Halfway through my time in seminary, I had an interview with a committee of the Unitarian Universalist Association to assess if I was on the right track in my ministerial preparations and to offer recommendations for coursework and other skill-building as I continued my ministerial formation. One of the recommendations that they gave me was to take a class in improv theater. I dutifully signed up for beginners class and enjoyed the challenge of it, even though my stomach was in knots before every session.
Over this pandemic season, I’ve been thinking a lot about the lessons I learned in that improv class— trust the people around you, say yes to others’ ideas and build on them, adjust to what is happening, don’t think too far ahead. Those lessons have become relevant to ministry—and life in general—in ways that that UUA committee never could have anticipated.
This brings me to our latest People’s Church improvisation: beginning on September 12, we will have a month of two services on Sunday—one outdoor service, one service on Zoom. This is our attempt to meet the varying, conflicting needs of People’s people as best as we can right now.
Both of the services will focus on similar themes, but they will have very different formats. Here’s what you can you expect from these services:
The outdoor service will be at 10:45 a.m. on Sundays. We will gather under the new tent on the east side of the church building. (One of our children dubbed it ‘The Manta Ray,’ which I love.) We will be together for about 20 minutes of music, a chalice lighting and opening words. Then we will invite the group to move across the grounds to engage in various stations at their own pace. There will be storytellers, joys and sorrows, rituals of grief and celebration, crafts, and more. These services are for all ages and we will be limiting risks as best we can to keep each other safe. Everyone over age 2 who attends the outdoor services needs to be masked. There will be no food or drink. (Please caffeinate yourself appropriately before you arrive!) There will be no congregational singing (though you can hum quietly). The building will only be available for brief visits to the bathroom. Dress for the weather. If the weather is terrible, the service will be cancelled. Bring a lawn chair, if you are able. These are a lot of restrictions—and given the surge of cases in our community, they are necessary to keep each other safe.
The Zoom service will be at 7 p.m. on Sundays. It will be a more contemplative service with poetry, meditative practices, and preaching. You will likely see the return of some of the best music and meditations that People’s people have created over the past 18 months.
I am looking forward to being with you at one or both of these services!
Please know that this is a temporary plan. Having two very different services each week is a short term strategy for meeting as many divergent needs as possible. It is not a “new normal.” I hope that by mid-October it will be safe enough to have a limited attendance indoor service that is simultaneously livestreamed on Zoom. Your regathering team and I will be following the data and the science as we decide our best next steps.
This is an experiment; I welcome your feedback. Please drop me a note if there are elements off these services that are meaningful to you, don’t work for you, or if you have ideas for what’s next. I hope that in these improvisations we might discover some practices that we want to carry forward.
See you at church, online or in person, one way or another,