Preliminary Discernment on Re-opening

Beloved Epworth Community,

This week's update for Extraordinary Times comes from Susan Jardin, Director of Children, Family and Older Adult Ministries:

Blessings to you all on this beautiful spring day! A while back, while I was at Safeway, I ran into a couple who are long-time attendees of Older Adult Ministry programs at Epworth. When we greeted each other I asked them why they were pushing two grocery carts instead of one. They explained that they were shopping not only for themselves, but for a member of their Meditation group who was under the weather and homebound. This is a person they had met at Epworth, and they were looking out for her as she recuperated at home.

I said to myself, "This is ministry in action!" People meeting weekly in small groups, growing close and taking care of each other when times get rough. I have witnessed this again and again. Epworth UMC is truly a community resource, and especially so for older adults during the pandemic, who feel more isolated, lonely and vulnerable than ever.

At Epworth we have already developed a health and safety protocol to follow when children and youth gather. Now we are in the process of creating a health and safety protocol for additional Older Adult ministry groups who are preparing to meet in-person, using guidance from representatives from the Do No Harm Committee and Older Adult Council, and following recommendations and regulations from the CDC, State of California and City of Berkeley Public Health Departments, and the Cal-Nevada Conference. Once this protocol is completed, we will share it with District Superintendent Staci Current. If it is approved we will distribute it with the older adult community that participate in Older Adult programs and create a plan that allows small groups to safely meet in-person.

I want to reassure you that no one should feel pressure to return in-person until they feel ready. Older Adult Zoom groups and classes will remain in place for some time to make sure that access is available to all. We will stay informed of changing Covid-19 information/statistics/regulations and how they might impact our ability to offer in-person opportunities.

Bible stories remind us that once, the people thought that God was only in one place, The Temple, but they came to understand that God was with them all the time, everywhere they travelled. We too, have learned, during this pandemic time, that, even if we cannot be together in person to worship and find fellowship together, we are connected in many ways, and that God’s love and compassion are with us wherever we find ourselves.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about our work towards coming back together in person when it is safe.

Susan Jardin

April 21, 2021 Update :

Beloved Epworth Community,

As I write this week’s column for the “Update for Extraordinary Times,” I’m painfully aware of the twin pandemics that prompted the addition of this weekly communication. Yesterday’s verdict in the murder trial of George Floyd offered a word of truth, of suffering seen and acknowledged. We needed this honesty, this statement of accountability, and in one case it has been given, as we heard the words, guilty, guilty, guilty, three times. While I celebrate this outcome, this moment of breath, I also pray that honesty and accountability will make way for reckoning and justice, which makes the way for healing and peace. And of course, I know and acknowledge there is much, much more work to do in the quest for an anti-racist world, for racial justice, and for beloved community.

We are also wrestling with the desire and need to re-open the church building and resume gathering, and the responsibility to care and do no harm. Thanks to all who responded to our survey that sought your input on priorities, hopes, fears and other considerations. We received 67 responses from all ages in the church. We have a wealth of thoughtful input to guide our next chapter in response to the Covid pandemic.

There are two key findings that I want to lift up at this point out of the survey data:

  • Your top three priorities for re-opening are in-person worship, gatherings for children and youth, and older adult activities.

  • The words “variants”, “slow” or “gradual” re-opening, “fear” and “concern” for safety were prevalent in the responses.

The Do No Harm team met yesterday. We celebrate that in fact, we have already found ways to facilitate in-person gatherings for children and youth. Youth Director Orion Lacey organized an in-person Easter craft day the day before Easter and will continue to offer 1-2 gatherings a month. Orion and Children’s Ministry Director Susan Jardin offered a Spring Break camp for children and youth earlier this month and are now offering a twice-weekly after school art camp. Thank you to these staff members, parents, children and youth.

As many of our older adults have received vaccinations and have a strong desire to gather, the Do No Harm team discerned that our existing older adult ministries can resume at the Epworth building the week of May 17th. Protocols will be in place to conform with the guidelines of the current Alameda county tier of the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy, as well as any other conference, city or county guidance. Please remember that parts of the building are currently under construction as the elevator is installed, so the Chapel is unavailable as well as part of the Fellowship Hall.

Returning to in-person worship is, of course, very important for our community. Do No Harm will continue to work with staff, Trustees and the Epworth community to plan with all care. As you may know, our worshipping community has expanded during the pandemic to reach as far as Germany, Brazil and Thailand. We know some of our members will not be comfortable returning in person for some time. Prior to the pandemic, though we had a great podcast produced by Ethan Toven-Lindsay, we did not have a video version of worship. We want to take care to offer worship to our full and diverse community when we resume.

Thank you for your faithfulness and your hearts full of hope and desire for justice. As always, I am so proud to be your pastor.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Kristin

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