This message is available as a video, and as a letter.
As I sat down to write today, I tried to remember the last time I saw any of you in person. I checked the calendar – it was March 8th – a Sunday morning, like any other. Two services, greeters at the door, folks arranging chairs, worship leader and preacher going over their notes, staff and helpers setting up for our kids, the band rehearsing, two volunteers in the tech booth. It was the first weekend we were “elbow-bumping,” but some of you told me you wanted a hug, and I obliged. I had no idea how much our world was about to change.
When I wrote to you on March 12th, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chester County. As of today, there are more than 1,400, with thousands more across the seven other counties where members of our community live. Some of us have lost family members, and friends, to this pandemic. Your grief has been first and foremost in my mind. Remarkably, impossibly – all of us are grieving something right now. For you, it might be the loss of bodily safety or financial security, the loss of time alone, the loss of reliable coping practices, or hobbies that brought you joy. And, of course, there is the loss of being together – holding hands, sharing meals, wrapping an arm around a friend to sway to the music together, in church.
I am grieving with you. We all are. Our WellSprings community includes so many whose lives have been turned upside down: health care workers, grocery store cashiers and delivery drivers, and essential employees in transportation and emergency services. We count so many elders among us, and many who are at risk even with the best precautions, who live with health or immune systems compromised. We are school-from-home/work-from-home parents, fully overwhelmed, 24 hours a day. We are college and high school students now facing enormous disruptions around life’s rites of passage. We are children stuck at home, just trying to cope with some of the biggest feelings we, or anyone around us, has ever felt. And we are people who’ve lost work, and aren’t sure how to make ends meet.
Church is powerful because it asks us to claim so many people as our own. Our faith asks us to claim all our neighbors as worthy of love – whether we like them or not, know them or not, and whether they are similar to, or different from us. In moments like this one, when the fragility of life is on full display, we need this vision more than ever. Whether we can gather physically or not, we need the people and practices that call us back to our faith: that every single person is beloved, and that all of us need all of us – no exceptions.
I could not be more grateful for the ways our community has shown up, in these past seven weeks. Our staff are taking on additional roles and learning how to do their jobs in entirely new ways, and they are doing amazing work – just as they adjust to these same stressors and shifts, in their own lives. Our Board has put in many hours of meetings and phone calls, marshalling resources to protect our community and keep us whole – including a forgivable loan from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that was deposited into our account last week.
Most of all, we are grateful to you. Your generosity and presence renews our sense of purpose as leaders and staff. It fills my heart to see how gifts to our Emergency Assistance Fund come in as fast as they are used. Our HeartWorks Team has not stopped looking for safe ways to help our wider community – and it didn’t surprise me at all to see every item they asked for, to be distributed next week to six local nursing homes, was provided within hours of their request.
I am so proud of who we are right now. In the past few weeks, our Board, staff, and I have finally had time to consider all that is changing around us, and to begin thinking about who we will be, in this time. In a world where the timeline for returning to “normal” is so uncertain, and where the edges of that “new normal” are still a long way from taking shape, we are steadying ourselves for the possibility of more changes ahead.
When I wrote to you on March 12th, believe it or not, there was still no recommendation from our local health department to cancel religious services. Now, Pennsylvania’s re-opening plan states that in the “Yellow” phase, gatherings will still be restricted to 25 people or less. Even in the “Green” phase, it’s unclear whether church services in the traditional sense will be allowed – let alone wise, or safe. We may be many months away from returning to anything like our run-of-the-mill service back on Sunday, March 8th, and when I say months, that may be two or three – but it could also very well be six, or eight, or twelve.
With the blessing of the Board, our Staff Team is going to start imagining what the entire next church year would look like, if held remotely. Thinking long-term is sobering – but it also gives us permission to be creative, to explore new ways of connecting, and to focus on making this experience as meaningful and good as it can be. Should the pandemic end sooner, we’ll be ready to open our physical doors again. But if that isn’t what happens, we’ll be prepared – and we’ll be ready to be here with you, living through this time, all together.
I know that as we move into May, and then to the summer months, we each might face new changes and challenges in our individual lives. If you find yourself with any need for financial or pastoral support, please reach out to me, our Caring Team, or our HeartWorks Team. You can call or text me at 484.467.3784, or join me online for lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week.
I don’t know what our “new normal” will look like, yet. But when I see who we are right now, my heart is beyond full. Our mission has never depended on a building, a certain kind of infrastructure, or even a predictable world. It finds life, in all of us. Wherever we may be.
Please stay safe WellSprings, and may you be as well you possibly can, now and in the days to come.