Where Are We Now?: Old First E-pistle 06.10.22

Where Are We Now?: Old First E-pistle 06.10.22

First, I want to thank everyone for their understanding and patience. You all have been troopers. As I have explained when people have asked specific questions, “We are really just flying by the seat of our pants right now!” 

And it’s true. There is so much going on; so many moving parts; so many uncertainties and surprises, with everything moved to another place or in storage. On Pentecost, I just gave up trying to find my red stole around here – too many things were in too many place to even begin to search. But we will weather through, and it will get better.   

We are “any day now” away from finishing the major carpentry work in the Sanctuary. 

Or at least all the work that needs to be done in order to get all the tools out and get moved back in and begin worshiping in the Sanctuary! 

Well, not quite. The carpenters’ progress will allow us to schedule the deep cleaning and the movers, so that once they are done, we can worship in the Sanctuary. 

We are committed to getting in there as soon as possible. Even if there will still be a long list of things yet to get done. Think of it this way: every Sunday, you have another reason to get up and get to 4th and Race: “Let’s go to church so we can see what else has been done on the Sanctuary.”

So watch out for word about moving into the Sanctuary. And also an opportunity to help us get ready before the first Sunday back. We will hire movers to help with the heavy stuff, but there are always endless little things that need to be done. 

Notice of our First Sunday Back in the Sanctuary and of a Work Day prior – both those are going to come unexpectedly, I imagine, like the proverbial thief in the night. (Oops, that’s not the best metaphor for Old First after our 3 recent robberies.) But haven’t we learned from our pandemic experience, Old First can turn on a dime like we never expected. 

Last week, I was hoping we’d be back in the Sanctuary for the 19th (Geneva, our preacher that day, really doesn’t want to have to preach in the courtyard), but now it’s looking like maybe the 26th… 

It’s not that worshiping in the courtyard has been the worst thing for us. Outdoors is definitely safest as a public health precaution. And it’s been beautiful, once it warmed up. Yes, it’s a little unpredictable. There’s always a screeching siren that goes by. 

And remember the time the unregulated man arrived in a confusing way right before worship began? And last Sunday’s  endlessly  barking dogs on Orianna sounding like they were in a fight to their death were a little much. Not to mention the helicopters overhead and the street workers in the streets.   

It will be easier in the Sanctuary. Much less set up as all the chairs will be in place. And we not have to have extension cords every place. And even with the windows open, it will be quieter.

It’s not clear if we will turn on the a/c in the morning to cool off the space and then open the windows as people enter or what. Remember: flying by the seat of our pants! 

But we will be observing social distancing in the Sanctuary. And we will be wearing masks. With the windows open, and the fans exhausting as we did on Easter, we will have congregational singing.  

From folks worshiping with us at home, we have begun to learn about how to do hybrid worship. Another thanks to you. We know it’s been choppy and even now not all the kinks are worked out. Your forgiveness has been key. 

We are really working with the bare bones: a laptop, an auxiliary camera, a microphone and a cellphone. I guess we are doing pretty well that you all can follow along. We are doing even better when we figure out how to engage your participation. 

As I think you know, in the current situation, when I am leading worship, I have absolutely no access to you all who are online. It’s kind of driving me nuts. Unless Adam or John U. relay something to me, you are part of the “great unknown” for me! Well, it’s not quite that bad: I do know that about equal numbers of worshipers join us online as in person. 

Please know, while it’s going to be like this for a few months until the audio/ video system is fully installed in the Sanctuary, it will get better. I believe by fall, we will have a system whereby you all from home can fully participate in worship from a distance. I have realized that I am going to have to have a laptop with me on the pulpit if I am going to have any sense of “the congregation” that I am leading in worship. 

As I said, our “on-the-fly” experience now is teaching us many things. Foremost, it’s become obvious to me that the online portion of our ministry is not some second-thought or second-best add-on. Old First needs to think about in-person and online as equally important and attended to spaces in which we accomplish quality ministry. 

I am also going to start looking for folks who are mostly present online to serve in two roles: we need an “online chaplain” who can help welcome and interact with the people through the chat; we also need someone to help with muting and other technical difficulties.

While we might have thought when we first decided to wire the Sanctuary for hybrid worship that we’d become a congregation gathered physically in the Sanctuary with a few folks joining us from home, now it’s obvious that online worship, fellowship and maybe even service are going to continue as spaces for significant ministry. 

Clearly, our weekly prayer group and our bible study work because they are online. Likewise, the variety of fellowship groups that have not just sustained us through lockdowns but have become integral to how we do church. And it’s my hunch that a more significant number than we expected will join us each week online – one more reason to figure out how to make online and in-person equal foci of our ministry. It’s my expectation that for many people and many of our events, including worship, participation will alternate between in-person and online. 

I am also beginning to think that there is going to be a longing for interactive worship like people have grown used to when we were exclusively on Zoom. How interesting that our Zoom experience may set new expectations for our in-person worship. Also, I have wondered if we might not be able to create a midweek service that provides people – whether in-person or on-line –  with worship that is more interactive and participative. If we design the liturgy right, I think with the smaller congregation we’d expect for a midweek service, we can accomplish that. 

There’s a lot to think about because there’s a lot going on! 

Expect to be back in the Sanctuary soon. With all the chancel furniture in place; the pews around the sides and the chairs positioned for worship. We’ll have to use the portable sound system and our makeshift broadcasting “system” for a while longer. I was informed this week, it will be three months before Light Action, our audio/ video vendor, can complete the installation. But we’ll get the piano to replace the electric piano. And the organ unwrapped and tuned. 

And as Janice begins her 2-month summer residency with Center for Art in Wood this coming Monday, she won’t be around for the next 2 months to do the endless things she has been doing for us. About a month ago, Janice told Michael, “I don’t think I can do the residency; there’s just too much to get done around here.” To which Michael responded, “Nope. You are not canceling the residency. You have more than earned it. If I have to pick you up and carry you there, you are not only going to go, you will enjoy yourself!”  She will be back, and knowing Janice, will get started again about the middle of August. 

But the painters will come back to paint the wainscot and the molding and the painted parts of the chancel. I wonder if it doesn’t make sense to include in their work, some simple painting of the area in the reredos, perhaps a solid color and then we can figure out if there needs to be further decoration. 

And the doors to the narthex will need to get framed and rehung. 

And the new spotlights over the chancel are backordered at least a month out. 

And Janice will build the closets under the front stairs down from the balcony when she gets back. 

And the glass doors at the front of the church are yet to be started. 

Also, we still want to figure out how to bring back the ventilation feature of the sunburst using an mechanical exhaust fan. 

All this on top of all the other changes starting on our campus as we gear up for construction of Old First House… sigh. 

It kind of tires me out, even as I recognize it’s also quite amazing. Thanks be to God. And to God’s people. 

Faithfully yours,