Pandemic Transitioning: Watch Parties, Lawn Church, Summer Small Groups, Open Sanctuary & DIY

By Rev. Kelly Colwell
April 21, 2021

As we continue through this strange shoulder season when some of us have been fully vaccinated for months, others are still waiting for their first appointments, and still others (particularly children and young teens) aren’t sure when or if they will be eligible, we want to find some ways to help bridge the gap between pandemic online church and the joyful reunification in the sanctuary.

We are still hoping and praying that it will be possible to be together in the sanctuary for services starting in September.  That will be a joyful reunification indeed, as we’ll be celebrating Rev. Molly’s return from sabbatical as well!  I am participating in a three-week course on “hybrid church,” trying to learn some best practices for how we can keep the intimacy and creativity of our online services as we return to some in person activities.  The first tip in that series that I found helpful is: pay attention to whether an event is “online-first” or “in-person-first.”  Online-first activities contain some component of in-person participation but prioritize those participating online; in-person-first activities are available online but prioritize those participating in-person.  We want to make sure we are not accidentally prioritizing those in person while leaving those who cannot participate in person behind!

So, to make sure we are not holding services where children and families aren’t welcome, and to make sure we aren’t losing the goodness of our online services in this season, we plan to continue the online services in their current format over the summer. This will also make it possible for folks who are traveling (seeing grandkids for the first time in eighteen months!  hugging elderly relatives!  visiting beloved places!) to keep connected through the online services.  But of course, we’re itching to see each other in the flesh as well, so we will also add some in-person components to help us connect with each other while we wait to cross that threshold back into the sanctuary together. 

The first way we’ll do that is by meeting up in small groups to participate in the online service together! We are calling these Worship Watch Parties. If you’re able to host, you can volunteer for as many dates and times as you like, and you can specify whether everyone who attends must be vaccinated or whether you’ll be watching outdoors or in another safe way. For example, a host might say “up to eight vaccinated people can come at 9:30 to drink coffee, then we’ll watch the service, and I’ll provide bagels afterwards!” Or a host might say “Up to ten people are invited to watch the service in my yard at 6pm on Sunday—BYOB and picnic dinner if you like.” Sing the hymns together, light the candle—even mute the pastor and offer your own prayers if you like!

The second way we’ll do that is by hosting a monthly Lawn Church gathering. These services are in addition to the regular Sunday morning services and will take place at 5 pm at church on the lawn. We’ll ask participants to wear masks, but we will be singing. The first of these will be on Pentecost, May 23. Tentative future dates are June 13, July 11 and August 8. Watch The Carillon for the latest details.

The third way will be the return of our Summer Small Groups. Some small groups will continue to meet online, while others may choose to meet in person. We ask that you follow health guidelines about masking in groups where not everyone is vaccinated yet. You are invited to prayerfully discern whether you might offer to lead a small group! Maybe you’d like to lead a hiking group, picnics in a park, music, movie nights, or something else. Please contact Louise Halsey at [email protected] if you would like to host or to brainstorm options.

The fourth way is still in development—we are planning to schedule some times that people can come in and spend time in the sanctuary for prayer and reflection. We’ll keep you posted on those dates and send more information as we have it. I am also planning to host some in-person pastors’ office hours in parks—keep an eye on the website, The Carillon, and/or Facebook for details.

And the fifth way is the most creative—you are invited and empowered to create what you are missing and longing for.  If you are wishing for drum circle, please create one! If you are wishing to sing camp songs around a campfire, great!  Maybe you’re itching for a time to volunteer together, or a time to make art or do crafts with friends from church. You can get your event in The Carillon by emailing it to Ben at [email protected]. If you are hoping to host something at church, please email Kit Dunbar at [email protected] to inquire about space and time, since our facilities staff are not working as many hours these days. And keep your eye on all those spaces and find some places to plug in! Let’s make time to be in community with each other this summer, even as many of us may be traveling.

This is an awkward season. Some of us are ready for a lot of in-person stuff right away, while others may still be feeling nervous, or waiting for numbers to be lower. Thank you for your patience, grace, and understanding as we find our way through these uncharted waters together!