Dear Future Old First

Dear Future Old First

4. April 2022

Dear Future Old First, 

It’s a dynamic time around here. Starting in March 2020, everything changed with the pandemic  (much more in our lives than just church! For example, during the initial COVID-19  lockdown, all the traffic disappeared from city streets and ever since we could get everything delivered!) 

And the rate of change just keeps increasing at church, as our plans to replace two buildings – whose cramped, inaccessible spaces no longer fit current ministry needs – with Old First House are moving ahead faster than we expected.  

Our congregation – that really hadn’t done anything with online worship (or even online meetings) – was suddenly,  in a week’s time, worshiping virtually. People who didn’t know how to make a video call before were suddenly navigating Zoom. (There are two people we haven’t gotten on Zoom, so we are hand-delivering paper copies of the worship service slides each week so they can follow along as they call in on their phones.) 

And very quickly, we realized that Zoom interactions free people to share more of their lives; participate more easily in church programming; keep conversations transparent (there are no secrets on Zoom!); and take the church’s worship right to the homebound or even into hospital rooms. 

I don’t think we have yet any idea how the experience of 2+ years online is going to change us in our worship or in other aspects of church life. (In the larger cultural realm, I suspect, we are likewise nowhere near realizing how much this pandemic and our responses to it, psychologically, culturally, etc have already made a difference…)

We do know that Zoom enabled weekly companionship groups that don’t want to stop meeting; a Lenten prayer group that has lasted over 2 years and shows no sign of stopping; weekly Bible study (not a regular at OF in our time), etc. We recognize that our virtual connections have ironically brought us much closer together during a time of “social distancing.” More of us know more of us… and more about each other! You can feel that in a church fellowship. 

Our Sanctuary redesign now includes the technology to support people participating in worship from a distance. We have no idea how many will come back to in-person worship and how many will more often than not continue to join us virtually. I do believe our people coming back will bring back a desire to “see one another close up and intimately” in the Sanctuary like they have on Zoom. Again, I am not sure how that’s going to get worked out, but we have learned we are much more creative and flexible than we ever imagined.

The Sanctuary redesign will also transform the space for more and different uses all week long. And we are redeveloping the property so it can offer the chronically homeless permanent housing and free up the Sanctuary building for ours’ and others’ uses. All the gears are in motion and playing off one another as we try to get through these changes and ready for what’s next.

As I write this 2 weeks before Easter 2022, we are still exclusively online for worship (though last year during the warm weather we worshiped in-person in the front courtyard). Maundy Thursday and Easter will be our first in-person services this year, and we plan to continue outdoors until we can get back into the Sanctuary. We have also promised the continuation of worship on Zoom, until the Sanctuary is finished and the technology installed to allow people to participate in our main service from a distance. 

We need to get the Sanctuary renovation complete. We need to learn how to do hybrid worship and worship best in our renewed space and after our online sojourn. We need to construct temporary office space in the Social Hall. We need to get out of the Fox and the CE buildings by July 31. We need to move the front part of the Fox Building, and demolish the back part and the Christian Ed building. And get started on construction of Old First House. There are a lot of interrelated, moving parts!    

We pray that things will fall into place for a next step in meaningful ministry for us here in this generation. But we are also faithfully aware, future people who are Old First, that our service will be your inheritance. As we are grateful for the witness and work of those who went before us and cleared the way for our ministry, we ask the Spirit to watch over and bless our humble efforts for your benefit and the benefit of those you will serve.

Faithfully yours, 

The Rev. Michael W. Caine, Old First’s 30th pastor