Beloved Epworth Family,
As the vaccines roll out and COVID-19 case counts drop, we have some of the first consistently hopeful news of the pandemic. Our Do No Harm team continues to meet one to two times a month to assess safety, protocols and what aspects of in-person ministry in the life of the church that we can return to. In this message I’ll report on where we are with all of that, including the recent Supreme Court ruling that impacts churches, upcoming camps for children and youth, and our plans for Easter.
Supreme Court Ruling
Two weeks ago, the US Supreme Court ruled on a case originating from a church in California that challenged the state’s restrictions on in-person worship gatherings on freedom of religion grounds. The church’s appeal for relief was granted by the Supreme Court, and I found the whole ruling fascinating. It highlighted for me the difference between the rule of law and the rule of morality. Of course, sometimes these are the same. But in this case, the church won not because the Supreme Court thought it was perfectly safe for people to gather but because public health restrictions placed on churches in California were more restrictive than on other entities, such as businesses.
Bishop Carcaño responded with a reaffirmation of the conference’s own protocols and restrictions, emphasizing the moral approach that we frame in United Methodist terms as “Do No Harm.” The conference’s position has been that we should not gather inside to worship at this time and that our buildings should be closed for all but essential business or activity that has a special approved protocol in place. Some counties and regions require even more stringent restrictions and the conference has asked us to follow those if they conflict. You can read her full response here, and there is also a link in her message to the Supreme Court ruling.
Epworth Building Closed for Now, Camps Planned
As such, the Epworth building remains closed. Last summer we received special permission to proceed with camps for children and youth. These were successful and we are planning a spring break camp and after school arts programs for children and youth after Easter. Similar protocols to what we used last summer will be followed. Susan Jardin and Orion Lacey have received their first vaccine and expect to get the second dose before these opportunities to commence. I’m grateful to Susan and Orion for persevering and look forward to bringing our children and youth back to the church soon.
The Do No Harm committee is working diligently in the hope that we might be able to worship together outside on Easter morning at sunrise. If you know of or have access to an outdoor space that can accommodate at least 50 persons socially distanced, please do let me know. We will also have a full Easter worship service with holy communion online at 10am. Please stay tuned for more information as this develops.
As we continue to navigate this time of pandemic, I want to thank you for your perseverance. As a community we have many ways we are staying close with each other as well as reaching out. From worship online to studies, communion, and virtual coffee hour over Zoom, as well as acts of service in personal ways, we continue to be the body of Christ for this time. Thank you and blessings to you.
Beloved Epworth Family
Advent blessings of love and joy as we transition from the second to third weeks of Advent. I hope you have been finding ways to lift up each week’s focus word (hope, love, joy, and peace.) In this message, I’ll share important information about changes to our plans due to the new restrictions in place in Alameda County and Berkeley. Yet, our celebration of the coming of Immanuel this season will continue and I’m excited to highlight that as well.
All in-person events, which included the Candlelight Witness, Living Nativity, Labyrinth Walks and Christmas Eve Journey to the Manger, have been cancelled. We were sad to do this, but the Do No Harm team has met and it’s clear that in keeping with the order and to care for all of our neighbors as well as our own community, this is very necessary. Further, the church building remains closed. For essential activities, only one person at a time is allowed in the building. Entering the building should be rare, should only occur through the Hopkins entrance, and all who enter must sign in and out. Any presence in any part of the building must be approved in advance and documented on the Epworth google calendar.
At the same time, our rich congregational life continues online and through other forms of connection. Labyrinth walks will be done virtually, 5pm on Christmas Eve will change to virtual worship service, and we hope to be able to do the Journey to the Manger on January 10 as an Epiphany observance. Throughout Advent, we’ll continue with Sunday morning worship online, small groups, Monday prayer group, our Blue Christmas service on December 21, and communion online every Wednesday evening. The 11pm Christmas Eve service will feature an original poem from Charley Lerrigo and other special elements.
This Sunday we’ll continue with our Advent “I Believe” series as we lift up “Joy!” I’m excited to share with you something that’s been bringing me joy lately, as we consider what joy means in these challenging times. We’ll hear the choir singing one of our favorites along with other inspiring music.
Blessings to you, and may the Joy of Advent be with now and always,
Beloved Epworth Community,
Typically, at this point in the fall, we are deep into planning for our church activities around Thanksgiving and Advent, looking forward to one of our highest seasons of the church year. This year, these seasons will be engaged in differently, but no less meaningfully.
Though Alameda County recently entered the Orange Tier in the state’s coronavirus tiered system for reopening, indoor worship is not yet allowed in the county. On October 26, the county will allow churches to worship at 25% capacity. Due to ongoing health and safety concerns, the desire to continue offering high quality worship online, and the complexity of protocols that would be needed to return to the sanctuary, the Do No Harm team has met and concluded we need to plan for virtual worship through the end of the year.
We WILL have a wonderful series for Advent called “I Believe” based on the song of the same name that is one of our choir’s “greatest hits.” The sharing in the story and miracle of the inbreaking of God into our lives will certainly come to us in a new way this year.
AND, we are planning some exciting in person events and activities. Plans for a living nativity on the Hopkins side of the church are underway. We hope to be able to have some other small and magical gatherings (following protocols). And there will certainly be other surprises that will draw us into the magic and mystery of the season.
If you would like to be a part of planning for Advent, please come to a meeting next Thursday at 6pm. We’ll focus on worship but other ideas are appreciated.
This is also the time when the Community Concerts at Epworth series kicks off. Community Concerts at Epworth has also made the shift to virtual concerts. Though we are accustomed to live and in person concerts, this season still promises to be very special. The season begins this Sunday at 4pm with works by Andrés Matin, Giovanni Bottesini, Ennio Morricone and Bach. You can watch the livestream concert on Facebook here or through the Community Concert website.
May you experience the sweetness of fall today and throughout the week.
Beloved Epworth Community,
Though the coronavirus has changed how we are doing much of our ministry, it has also provided new opportunities for ministry. One potential for ministry is one for which your input is needed. Epworth has been contacted by Berkeley Ready about being a mobile testing site. The City of Berkeley is reaching out to churches and other community groups to partner in the goal of having more testing available in the City.
We need to confirm that we would have at least 40 persons who would utilize our site. Testing would occur outside on the diagonal strip of parking along Hopkins. Most likely it would be on a weekday afternoon between 1 and 4pm. If you or someone you know feels they need a COVID-19 test (this would not be restricted to members of Epworth) please click here.
Epworth has also been hosting some amazing “Porch Jams!” Organized by Caroline Lee as a dimension of Community Concerts at Epworth, these informal sessions feature some of the same amazing musicians that play at the formal series. But due to coronavirus, many musicians are not able to play together. This is a socially distanced, non-wind instrument jam session, not a performance, and folks in the neighborhood can hear music from the distance of their lawn, or a socially distanced lawn chair, all while masked. The purpose is not to draw a crowd, but to offer a respite to neighbors and musicians alike.
(Update: As these impromptu rehearsals occur, we need to keep them informal, socially distanced with masks, and un-advertised. I recognize this is very different from most things at Epworth where we want as many people to come as possible. Because there is very little space around Epworth, the music will primarily be heard by immediate neighbors or those strolling by.)
You may have noticed recently in last Sunday’s worship the debut of the "Front Porch Ensemble." Kudos to Director of Music Ministries Jerry Asheim and choir members for rolling with another new restriction on singing in indoor spaces. I learned of this new rule last week on our Bay District clergy call, and while we expect to receive a written detail of this new guidance this week, we are pivoting to some new styles for the safety of all. These expressions of music and care have made Epworth visible to our neighbors in a new way and several have offered positive feedback.
In all of the ways you are pivoting and shifting, you are in my prayers. With God’s help we will get through this. With God’s help, we are continuing to be the church. Praise be to God.
Grace and peace,
Beloved Epworth Community,
From time to time, the column for the Tuesday Epworth Update for Extraordinary Times will be written by our some of our lay leaders. This week’s column is from Lay Leader Becky Wheat who was a volunteer at Epworth’s Peace Arts Camp for elementary age kids:
In this difficult time, it is good to experience a ray of hope and a wonderful experience. I was able to see hope and exuberance when I participated in a small way in the Epworth elementary age camp.
I was so impressed with the excitement and engagement of the 12 campers. When I arrived they were all involved in a rousing game of bingo.
Kudos to Susan Jardin and Orion Lacey for all the work that went into this camp to make it both safe and fun. All children and staff wore masks, had their own containers of materials, and had their temperatures taken. Lots of activities took place outside.
A big thank you to the Junior counselors and volunteers-
Edrie, Emily, Zach, Alina, Laura H, and Maryam.
Epworth can be proud of this wonderful undertaking!
I echo Becky’s thanks for all who managed the precautions with compassion and care so children could experience the joy of creativity, being in each other’s presence and God’s love!
Grace and peace,
P.S. Today is the first gathering of the Epworth History in a Time of Racial Reckoning group. If you are interested but haven’t signed up, please note how to connect this afternoon at 4pm. All are welcome!
Beloved Epworth Community,
In situations of crisis, it is not uncommon that new leaders rise, new talents are discovered, and blessings emerge even in times of challenge. One of the new leaders who has arisen in this crisis is Tai Jokela. Since mid-May, Tai has been the main editor on our weekly worship service, taking somewhere between 18 and 25 videos each week and mixing them together with the transitional title, music and images that make up our weekly worship service.
Tai is decidedly the youngest member of our online worship team, and yet he is handling a very significant responsibility, and doing it with artistry and competence. Creating a one hour virtual worship each week is a collaborative undertaking, and Tai’s contribution as a member of our team is truly appreciated and essential. Thank you, Tai! We are blessed by your gifts, graces, and service through Epworth!
The news this week suggests that we will continue to worship online for several more weeks. We would love to keep building out our team so that we can offer an inclusive and welcoming experience to longtime Epworthians and new folks who visit through the online service alike. To that end, we are looking for a few “virtual worship hosts.” This role is similar to a greeter or usher in the sanctuary who welcomes newcomers, answers questions, and invites folks to get further connected. If you are interested in learning more about this, please email me or Merrie Bunt. We would love to welcome you to the expanding team!
I want to say a word of thanks to Susan Jardin and Orion Lacey and give praise to God for successful and fulfilling week of elementary school Peace Arts camp last week. The levels of protocols that Orion, Susan and all of the helping volunteers carried out to keep everyone safe, learning and having fun were nothing short of tremendous. On Sunday in worship you’ll be able to see some of the beautiful art that has emerged from this experience.
In the meantime, as you take one day at a time through the wilderness of this pandemic, know that God is with you. You do not walk alone. In fact, this Saturday, Epworth will be playing online BINGO! You won’t want to miss that. Print your card or play online at http://joescafe.com/marshbingo/ through this Zoom room. Play begins at 7 p.m. with caller Carrie Portis starting us off.
And, if you have any need for help with errands or support, please know the support teams continue to be available. If you have or know someone who has a financial need, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blessings on your week,
6/30 Update - Beloved Epworth Community,
Grace and peace to you in what continues to be an extraordinary and challenging time. I pray that you are well and am grateful for your perseverance and faithfulness. That is not to say that it is always easy or even possible to be consistently “up,” productive or even optimistic. But our hope is built on the body of Christ that endures. If you are or someone you know is in need, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Financial assistance (including gas and grocery cards) is available through Epworth’s COVID-19 relief fund, our prayer chain is active and our Stephen Ministry remains a vital resource for spiritual accompaniment. If you need help with errands or meals, the Do Good team is available. We are here for you, we are here for each other and we are here for the community.
Epworth’s Do No Harm team met again on Friday to review the plans and timelines for re-opening that I previously shared. The team affirmed Susan Jardin’s extensive preparation for camps with consideration of every aspect of health and safety as well as current guidelines. We have also received tentative approval from our District Superintendent and are waiting on final approval from the conference. We hope to be able to continue with limited camps in the first and third weeks of July.
As I write, case counts of COVID-19 in California and in Alameda County have escalated to the extent that Alameda County has decided to pause it’s reopening. The conference has released an extensive set of guidelines and protocols for reopening. If you are interested in the full document, it can be found here. As of today, Bishop Carcaño has asked us to keep our buildings closed. No in-person worship is allowed until the county moves into Phase 3. We are currently in Phase 2. Previously I had written that we would not return to in person worship before August 16. The Do No Harm team now believes that even that date in unclear.
We will continue to follow all available guidance from the state, county, city and conference. We are blessed as a congregation to have persons with expertise in metrics, data and public health on our team, and feel that in some cases, an even more conservative approach than what is allowed by government entities is warranted.
In the meantime, we know that our virtual worship service, ministries and groups are not only being well-received, our reach is extending. The Do No Harm team has recommended that we keep focusing on doing virtual ministry well, and even expanding what we are offering. How can we use the non-physical and non-geographical nature of our current ministries to reach new people and include them in the vital and life giving community at Epworth?
Thank you for your faithfulness. May God bless and keep you,
6/23 Financial Update: https://www.epworthberkeley.org/post/update-for-extraordinary-times-6-23-2020
OUR PRIORITIES AS SHELTER-IN-PLACE RESTRICTIONS EASE
Beloved Epworth Community,
As municipalities and counties around our state begin to re-open and even restrictions in the Bay Area are loosening somewhat, I want to update you on the ongoing work of the Do No Harm team. The Do No Harm team focuses on issues of health safety and risk for our congregation during this pandemic. It includes our lay leaders, myself, Merrie Bunt as Director of Building Operations and Communications, LeRoy Howard as Chair of Trustees and two persons who bring particular expertise, Melani Gantes (biochemical engineering) and John Murphy (public health physician and also on Trustees.)
Each time we meet, we review data from sources such as John Hopkins, Alameda County, the City of Berkeley, and California-Nevada annual conference as well as listening to the professional expertise and wisdom within the group. We strive for consensus decision making, recognizing that physical health is only one kind of health. We are aware that even if we were able to meet the basic physical requirements and protocols for reopening, there is a point at which worshiping, praying and caring for each other is so compromised in a re-opened environment that spiritual health could be impacted.
In our meeting last week, we came to consensus on the following:
Summer camps for elementary age children and middle school youth, currently set for July.
After health and safety concerns, mission must drive our decisions. There are many impacts to COVID beyond just health—financial, convenience, and social to name a few. What we know is that children and youth get as much spiritual and faith formation in one week of camp as in a whole year of Sunday morning education. As a congregation that highly values and loves our children and youth, we are moving forward with these camps as the highest priority for re-opening at this time.
Susan Jardin, Orion Lacey and I have kept abreast of the latest guidelines from Alameda County and the City of Berkeley for camps. With this counsel in mind, a five page protocol for Epworth camps is in place. The protocol covers issues such as group size (no greater than 12), mask wearing by all, sanitization, and temperature checks each day. At this point, Alameda County is allowing camps for all children and youth. Even with all of this, we are aware that the camps may not take place and are monitoring changing information closely.
We are in communication with parents directly with more detailed information about camps. If you are interested in enrolling your child(ren) in camp, please read more here.
Worship, to begin no earlier than August 16.
Our summer camps are set to end July 26. At that time we would want to do a thorough re-sanitizing of the entire church and put at least two weeks of space between the end of camp and the next use of the building. If we are able to do the camps, we will likely learn how to be even better in stewarding use of our building during this time of COVID-19. When we return to worship, we are looking at the possibility of having two worship services on Sunday morning and potentially using both the sanctuary and Fellowship Hall spaces to achieve social distancing. We will not be able to have a communal coffee hour with food and beverages for some time.
We know that online worship has brought us together in new ways, introduced new people to Epworth and that some persons may want to continue worshipping online. We are looking at how to produce a higher quality livestream and maintain a virtual coffee hour to support that way of being present.
Use of the building for Epworth and outside groups.
Throughout a typical week, Epworth hosts many groups. Some of these are particularly for the Epworth community, some are for the general public and some are mixed. Our sense is that groups Epworth sponsors or facilitates have effectively gone online and are continuing quite well. For groups open to the general public, we are concerned about the ability to contact trace, particularly for groups that require a degree of anonymity. The Do No Harm team felt that reopening for groups requires a level of adeptness with safety protocols of a highly complex nature.
As with everything in this environment, all of what is stated above may change or become moot. Alameda County now has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the Bay Area. As I write, new cases in the County have not decreased over the last week or decreased significantly since we began sheltering in place. Our hope in providing the above information is to keep you abreast of our discussion and present what is really a best case scenario at this point.
We are also hoping to host a town hall forum on Zoom for discussion and Q and A. We welcome your thoughts, and very much appreciate everyone’s support of each other, the staff and pastors, and continued deep engagement with the ministries of Epworth at this time.
Past Updates for Extraordinary times
April & May Updates: