Returning to In-Person Worship in July
July 20, 2021 Update:
Beloved Epworth Community,
Last year as the pandemic began, we added a Tuesday email called “Update for Extraordinary Times” to the weekly emails you receive from Epworth. The purpose was to communicate in a focused and timely way how we were responding to the advent of the coronavirus. When George Floyd was murdered in May of last year and there was groundswell of calls for racial justice, information about our racial justice response was added to the scope of “Update for Extraordinary Times.”
While we are still in a lingering pandemic and by no means have we achieved racial justice, this will be the last Tuesday email we’ll be sending with this focused purpose. I’ll still be communicating about these important issues, but this will primarily be folded into Thursday’s, “This Week at Epworth.” The Thursday email gives highlights for Sunday’s worship as well as covering the breadth of what’s happening in Epworth’s ministries.
I’m grateful to the Pastor/Staff/Parish Relations Committee for granting me a month of renewal leave which will begin on July 27. We have a terrific line up of guest preachers during that time:
August 1: Rev. Debbie Weatherspoon
August 8: Akesa Fakava
August 15: Dr. Randall Miller
August 22: Rev. Angela Brown
I have great respect for each of these colleagues and I know you will be blessed to hear them. While I’m away, Rev. Carletta Aston will be the pastor on call. I’m so grateful to the many who will be covering my many duties while I refuel for the fall and year to come. I’ll be back in the office on August 27.
I’ve loved being back in the sanctuary with many of you, and we will continue to worship in person as well as online. In light of rising COVID-19 case counts in our area, and recent recommendations by Bay Area counties and the City of Berkeley to return to indoor masking, masks are now required at all times, regardless of vaccination status, throughout our building, except for worship leaders who must be vaccinated and maintain social distance.
The Do No Harm committee met on Sunday and will continue to meet every other week, monitoring variants and any new information. For 16 months, this team has faithfully discerned through consensus decision making safety protocols that adhere to the most conservative guidance--whether from church, city, state or national health officials--in tandem with Epworth's core values of inclusion and justice.
Thank you for your great support in working as a body who strives for Beloved Community in all ways as we watch over each other in love.
Grace and peace,
July 13, 2021 Update:
Beloved Epworth Community,
I’m so thrilled to be back in the sanctuary for worship! You may have noticed that I’ve been doing a round of thank yous at the end of the service just before the benediction. I like how it imparts a little Tonight Show vibe to our worship! But seriously, the depth of gratitude I feel at being able to worship with others in the sanctuary, and the skill and commitment being given by our broad worship team, is immense. We will continue to worship in person and through a livestream feed for the foreseeable future. In some ways, this is like planning two simultaneous services, and I’m so grateful for Merrie Bunt and Paul Nasman who have established our livestream system and the many who have helped them, and our worship music leaders, Rev. Jerry Asheim and Judy Kriege and the musicians who’ve also stepped into new protocols for mics, marks, and distancing.
And, there are many beyond just our core worship team that also create Epworth’s moving worship experience. Thank you to our ushers for helping the congregation be seated with the required social distancing between groups, having masks and sanitizer available, and navigating these unchartered waters. Thank you to each of you for working with our ushers in carrying out the protocols set by the Do No Harm team, and for pre-registering your attendance. But, if you are not able to do pre-register your attendance, please don’t let that keep you away! Also, thank you to hospitality angels, Dana Buntrock and LeRoy Howard, followed by Connie Adachi, Judy Kriege and Jeff and Cathryn Bruno, have generously hosted Coffee on the Lawn.
As we move gradually into reopening the Epworth building, the church office is now open from 10-3 on Tuesdays and either Thursday or Friday. If you have a particular need in the building, please call or email in advance to make sure someone can receive you. There is also an opportunity to serve the Epworth community and provide meaningful expressions of welcome and inclusion as a volunteer church host. Please reach out to Merrie Bunt to get involved. Throughout the month of July, Susan Jardin is leading camps for elementary school children and middle school youth, so even though the office has limited hours right now, there is still quite a bit happening in the building!
Our Do No Harm team is continuing to meet and assess how re-opening is going, adjust protocols as we can, and stay abreast of new developments with variants and guidance. Thank you for your support of this ongoing work.
Finally, I want to reiterate that it is still very important for everyone who is able to get vaccinated. For those who have not been vaccinated, you can find help and locations here to start that process.
Blessings to you all,
July 8, 2021 update:
Beloved Epworth Community,
And just like that, worship has resumed in the sanctuary! What a wonderful and joyous reunion, even if it did not proceed exactly as we might have expected. Thanks to all who gave generously of your time and talent to prepare and lead, and to all who gathered in person and online as we enter this next chapter. A special thank you to the Pastor-Staff-Parish Relations Committee for their call to end the fully online chapter with a gift to ministry staff. If you’d would like to contribute to that gift, you can do so here.
This Sunday, we'll continue with our series, "Emerge," reflecting on the feeling of being exposed and vulnerable as we come out into this new chapter. The time of emergence or transition is actually a very tenuous moment. What we know from research on periods of war and trauma is that to get through the period of crisis, people focus on just doing the next necessary thing. This can be essential for survival, but it can also result in a lot of unprocessed grief and other difficult feelings. How do we take care of ourselves and others when we are all in this same boat?
We’ll look at 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19, and think about the ways that people react differently to coming out of loss. In the scripture, King David is dancing at the return of the ark of the covenant, but not everyone feels the same way.
Please continue to pre-register your attendance to make preparations and seating smoother. Given our attendance numbers and the need for distancing, we will need to utilize the balcony. If you are mobile and have good sight and hearing, please consider sitting in the balcony. It is open seating, though masking and distancing are still required in the sanctuary.
As we emerge into this new time with pent up feelings related to loss, questioning, or even anxiety, I urge you to reach out to me if you feel spiritual accompaniment would be helpful for you or someone you know at this time. In particular, our Stephen Ministers are available to provide support, companioning and spiritual guidance in times of transition or loss. I just met with our Stephen Ministry team last night and continue to be deeply grateful that we have this resource in our church. Just sitting with them last night was a blessing to me.
Blessings to you all,
June 29, 2021 update:
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.” For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.
~Psalm 122:1-2, 6-9
Beloved Epworth Community,
The day has finally come when we will be returning to worship in the sanctuary. I am thrilled to be at this place! At the same time, I know some are not ready to come back quite yet in person and will continue to worship online. I trust that we will be held together by the power of the holy spirit during this time of hybrid worship.
In this column, I want to give you the answers to the questions that have come up about what both in person and online worship will look like, as well as address questions about singing in depth.
At this point of transition, I want to say a huge thank you to our Do No Harm team who has worked with me since the beginning of the pandemic to research, discuss and discern the best choices for our congregation. Thank you Michael Martin, Becky Wheat, Judy Cayot, Melani Gantes, LeRoy Howard, John Murphy, and Merrie Bunt.
Music and singing
Epworth is a singing, musical congregation. It is one of our strengths and joys. Not being able to sing or make music together has been one of the hardest parts about being separated due to the pandemic. As we return to the sanctuary, we will be able to make music together. Our Do No Harm team has sought to balance our need and desire to sing together with health and safety concerns.
Dr. Marcia McFee, worship and liturgy scholar whose worship series we have used at Epworth sums it up well: “Music is a gift from God given to all creation. It is a means of connecting with God and with one another, and of unifying our thoughts and understanding, our heartbeats and breath.
Whether by singing, playing, moving, or listening, music is an integral part of the majority of Christians’ worship life. Praising the Lord is a scriptural mandate (see Psalm 150) and singing is a primary way most Christians have “praised the Lord” together.
However, we still face this disconcerting fact: The coronavirus is spread through breathing.”
As we return to the sanctuary, our music and singing will be led by small groups of individuals who have been vaccinated. The best available guidance is that it is safe for vaccinated music leaders to lead without masks and with 12 feet of distance. We look forward to the day when the choir can resume in full force.
In order to limit the time spent inside the sanctuary during which singing is occurring, we’ll sing just the second and third hymns together behind masks. Congregants may participate in the first hymn through clapping, instruments or other movements. We know that kids under 12 don’t have the choice to be vaccinated or not at this point, so this arrangement gives them the opportunity to be in Godly Play during congregational singing.
In this interim time, I invite you to consider what other modes of expression connect you to transcendent realms and help you hear the voice of God? Is it silence, just being in a space with others who are worshipping, hearing the scripture, seeing the lived-out faithfulness of your siblings in faith?
Our online bulletin will continue to be available and may be accessed through your phone or at home on computer. When you enter the building, there will be a QR code (similar to what many restaurants are doing for menus) that will immediately pull up the worship guide. A few paper copies will be available in the narthex if needed.
Electronic giving through our website donation page or via text are still the encouraged methods of giving. In the sanctuary, there will be a covered offering box in the narthex for non-digital offering. Plates will not be passed.
Limited hospitality will be available the first Sunday back with purchased coffee and food prepared by a masked and vaccinated coffee team. As more coffee teams feel comfortable returning to this ministry of hospitality, this may be a regular feature.
Nursery, Godly Play and Youth Group
Youth group will re-commence on July 11 (not July 4th as previously communicated.) Children will be dismissed to Godly Play after the children’s time, and nursery care will be available from 9:45 until the conclusion of worship.
Masks and distancing
For now we’ll be proceeding with masks for all except worship leaders while they are leading and distancing in the pews. Do No Harm is hopeful that masks may become optional by the fall. We also may be able to create a “safe zone” where distancing is used and another zone for folks who are comfortable not distancing. We are monitoring the Delta variant and its presence in the Bay Area closely.
The worship service will be live-streamed and we’ve been working hard to offer you a high-quality experience for worship. You can participate in the livestream worship through Facebook, YouTube or our website. Thanks to Paul Nasman, Merrie Bunt, Tom McClure, and Ethan Toven-Lindsey for their wisdom and labor in bringing this new capability.
If you have questions, please feel free to reach out to one of the Do No Harm team members, knowing that we are all proceeding with faith and the best of our abilities.
What is clear is that God has seen us through and God will continue to be with us. Blessings and peace to you.
June 15, 2021 update:
In a desert land She found them, in a barren and howling waste. She shielded them and cared for them; she guarded them as the apple of her eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.
As of June 15, the state of California has been declared “open.” In the last fifteen months, we may have become comfortable with a slower and more limited pace of life, or at least in some ways accustomed to our “nests.” But the world moves, and I find the words above from Deuteronomy particularly apt in this moment. God, the Mother Eagle, stirs us out of the nest but still carries us on her wings. In this message, I will share where Epworth is with the many different aspects of re-opening our building and in-person ministries. There are also some key ways that you can serve as we return that are detailed below.
There are many different emotions that arise with re-openings. Some of us can’t wait to be fully back, others are feeling a lot of anxiety, and others are somewhere in between. Many of us discovered new truths and new habits during the pandemic that we want to hang on to. I hope you will be gentle with yourself as we return, reaching out when you are in need of help in any way. I’m confident that through it all, God, the Mother Eagle will shelter and care for us.
Sunday, July 4th, Independence Day, will be our first day back in the sanctuary for worship. Thank you to the Do No Harm team, staff and many volunteers who have been preparing for this day. I’m so excited to see you!
Please pre-register your attendance here to assist with the planning.
Worship Safety Protocols
When you arrive, please remember to wear a mask.
The sanctuary doors will be the only entrance that is open.
Please consider arriving a bit early and entering before 10am to give our ushers time to accommodate you.
As you enter, you can sanitize your hands and pick up your digital bulletin (more on that later.)
Ushers will seat you with distance between household groups.
Worship leaders will not be wearing masks; they have been vaccinated and will maintain 12 feet of distance.
Nursery Care, Children & Youth
Nursery care will be available from 9:45am until the conclusion of worship. After the children’s message, children and youth will be invited to head to Godly Play or youth group.
Much thought has gone into how we will “make a joyful noise to the Lord.” Our first hymn will be led by worship leaders and will lend itself to participation through clapping, actions, stomping and other movement. The second and third hymns can be sung congregationally behind masks.
Tithes & Offerings
We’ll continue with our electronic methods for giving through text and through our website during the offering.
For those who are not yet ready to return to in-person worship, that is ok! The worship service will be live-streamed and we’ve been working hard to offer you a high-quality experience for worship. It will not be like the pre-produced video that airs live at 10am on Sundays, but rather the same service those in the sanctuary are experiencing.
To support our new live-streamed worship, we are looking for a Livestream Producer. This very part-time job (about 5 hours a week) is a great way to make a meaningful contribution to Epworth’s worship life. Could this be you or someone you know? Take a look at the job description here.
Prayer, health and inclusion have guided each decision.
Preparing the Building
Saturday, June 19 from 9-1, please come to Epworth to spruce it up for our re-opening of in-person worship. There are many tasks and you know the saying: Many hands make light work. Families can work together, individuals can work by themselves or with others depending on their vaccination status and level of comfort. Inside, masks will be worn unless everyone working in your area is vaccinated.
Older Adult Ministries
Our A+ ministries began returning to in-person gathering last month. Lunch bunch returns in person this week on Thursday, June 17, and Tai Chi Cha will gather in person in the Fellowship Hall next week on June 25th. For a complete list of older adult ministries and how each is gathering, click here.
Children and Youth
Our youth continue to gather in masked events and gatherings, and will resume youth group on July 4th. You can still register for middle school camp here. Please check here for a complete listing of youth activities and protocols.
We are in the process of hiring a new youth director. Did the pandemic stir in you a desire to serve more deeply? Or to understand and support our youth? Or both? If so, I’d like to talk with you about that. Or do you know someone with a heart for mentoring, growth and joy? The basic job description for the youth director is here.
Children’s ministries resumed just after Easter with an after-school camp and will be offering two camp weeks this summer. Godly play resumes with worship.
Church Office Hours
At this point, the church office is scheduled to re-open the week of July 12. Director of Communications and Building Operations Merrie Bunt will be in the office Tuesdays and Fridays, and work remotely Wednesdays and Thursdays. The Epworth office is the first point of welcome for many who come into our building. If you are interested in offering that welcome as a Church Host, please take a look at this description. Either Merrie Bunt or I could share with you more about that possibility for serving.
As we are prioritizing our efforts on resuming in-person worship and ministries, navigating the complexities of livestreaming, as well as awaiting the completion of elevator installation, there is currently no timeline for resuming building activity for external groups/tenants (twelve step group meetings, scout meetings, etc.).
I am praying for you, Epworth, and I know that the same care that has been present throughout the last 15 months will hold us in good stead as we return.
Grace and peace,
June 8, 2021 update:
What a blessing it was to gather with a small group from Epworth on Sunday to experience worship together! While I was looking forward to seeing folks, I was not prepared to be moved so deeply by just being together to watch the worship video. During the scripture reading, I found myself with tears running down my face hearing, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” Indeed, we have all been through a lot in the last fifteen months. If you would like to join a church pod to worship with a geographically based group while we are still online, you can still sign up here.
The Do No Harm team met on Sunday and preparation continues for our return to in-person worship on July 4th. We know that some folks will want to continue worshipping online for some time, so we are pushing forward with a system and plan to livestream worship services. For those who do plan to return in person that first weekend in July, beginning next week, we’ll ask you to pre-register your attendance. Registering attendance is something we used to do regularly with the red or blue pew folders or pew cards. As we return to gathering, your pre-registration will help us plan and prepare.
I know many of you have questions about what in-person worship will look like. The Do No Harm team has not resolved all questions yet, but here is what we do know:
All persons planning to attend are asked to pre-register your attendance. If you forget, that’s ok, you should still come in person if that’s your desire.
At this point, we will have only one entrance open, the sanctuary red doors. If it looks like our numbers will require an overflow space, we can look at utilizing the Fellowship Hall through the Hopkins entrance.
Hand sanitation stations will be set up at each open entrance.
All persons not in worship leadership will be asked to wear a mask at all times.
Worship and music leaders will observe 12 feet of distance, will be fully vaccinated and unmasked
Worshippers will be seated in household groups with distance in between.
Bulletins and hymn lyrics will be available online.
Though no food or drinks will be available, you are welcome to bring your own drink and enjoy it on the front porch, steps or other areas around the church building.
Congregational singing is an important part of our communal life together and we are still working out how we can do this safely. Once a plan is in place for that, I will let you know how we are proceeding in this time.
If you have a specific question not answered above, please feel free to reach out to me or Merrie Bunt, Director of Communications and Building Operations, directly.
Finally, I want to invite you to join in the preparations to return to worship and the church building by taking part in an all-church work day on Saturday, June 19 at 9 a.m., organized by the Trustees. All are welcome.
May the grace of God be with you all in this new time of transition.
May 18, 2021 Update :
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek the holy in the Lord’s temple.
For in the day of trouble the Lord will keep me safe in this dwelling;
The Lord will hide me in the shelter of this sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.
~ Psalm 27:4-5
Beloved Epworth Community,
It has been just over 14 months since we last worshipped in the sanctuary at Epworth. In this time, we’ve discovered new gifts and graces among our congregation. We’ve developed creative ways of worshipping. And our regular Sunday morning worshipping community has grown from just being Bay Area-based to across the globe.
I’m delighted to share with you today that we are optimistic that we can return to worship in the sanctuary in early July. While I trust that just being together in person will be a delight and blessing, in order to keep everyone safe, there will be some protocols we’ll be following. Masks will be required of all worshippers, though we will be able to allow worship leaders (including preachers, readers and musicians) to unmask as long as they are vaccinated and 12 feet away from any other person. Households will be seated for social distancing between households, and we will ask persons to pre-register their plan to attend.
We know that there are a variety of reasons persons can’t be or aren’t vaccinated or are not comfortable with coming back just yet. These reasons often touch on issues of justice and inclusion. One thing I loved about your responses to our April survey about reopening was that while many were eager to return to in-person worship, there was a strong desire to continue with an online option so that all could worship together on Sunday mornings. This reflects the core values of inclusion and justice at Epworth. And so, we are hard at work now to increase our capacity to offer a high quality live-streamed worship from the sanctuary. Are you a person with skills or knowledge in live-streaming, sound and/or video mixing, or software and hardware requirements? If so, please contact me, I’d love to talk with you!
I know that for some of you returning to the building for worship and other ministries can’t come soon enough. But for others, there are feelings of trepidation or anxiety. I’m excited to announce that we’ll be offering a gentle on-ramp back to in-person worship through house and backyard gatherings on Sunday mornings, called Church Pods.
In the weeks to come, please watch this space and This Week at Epworth for more information about return to in-person worship. And in the meantime, we continue to be the church: serving, reaching out, caring and daring to dance again.
May 4, 2021 update : 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.
April 21, 2021 Update : Preliminary Discernment on Re-opening
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,