it is best to maintain a regular service on Sunday mornings throughout this time.
Finally, the Board has begun the process of discerning how and when best to bring us back to public, corporate worship. They will be taking into account the evolving guidelines published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the guidelines provided by the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ. They also will be tracking closely the trends in infection rate and hospitalizations in our city, county, and state. To that end, a significant portion of June’s Board meeting was spent learning to analyze trends using metrics provided by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As you can tell, our Board is not taking this decision, or the process to make it, lightly.
Current trends in infection rate indicate that it is not yet safe for us to return together to our sanctuary, nor will it likely be safe to do so prior to the end of the summer. While the daily infection rate in northern Massachusetts has decreased significantly, the overall rate of infection is still on the rise. We are hopeful to be able to come together in early fall, but we are not yet able to make that decision with certainty. The Board will keep you informed of their process and their thinking each month.
Remember that we want your input! Your opinions, suggestions, concerns, and ideas all are important to us. Please do not hesitate to be in touch with our Board Chair, Steve Boyko, or any member of the Board, including me, to share your thoughts on returning to worship, or on any other aspect of our church’s life and ministry. We are not “just” a church. We are a community of faith and a family. We belong together and matter to each other. We need never to forget that. For that reason, our intentional attentiveness to one another is included as part of our mission statement:
Seeking God. Caring for each other. Improving our community.