There’s a joke ministers often tell – a groaner… really, “joke” might be a strong word. A well-worn line for when strange problems come up in the life of a congregation. When a family of racoons builds a nest in the church bell tower, for example. Or when a mischievous eight-year-old gets into the storage room, and writes “butt” on the inside cover of every hymnal. “Well,” we say to each other, “…they didn’t teach us how to handle this one in seminary.”
This past year has put all other occasions for use of that “joke” to shame. I certainly wasn’t trained for what we all had to face in 2020 – and, I know, neither were you. How to parent and homeschool in lockdown, how to keep your job or run your business in a pandemic, how to grieve without the regular comforts of community, how to stay safe, protect your mental health, maintain sobriety or recovery through it all… nobody taught us how to handle this one. Yet here you are. And almost by definition, if you’re still kicking – well then, dear one… you did okay. You did enough.
We are all still living into our “new normal,” and as coronavirus vaccines become universally available to adults across the country this month, I’m aware that many of us are – sometimes eagerly, sometimes anxiously, sometimes both – considering what will change for us. Which brings me to the next thing they didn’t teach me how to do in seminary: how to help a spiritual community move forward, towards a post-pandemic era.
Many of us are focused on one aspect of this question, right now: when might WellSprings offer Sunday services in person again? Our Board and Staff are beginning to discuss this, and to evaluate both when it will be possible to return to Bell Hall, and what safety measures we’ll need to have in place, when we do so. As vaccination rates increase, we hope that case counts will steadily decline. We plan to begin exploring options this summer for the possibility of outdoor and/or indoor services with capacity limits, in the future.
Please know, it will take some time for us to ramp up to offering worship both in-person and online, and we do not plan to hold Sunday services physically until we can also provide a way to join in remotely. We’ll need additional volunteers to make this happen on a weekly basis, and time to train those volunteers. We also can’t return to in-person services until we have a plan for families with young children. Can our nursery and YouthSpirit continue in the traditional way? Knowing that children may not have access to a vaccine for many more months, what would we need to consider to have children gathering together with adults in Bell Hall? How can we continue to serve families who may choose not to attend in person, for now?
I hope it doesn’t come to this – but for any plan we put in place, we must also be prepared to make it “reversible,” whether due to a surge in case rates or vaccine-resistant variants, or a known exposure within the congregation. Since last summer, the Board has been monitoring weekly changes in the percentage of positive tests, and the new case rates per 100,000 residents, in each of the 8 counties from which we draw our membership. We continue to keep up with guidance from the CDC and UUA, and are in ongoing conversation with the Montgomery School as well
All of which brings us back to the other aspects of this question, about how WellSprings moves forward, towards a post-pandemic era. What have we, as a community, learned from this time? What new opportunities have opened up for us, this year? How are people hurting, and what can we do to help? How can we better serve our community in a way that is, in keeping with our DNA, “not just about getting religion, one day a week?”
A little over 10% of our congregation participated in one of our Board’s “Together Towards Tomorrow” sessions in March. We’d like to hear more, from those who were unable to attend, so we’ve turned the questions from those gatherings into a survey you can complete online. I invite you to do so, by May 7. The feedback you share will help inform the goals our leaders are developing for next year, to be presented during our Congregational Meeting in June. I can share, so far, that there have been three major themes, in what we’ve heard:
- Whether through service to our neighbors, public engagement on social justice issues, or stronger collaboration with partners, you want WellSprings to connect more deeply with the community outside our doors.
- You’re eager to re-gather physically, but you’ve also realized some of the real benefits of remote participation, and hope for WellSprings to remain accessible both in-person and online.
- After this year, you’re even more committed to WellSprings being here for the next generation, so you’d like to see us fully fund and invest resources into our congregation’s long-term health.
Are there other things you want to make sure the Board considers, as we plan our goals for the coming year? Please, let us know.
Your Board, Staff, and I are all so grateful for your trust, care, patience, and continued commitment over these past 13 months, in a world none of us expected to be navigating. Thank you. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate you all. In the coming weeks, stay tuned for more news, about new plans for opportunities to gather outdoors, this summer… 🙂