Dear First Parishers,

I hope that everyone had a lovely summer, with some time to catch our collective breath in what continues to be a very intense and difficult time. We have witnessed devastating wild fires, hurricanes and floods, an earthquake in Haiti, a heartbreaking humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and continued rising numbers of COVID cases due to the Delta variant. As we enter our second full church year in the pandemic, we are still in that “liminal time” I keep going on about, where the old ways of being and doing are no longer but the new reality has not yet fully formed itself.

To help prepare for the next stage, we asked the congregation in June to answer some questions, both in an online survey and in listening circles, about everyone’s thoughts and experiences with COVID and moving forward as the pandemic continues. Here is what we heard: 1) people appreciated the work of staff and lay leaders to offer worship, faith formation, small groups and committee meetings on line over the last year plus; 2) people enjoyed the flexibility and ease of Sunday morning worship from home; 3) people enjoyed the online social hour and the opportunity to talk in small groups with people they otherwise might not in person; 4) people missed seeing one another in person, especially the informal opportunities to check in and connect that just can’t happen online and are really looking forward to gathering in person again; 5) people really liked that those who had moved away or who can’t make the drive to church were able to rejoin our community through online worship and social hour; 6) people are concerned about caring for one another, most particularly those whose health makes them especially vulnerable. There is a special concern for families whose children are not yet eligible for vaccination and how to support them. We heard that people want to continue to have the choice to attend in person or online.

I came to the realization this summer that the pandemic is not going to end soon. It is no longer a matter of waiting for it to be over so we can get back to normal but of learning to live and adapt to it. Each of us must figure out what this means individually and as a responsible member of our community. Those of us who are healthy and vaccinated may be comfortable with (and in fact in need of) in person connections, especially if we are on our own, while those of us who have health issues or family members with health issues or who cannot yet receive the vaccine may need to stay virtually connected. There is no one size fits all and we are all going to have to give up something to make this work. The COVID Task Force has put together a plan for keeping our congregation safe and connected with guidelines for multi-platform (combined in-person and online) worship and other gatherings, which is included elsewhere in this newsletter. This plan is based on guidelines and information from the UUA, the CDC and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

As we adapt to this next stage, we are going to have to reassess how we do so many things. Some we will have to let go of as no longer possible. Some we will need to do differently and be more intentional about how we include in person and/or online participation. And some new groups and teams will need to emerge to address new tasks and activities. It is a time of loss and of possibility and creativity. It’s important to remember that both are true.

As I discern what to let go of, what to adapt and what to create, I am guided by our covenants and our fundamental mission or purpose: to gather for worship, mutual care and in service to a common good. We start by doing our essential work as simply as possible, building our capacity back brick by brick as we learn what is needed and how to work with new technologies and systems. What we create will not be perfect nor feel exactly like the good old days. But it will keep our congregation spiritually connected and faithful to who we say we are, in care of our world that badly needs our voice, our values, and our compassion.

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

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