There was at once nothing unusual and everything unusual about that late service I attended earlier this year. Although attendance was rather light that day, most everything else was rather ordinary. Some—but not all—of my usual late service people were there—Jim, Don, Sylvia, Betty, Laura; the Praise Band was in its usual top form; the New and Old Testament readings were read; and Pastor Dave’s message was another thought provoking one. We were even beginning to get used to worshipping in the round for the remainder of the spring and summer.
But some things were different. Pastor Dave administered Holy Communion that Sunday as the 50 (or so) of us gathered in a big circle, something I hadn’t ever remembered in my 11 years at Shepherd of the Valley. And rather than passing the offering plate, we were asked to place our offering in baskets located around the center doors.
And there was something else.
Deep down, I knew something that not everyone in the sanctuary knew. It made me pause on several occasions during the 56-minute service. I found myself starring longer at our beautiful stained glass, and in particular, the second one from the from the front on the right side: “Atonement.” I’ll admit it, my emotions got the best of me during that service. I could barely look at Jim, sitting at a distance next to me, without shedding a tear. I could barely recite the Lord’s Prayer without quietly weeping. I knew March 15, 2020 would be our very last in-person service together--and for a while.
Earlier in the week, we had called for a special Council meeting to be held at the conclusion of that late service. We had some usual agenda items, but nothing more important than discussing our future and the manner in which we would continue to worship. After reviewing local COVID-19 infection rates and potential risk to our members and guests, we unanimously decided to suspend all in-person gatherings at SOV, something none of us wanted to do, but something that had to be done. At that meeting we also developed our guiding philosophy for an eventual re-opening: we are a community of God; we will worship again together when we ALL can safely do so. Our meeting then turned to the nuts and bolts of virtual worship. We are so blessed to have Pastor Dave, Paul, Troy and Whitney with us leading these efforts. In no time, they had a plan that would allow us to not only be “together” on Sunday mornings, but also introduce us to new ways of thinking about how a community of God can effectively function. And Sara Manning has been a huge presence here as well.
More than four months later, and here we are. There has certainly been some confusion along the way as to why we continue to worship in this different way. For example, some churches across the country have continued to gather in-person by simply defying executive orders, and in some instances with devastating consequences. And here in our state, while places of worship were allowed to reopen on May 1 (during Stage 1), in that same stage, it was recommended that all gatherings were to be avoided!
In anticipation of reopening for in-person worship, two ad hoc committees were created, one of which is providing recommendations specifically on cleaning protocols for our interior and the other of which is providing general recommendations on safely worshipping together. Each committee has provided recommendations to Council, and we are in the process of reviewing these. I want to thank the members of each committee for their thoughtful comments and guidance, and for keeping in mind the safety of all our members and guests as we move forward.
Last month, Council was delighted to see recommendations from the Reintegration Committee regarding outdoor summer worship! We reviewed and considered all recommendations and, as you know, we now have a plan in place for a series of evening outdoor worship opportunities at Kleiner Park in Meridian. Since then, however, the number of infections in Ada County has substantially risen, as has the positivity rate in testing. This has led our county to revert back to Stage 3 for the time being and the inability to have more than 50 people gather together in- or outdoors. We will communicate a final decision about our scheduled August 2nd outdoor worship this weekend, but please understand that we are likely needing to adjust our schedule based on our current, unfavorable conditions.
And so, we continue to worship in a different way. But what a blessing it has been. Pastor Dave’s virtual services and video blogs not only have continued to keep us connected, but have also reached individuals far and wide—individuals who have been searching for a safe space to hear God’s word. Virtual bible studies and conversations are ongoing—remotely! And through all of this, we haven’t missed a beat to be of service to others in need, especially to those right in our own community. But don’t get me wrong! I’m the first person who wants to be back at church, sitting in my usual spot.
We are a community of God and we will worship together again—in person—when we all can safely do so. In the meantime, I continue to think about all of you, praying for our continued safety and health, and looking forward to seeing you—and those stained-glass windows—in our sanctuary very soon. Blessings to each of you.