As you all know, this Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of our congregational response to the pandemic. On March 15, 2020, we went to “digital-only” worship for the first time. I remember how conflicted I was about doing that in the week leading up to that decision, which involved multiple Session meetings as we discussed the limited information we had at that point, trying to decide what was the most faithful decision to make.

I even wrote an article about it that was shared fairly widely online among pastors as everyone was trying to find their way through the same issues and decisions. I also remember hoping that maybe we could resume in-person worship by Easter, which was about a month later! That seems naïve to the point of being laughable at this point, but the simple truth is that very few of us had any idea of what we were really facing as the pandemic descended on us, and what it would require of us in terms of endurance, adaptability, grief, and faith.

At this point, I think all of us would admit to some level of exhaustion. It reminds me of what friends who have run marathons tell me. “The hardest miles aren’t usually the last few,” they say; “it’s the ones before those, around miles 18-20, when you’ve been running so long and you start hitting the wall of your endurance, but the finish line isn’t just around the corner.” That is where it feels like we are right now, to many of us.

At the same time, there is good news about the vaccines, particularly from the federal government about vaccine available to all U.S. adults by the end of May. If that proves to be the case, then perhaps the finish line is actually moving up a bit! We shall see.

This Sunday, we will be marking the anniversary in both services. The sermon will, of course, be engaging the anniversary, but we will also have a special Prayers of the People focused specifically on the pandemic, on what we’ve gone through over the last year, and our hopes for the times to come. We will be interspersing sections of the prayers with ringing bells and chimes a total of 53 times, once for every 10,000 who have died in the United States over the past year. So I hope you will make a special effort to be part of one of the services; I think it will be a powerful and moving experience.

I am also pleased to announce that the Session has approved the planting of a new tree on the church property that will be dedicated to the memory of our common life and ministry through the pandemic, and especially to the memory of those who have died from it. It is not quite time for planting yet, so the tree itself will be selected in the near future and planted later in the year.

The cost of the tree and of planting it is around $2000, so if you are interested in making a memorial gift in the name of someone who has died or simply as an affirmation of our congregation’s faithful ministry through the pandemic, we invite you to do so by check or online gift, just be sure to indicate “memorial tree” in the memo line of your gift so it is directed to the right place; if you wish the gift to be in the name of someone, please indicate that there, as well.

In any case, I look forward to being with you in worship on Sunday, and I am so grateful for how far we have come together as a congregation in so many ways over this past year. Thank you for your resilience, your support, your faithfulness, and your love.

Grace and Peace,