On the fourth Sunday of November, I watched the Facebook link to the worship service at the Union Congregational United Church of Christ in Angels Camp, California. The church is a small congregation in a rural town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. My dear friend and mentor, Rev. Dr. Sally Smith, was being honored in celebration of the 50th anniversary of her ordination — an extraordinary milestone for anyone but even more so for a woman ordained in 1970. I could not be there in person because of the distance and difficulty traveling now. I also could not be there because I live in an area where the COVID counts are extremely high and would be bringing that risk into an area with far lower case counts and, in the process, endangering a 90 year friend along with the congregation honoring her. But the blessing was that I actually could be part of the congregation that day. In this week of Thanksgiving as I write, I am so very grateful.
I share my experience for two reasons. First, to highlight the creative ways we have learned to bring people together in worship during this difficult year, and second, to encourage us to understand some of our differences.
In our Association, our urban churches are meeting almost completely by Zoom, on YouTube, by Webex, or using a similar online platform. These churches are all currently in high danger COVID areas. A few of these who have a good space for an outdoor service have taken the opportunity to worship once or twice in that way, while also putting up the cameras and microphones to include those who could not be present — quite a feat. A few of our churches have worshipped in person for a short time, and then stopped when the COVID counts locally went up. Several of our more rural churches have been meeting in person for quite a while. These are in areas where the pandemic has not hit as hard or not much at all. We have one church who broadcasts to cars outside via the car radio, and has met inside on and off as the local case counts went down and then back up. Other churches did drive-up services before beginning to meet in person.
Our circumstances are different right now. From listening to those I know and care about, I know sometimes these varying circumstances are hard to understand. For those of us living in a large city, COVID is very present and gathering in a group is dangerous. For those of us living in rural areas, COVID is not as present. We are a diverse church in many ways, and this difference now in how we worship is part of that diversity. For me, I found a life-giving and creative bridge between two ways of doing church as my friend was honored last Sunday. Thanks be to God for that bridge. In this time of polarization in our society, I invite us to choose to appreciate each other.
Our friends at Hope United in Georgetown have welcomed Rev. Remington Johnson as their designated pastor at this time of change for them. Rev. Johnson is a Presbyterian minister with substantial experience in hospice care and chaplaincy in the Austin area. We offer our prayers and hope that her ministry with Hope United will be a faithful and enriching time.
Blessings in Christ, Liz Nash, Association Minister