By Magdalena Wells, Interim Communications Administrator; adapted from Katherine Cusumano's NYT article, "Retraining for Social Interactions"
As a church community, we are bound up in one another and in the transitions that impact our life together. Now that more people are getting vaccinated and the world is starting to “open up,” we will need to navigate this period of transition, discomfort, apprehension, excitement, and hope together as a church. We will hold in tension how many things are true at the same time:
As you read, consider other ways we can support and honor one another.
1. Start Small
Our COVID Response Team and COVID reopening plan wisely account for gradations of activity. Holy Week was a wonderful example of blending in-person and virtual gatherings with choice for members.
You might consider joining a small, in person gathering at church when the time comes. Give yourself the chance to “dip your toe in the water” by finding opportunities to experience the building or outdoor fellowship before diving into the deep end of in-person Sunday morning worship.
2. Understand that it might take more effort
In this transition, the same activities we used to do with ease, like setting up a space for Bible Study or hosting a reception, may require more from us. That “more” could be energy, time, communication, or precautions. Events will involve careful planning and hosts will need to invest participants in expected precautions.
For some in our community, the lockdowns have provided some relief from social anxieties, the pressure to say yes to every request, and the expectation to enjoy the same activities as others. For those, this adjustment will require even more energy.
We ask for your grace with church staff and volunteers when we change modes of worship. For example, when we move to livestreaming in-person worship, the video will be less polished than what we are accustomed to now.
We can take these transitions as an opportunity to seek a “new normal” where each member finds a space, level of engagement, and energy balance that is comfortable and sustainable.
3. Set boundaries
We will need to set, hold, and share communal and individual boundaries. As church leadership, we commit to sharing clear, explicit expectations for things like masking and distancing. Upholding those communal boundaries will require all of our effort. Individuals may have additional boundaries that they choose to set, such as offering touchless greetings at the passing of the peace or not lingering for fellowship after worship. Let’s strive to view one another’s boundary-setting as an act of love, not as rejection or judgment.
4. Be prepared for awkward (even hard) conversations
Holding boundaries and building trust require open, honest communication/ This may feel new and uncomfortable. We may ask questions like: which pre-pandemic practices will we bring back? Which ought we retire or reimagine? What activities still require masking? Are there activities for which we need to require vaccination? How many people can come?
And then there are those smaller, more intimate communications, like expressing if we aren’t ready to receive hugs yet, turning down an invitation, or asking a friend if they are vaccinated.
Let’s approach these big questions and intimate conversations as being in service to a flourishing life together. With this lens, we embrace the messiness and challenge of communication, knowing the fruit it can bear that avoidance or silence never will.
5. Take your time As a community, we will take time and intention in this transition. We urge this approach for individuals and families as well. Based on your unique needs and circumstances, join in-person events on the timeline that works for you. Your pastors will not be “taking attendance” or judging what members decide is the right time for them. Let’s extend this grace to ourselves and to one another.
What do you need in the transition ahead, specific to church? What boundaries will you need to hold? What are you looking forward to with joy? As a community, how might we “start small?” How can we “start small” together?