I remember feeling delighted when I realized in February that our baby’s due date, April 2nd, was also the home opener for the Red Sox at Fenway. It felt like a good sign that our daughter would choose her mother’s team (the Sox) over her father’s (the Cardinals).
Of course, that was February — when our staff team also made preliminary plans about what to do if the COVID-19 coronavirus became a real threat to MetroWest Boston. Now, the Sox have delayed Opening Day by at least two weeks, and the Town of Needham has requested that all “large” community events be cancelled or postponed for at least the next thirty days.
Thankfully, our staff team was already prepared to adapt, postpone, and cancel programming because of the February planning meeting. On the morning of March 12th, considering the recommendations this week of both the Town of Needham and the Unitarian Universalist Association to temporarily suspend large group gatherings, the First Parish staff with support from the Parish Committee has decided to move all worship services fully online beginning March 15th at least until Easter, and encourage all First Parish groups and committees to convene through video chat or conference call technology during that same time frame. The First Parish staff team, along with the parental leave minister, will reassess in early April whether these “digital community” changes need to be extended.
We know you likely have many questions regarding these dramatic modifications to First Parish:
What will Sunday mornings be like?
The staff team will still lead worship on Sunday mornings in the sanctuary, but to an empty house. Please do not come physically to First Parish on Sundays through April 5th! Accordingly, we will not have our choir, bands, or children’s groups rehearsing nor performing; in-person RE or youth group; nor social hour. If you know of someone who does not check email frequently or does not have email access, please reach out to them to say they should not attend worship on Sunday the 15th until at least after April 5th. We are postponing worship services not led by staff during this time period, including rebooking Rev. Dr. Rodney Petersen to preach in the fall. If you or a family member will be impacted by these Sunday morning changes, you can expect an email from the pertinent staff member very soon explaining how the staff will keep our congregation connected and involved with our music and RE programs even without seeing each other in person. Through our fully online worship, we will be experimenting with “text to give” technology for the offering, and ask that if you have a joy or concern to share to please email Roberta Altamari at email@example.com by Saturday night at the latest. A link to our YouTube livestream will be emailed to the church distribution list weekly, and you can sign up for reminders of the “uuneedhamtv” livestream through YouTube or by emailing Tom Gehman.
What about other upcoming “large group” programs?
The benefit concert on March 14th with Polarized Guru has been cancelled. The remaining #WeToo women’s empowerment Lane Lyceum events with Jean Kilbourne, Fredie Kay, and Roberta will be postponed to later this spring or fall. Homegrown Coffeehouse is assessing which of their upcoming performances to postpone; please see their newsletter for more details.
How will spiritual practice groups, Small Groups, and committees meet?
The UUA recommends that all gatherings over 25 people be cancelled, postponed, or convened remotely. However, the First Parish staff, in an abundance of caution, strongly encourages even our smaller groups and committees to consider postponing upcoming meetings or meeting remotely through widely available video or conference call technology. The UUA has good information about using video meeting technology on their website, and you can ask your group members if anyone is skilled with these tools and can assist other group members. We ask that all groups and committees make remote participation available to their members, even if some members will convene in person. If your First Parish group or committee does choose to meet in person, please follow precautions recommended by the Center for Disease Control (listed below) and do not serve communal food or beverages.
What will the First Parish staff do during this time?
The First Parish staff will continue to come to the office during the week and on Sundays, along with working remotely, as we are currently scheduled. We have a lot of work to do each week, and now are also trying to get creative with keeping our community connected despite not seeing each other in person! We would strongly prefer to conduct all meetings (even “one on one”) over the phone or video technology for the next few weeks to prevent the spread of infection. We also ask that First Parishioners trust that we are keeping track of the latest information and recommendations from the news, our local colleagues in houses of worship, and especially the World Health Organization (WHO), Center for Disease Control (CDC), and our local Public Health Department. We cannot field individual emails and phone calls that are purely to offer us information about this pandemic. We do encourage First Parishioners to reach out to us for support in adapting to this new reality of church operations.
What if I’m sick, injured, or otherwise in need of help or pastoral support?
Please contact Rev. Catie, Sally, and the Pastoral Care team if you are in need of pastoral support. In the near future, the Pastoral Care team and Caring Crew will be reassessing how to provide support and meals/rides to parishioners given ease of transmission of COVID-19. The Needham Community Council is also an excellent local resource for material support, and, if you are able, you can buy non-perishable food items for the NCC Food Pantry through an Amazon wish list.
Please continue to follow recommendations from our local and national health organizations: stay home if you feel at all ill (except when seeking medical care); wash and sanitize your hands frequently; cover coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a disposable tissue; don’t touch your face and hair; regularly clean and disinfect frequently-used objects and surfaces in your homes and workplaces; and, keep a “social distance” of 3-6 feet from other people. All of these measures will help slow the spread of COVID-19, and thus can save lives. Refer to the CDC’s website and social media for the most up-to-date information about protecting yourself, your family, and your neighbors. We also recommend that you sign up for emergency alerts in your town; in Needham, you can register online or by texting “Needham” to 67283.
As you may have guessed, responding to a pandemic was not included in my ministerial training. I did not live in fear through the HIV/AIDS epidemic, nor through the decades when polio and measles were common, nor the influenza pandemic of 1918 that killed tens of millions worldwide. However, the First Parish staff team is following public health recommendations carefully, and we believe that together as a beloved community at First Parish we will weather this pandemic as our congregation has weathered many challenges in the 300 years we’ve existed before today — with courage, thoughtfulness, compassion, neighborliness, and patience.
Please remember to stay connected with your First Parish groups, committees, and friends through online and phone networks — especially if you are feeling lonely, isolated, or sick — so we can support you! Continue or pick up self-care and spiritual practices that will help relieve anxiety and fear during this anxious and fearful time.
Take these words from modern Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Lee Paczulla as solace and comfort during this difficult time:
blessed are the elderly, and the immunosuppressed
blessed are the fearful, the anxious and irritable
blessed are the ones who use humor to get by
the ones who could use a vacation anyway
the ones who fear for their life
blessed are the ones who are sick of it:
all the flawed logic, the security theater
blessed are the ones who cry out “this is why we need a safety net! a kinder society! a new world!”
blessed are the health care workers, the administrators catching heat for every decision, the messengers with no power over the message
blessed are the sad, and the lonely
blessed are the healthy and the sick,
the well and the unwell
blessed are all of us just trying to do our best
blessed are those who stay kind and clear, who keep our eyes open to each other
blessed is our neighbor
blessed are we all
blessed are we all
blessed are we all
Indeed, blessed are we all. Take care of yourselves, your families, and your neighbors — and I’ll see you online or on the phone!
Minister || First Parish in Needham, Unitarian Universalist
781-514-5464 || firstname.lastname@example.org
(pronouns: she, her, hers)