I return with gratitude. Immense gratitude for all those who made it possible to return to fresh paint and new carpets in our offices, for all the resources you dedicated to rebuilding a beautiful deck that is beckoning me, even right this minute, to step away from the screen and step out to gaze on live oaks and Mount Tam. Gratitude for those who gave so many hours to finding and hiring an administrator, to what became a labyrinthine process leading us to an unexpected but richly rewarding end. Gratitude for those who have prepared for us to reopen our doors and gather in person, for all the thoughtful deliberation and decision making, for a bevy of technical solutions to make hybrid services possible. So many have dedicated so much to make this moment possible.
I am looking forward to seeing many of you at our ingathering service this Sunday, whether in person or via Zoom. It will be good to be together. And it will also be strange. Strange to be gathered physically and virtually at the same time. Strange to be wearing masks and leaving distance between us. For those of us gathering on the hill, it will be strange to refrain from singing. Strange simply to be back in our familiar spiritual home, but after so long away and with so much changed. For those on Zoom, I imagine it will be strange to feel both there and not there, connected but also distant. It will be good to gather together again, and it will be strange.
Whether in person or on Zoom, I hope you will be there. And I hope you will bring a token of your connection to this good and holy Earth with you. Bring a bit of water from a place sacred to you, or water that might symbolize the holy waters where you find your renewal. Bring a stone or handful of dirt to represent your connection to the ground of being. After the indoor service, we will gather and mingle our water and stones in the courtyard.
I know that some of you may still be wrestling with the choice of whether it feels safe to attend in person right now. Despite our precautions, there is inherent risk in gathering in large groups right now, which is why we are committed to making services accessible online. I encourage you to trust your own wisdom and intuition about which way to participate is best for you and your family. To inform your choice, this is how we expect Sunday morning to look:
- Masks will be optional outdoors. We will respect one another’s choices and needs for safety, knowing some will prefer to keep masks on and distance outdoors, while other will feel comfortable with closer contact outdoors.
- Before the service begins, at about 10:25, anyone present will be invited to gather in the courtyard, don our masks, and sing an opening hymn together outdoors.
- At 10:30 the gong will sound and the doors will open for everyone to find seats in Fellowship Hall. We will give space for families with children and those with mobility challenges to enter first and find their seats. This Sunday we invite families to find seats at the front of the sanctuary so children will be best able to participate in this intergenerational story service.
- Masks will be required indoors at all times, except for those leading the service, while they are speaking.
- Chairs will be spaced about a foot apart, and in order to maintain a healthy distance we will ask that everyone leave an empty chair between you and anyone not in your household. We will keep doors open and the HVAC system on to keep air circulating.
- Anyone who wishes to remain outdoors will be welcome to sit on the patio by the manzanita at the East side of the sanctuary. If seating inside Fellowship Hall reaches capacity, limited overflow seating will be available on that patio or in the foyer.
- The service will not include hymns, and therefore it will run a little shorter than usual, approximately 45 minutes.
- We will not pass around a basket for the offering. Instead, we will continue asking for donations to be made using smart phones, or physical offerings can be dropped in a box in the foyer.
- At the end of the service, those gathered over Zoom will be invited to a virtual coffee hour as usual. Those in person will be invited to participate in a dedication of our rebuilt deck, followed by a ritual of mingling water and stones in the courtyard, and another opportunity to sing together outside.
- Our coffee hour will include beverages only, no food. Only members of our hospitality team will use the kitchen on Sunday mornings.
I imagine I am not alone in feeling disappointment that this is not a carefree, doors-flung-wide reopening that many hoped might be possible as vaccinations became widely available last Spring. Instead, we are on an adaptive journey together. I believe we will learn a great deal each week as we try this new way of “doing church.” May we learn and grow together, in ways that support us in celebrating the richness and depth of each of our paths and help us to keep sharing our collective journey.
With you on this good and strange journey,
Rev. Marcus Liefert