September 1, 2020
When we first decided to take a break from in-person worship due to the threat of coronavirus in our community, I remember talking at length with colleagues on the phone, trying to decide what to do. In over a decade of church leadership, I had never cancelled in-person worship before. At both churches I served before coming to Faith, there were snow days during which I literally put on my boots and trudged through empty streets to get to church, only to sing and pray with the few people crazy enough to join me. I believe in the power of community, of singing and praying together in the same space, seeing the image of God in each face, and caring for one another over cups of coffee and conversations. Cancelling in-person worship is something I would never do casually. I know that, even if we produce amazing online worship, it is not the same, and it doesn't meet your needs for community connections.
When we first closed the building in March, I imagined it would last only a few weeks—or we'd be back in the building for Easter at the latest. That was 26 Sundays ago. Six months. Half a year. Whole seasons have gone by, and our building doors are still shut. And while COVID transmission statistics in King County are starting to improve slightly, full relief from this pandemic is clearly still a long way off.
In the last several weeks, we have issued two "Reopening Surveys," in which you have made clear that you are not ready to gather as a worshipping community until things are much better in our area: the vast majority of you said you would not be comfortable gathering for worship until King County enters Stage 4 or there is a reliable and well-distributed vaccine for COVID-19. Our Reopening Team has been meeting for the last few months to make sure we are ready with safety protocol when we do gather, but we have also made the decision that we will not gather for in-person worship until at least January 3, 2021.
I know this is not a surprise to many of you, but it is still not the news you wanted to hear. I know you miss being together, as I desperately miss being in the sanctuary with each of you. I have shed tears thinking about what this means for the Advent and Christmas season, but we are putting our best creative thinking toward building meaningful worship experiences for you, even if we can't light candles in the sanctuary together.
We hope you will continue to log on for online worship—even if it feels like a chore some days—to greet and encourage one another, trusting that the Spirit binds us together even when we can't see and hear each other. Reach out to each other with prayers and kind words through cards, phone calls, emails, text messages, and physically distant in-person meetings. And let the church know what you need, whether that be prayer support, financial support, connections to local services, spiritual resources, relationship help, or anything else.
Knowing what we know from the CDC, King County Public Health, the Pacific Northwest Conference of the UMC, and your own concerns that you've shared with us, changing our immediate focus from "how to re-open the sanctuary for in-person worship" to "how best to be the church while the building is closed” is the faithful and right move.
This week, we have launched two new teams:
- Interim Leadership Team, led by our lay leader, Cathy Anderson: this team will work on immediate needs between now and the end of the year and how we can serve each other and our neighborhood even while our building is closed to in-person worship.
- Reimagining church team: this team will look at January and beyond for what God is calling us to do and how church can be different in the future.
This season gives us a unique opportunity to rethink everything we’ve known about church and the worship of God in word and deed. Please pray for these teams as they begin their discussions.
In the meantime, we will also be exploring how best to meet community needs over the next several months. We know that many households in our area are in need of help with childcare during online school; space for solitude when the house starts to feel too small; and support groups for grief, unemployment, relationship issues, parenting, and anxiety or depression. We know there are many physical needs as well, and we're partnering with the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank, Youth Eastside Services, Friends of Youth, Issaquah Community Services, and other groups to help meet those needs. You'll hear more about each of these as needs arise.
It will be vitally important, as this physical separation lengthens, that all of us stay engaged. Our staff continues to work hard, but we are a small group, and we need your help. We want your ideas for how best to serve the congregation and community, but we also need your help to do this ministry. And we want to make sure the church is best positioned to begin 2021 on a solid foundation, ready to continue growing in faithfulness for years to come.
If you have any questions about this timeline or how we came to the decision not to pursue in-person worship until at least the start of 2021, if you have ideas of how we can best support each other and serve the community over these next several months, if you have gifts or time to offer, or if you're in need, please don't hesitate to reach out. I'd love to hear from you.
I remain grateful and honored to be your pastor, and I look forward to the day we can raise our voices in praise together again.
Rev. Elizabeth Ingram Schindler