A MESSAGE FROM THE REV. J.C. AUSTIN:  Worshipping together on June 20

In just one more week, on June 20, we will be adding an indoor, in-person option for Sunday morning worship for the first time since March 8, 2020!

I know how excited so many of you are to be able to worship together in person in the Kirk Center or in the Sanctuary, and I more than share that excitement myself! At the same time, I am also excited that our Sunday morning worship live-streams are a permanent addition to our worship ministry, for they have not only kept us together as a worshipping community, but allowed us to connect for the first time with so many people who would probably have never done so without it.

So: in the midst of that excitement, I also want to talk a bit more about what you can expect if you decide to attend in-person on June 20 or for the currently foreseeable future beyond it, so I’m going to talk a bit about it in this week’s letter so that you have some time to think through which option you intend to utilize (digital or in-person) on June 20 and after.

First and most obviously, everyone over the age of two will be required to wear masks from the moment they enter the buildings and throughout the worship service; the sole exception to this for worshippers will be to briefly remove their mask to consume the elements of Communion before quickly replacing them (we will provide more instruction on this closer to July 4, our next Communion Sunday).

Second, I am pleased to say that we WILL be able to do both responsive prayers and congregational singing indoors (this is a crucial benefit of the mask requirement). I know the latter is of particular meaning and importance to so many of you, so I want to stress that whether you are in the Contemporary or Traditional Service, we will be able to sing together during indoor/in-person worship.

Third, we are making a few adjustments to some familiar elements of worship, particularly in the Traditional Service. In both services, we will encourage “no-contact” passing of the peace, meaning gestures, elbow-bumps, and the like rather than handshakes and hugs.

The Contemporary Service is already used to this sort of practice, but at the Traditional Service now, we will have “Giving Boxes” positioned in several places in the Narthex area rather than passing offering plates during the service.

You are encouraged to deposit any gifts in the boxes as you enter before the service (and thus before the Prayer of Dedication that happens during the service), but you can also just as easily dedicate your gift spiritually and deposit it on the way out. Scannable QR codes will also be available (at the Giving Boxes) for those who prefer to give online.

Similarly, we will not be passing friendship pads to everyone in the pews at the Traditional Service, but rather will have Welcome Cards that newcomers can fill out and deposit in the Giving Boxes. Again, this is a new addition to the Traditional Service, but a familiar practice for those who have attended the Contemporary Service.

In terms of physical distancing, there are no requirements, as such, for worshippers in either service. That said, we are encouraging people to use the space in the Kirk Center and the Sanctuary to create some distance as a way of showing thoughtfulness to your neighbors. In practice, this will simply mean attentiveness to providing space between your household and the nearest one by not sitting directly in front or behind people, and leaving six feet or so of distance to either side. The chairs in the Kirk Center will be set up with this in mind, but you will need to consider it yourself if you are attending worship in the Sanctuary.

We will also offer child care services, and will have those details for you in next week’s newsletter.

Finally, I want to thank the Building Reopening Task Force for their extraordinary and faithful work throughout the pandemic that has led us to this point. While their work is not yet over, this is obviously a major milestone in our pandemic response.

They have addressed very difficult questions throughout the pandemic with patience, wisdom, and grace, especially when there were no clear or easy answers. So when you see Belle Marks (the chair), Elizabeth Conard, Sue Farber, Rich Hjorth, Bob Hunsicker, or Rebecca Angione, please be sure to thank them for their service!

I cannot wait to see many of you in person in just two weeks: Sunday, June 20!!!

Grace and Peace,