Every year during late August, our church always hosts an animal blessing service outdoors. This is an exciting service as it “changes things up,” allows us to connect with our surrounding community in a special way, and incorporates everyone’s furry and scaly family members! For many years, barring past occasional beach worship services, we have only worshiped outside for the animal blessing service.
Due to the pandemic, we now worship exclusively outside throughout the summer months barring inclement weather, in which case we’ll move inside for that particular Sunday. This transition to all outdoor worship has been an interesting one for those coordinating efforts behind-the-scenes. I believe that this unique challenge demonstrates beautifully our congregation’s ability to adapt and persevere through complex circumstances in order to continue realizing our mission: to reveal the love of God for all to see.
When worshiping outside, there are a plethora of items needed to make such an experience possible: chairs, tents, tables, altar items, tripod and equipment for video broadcast, little tables for ushers and the offering, offering plates, musical equipment, PPE supplies, and more! We now have all of these items organized and also reflected on a checklist, but it was quite a job trying to put all of our heads together and ensure that we weren’t missing anything for our first Sunday worshiping outside on June 21st (Father’s Day).
Then there are the many questions one has to consider: Who will setup the chairs, tables, and tents? How does the building need to be prepared if we have to move inside due to inclement weather? What do we need to consider to ensure we offer a quality virtual experience for those joining us by video? And more!
Systematically, the members of our Reopen Team (David Langenbach, Barb & Scott Javore, Bev Fetzer, and myself) have solved each of these problems in conjunction with others such as Rich Short, our janitor, Marjorie Kemp, and the members of Church Council. The beauty of challenges is that they have the opportunity to really pull everyone together in order to realize something new. The spirit of teamwork and joy of accomplishing what was originally envisioned is what I find I remember the most when looking back on experiences such as this one.
Next time you see Rich Short, our janitor for 12 years, please say a special word of thanks to him. He’s truly going above-and-beyond to arrive early every Sunday morning to setup our chairs, tables, and tents outside. Additionally, he returns after worship to tear down all of the heavy equipment (others help him put things away after worship as well). Outdoor worship would be much more difficult without his great support!
Turning to the other two stated problems: we have the sanctuary all ready to go if we need to worship inside during a bad weather day. All the pews are marked in terms of which ones should be left open and which ones empty in order to maintain social distancing. We’ll be ready to open the windows and increase the fans to facilitate higher air flow, and proper PPE supplies will be available.
While we have tried using ZOOM for the first few Sundays while worshiping outside, we’ve found that it’s not offering the quality experience that we would like. Consequently, we’ll be transitioning to using Facebook Live to broadcast our worship services beginning Sunday, July 5th and onward. A big benefit of using Facebook Live is that no one needs to be present to “manage” the call in terms of muting someone if they forget to silence their mics during worship.
One huge benefit of worshiping outside each week is that those passing by on their bikes, in their cars, and on foot take notice of us. I’ve seen people standing on the fringe of our gathering listening in. Perhaps a few visitors may emerge out of this experience—even several months down the line! You never know how a seed planted will be watered by the steady streams of grace of God.
I hope that years from now we can look back on these months of worshiping outside and recall them with a degree of fondness. I hope that we can remember how we as a congregation rose to the challenge before us to remain connected as a community of faith. Perhaps on the other side of the pandemic we will all emerge with a deeper appreciation for how needed are the bonds of Christian love which unite us. God’s abundant peace and grace to you all!
Grace & peace,
Pastor Scott S. Himel