Something New Amidst the Familiar
By Rev. Cindy Marino
The Grace family worshiped together in the Sanctuary for the first time in over seven months on October 11. Being back in worship was truly wonderful! I had not expected the service to feel the same. I knew there would be just a few masked worshipers scattered throughout the pews. The new cameras would be upon us. A tightly choreographed order of worship would allow the camera operator to follow us and prevent us from sharing microphones. We would remind everyone to
“respond softly” in prayer and we would leave all the singing to our worship leaders. Honestly, I was afraid I would be more mindful of “getting it right,” than of experiencing Holy God in our midst.
There was a moment before we began when I knew that opening the Sanctuary, however limited it might be, was the right thing to do. A parishioner caught me as we were preparing to start and asked me to pray for her dog. It was the kind of conversation I often had with this person"pre-pandemic." Our dogs are our families and we often shared concerns about them. She was there for me when I lost my Sophie and her ministry to foster dogs is inspiring. But her request, in the midst of considering all the safety details for the service, caught me off guard. And then I realized, it felt normal, useful and right.
We have done all that we can to provide a way to worship safely inside the building. The surfaces in the Sanctuary have been sprayed with a mist that disinfects surfaces for up to 60 days. Our air exchange rate has been tested and is adequate for short-term gatherings. That being said, we are well aware there is no"safe" way to gather these days.
As I write this, we are having to shift our approach once again. Just as we were anticipating the possibility of adding services, we need to put those plans on hold to accommodate the rising Covid infection rates recently announced.
The good news is we can continue to offer our Sunday morning live-stream and video worship services. Our current registration limits are within changing guidelines. As long as we have the volunteers and leadership for worship, we will continue. Since we know who is planning to attend each week through the registration process, we can easily communicate any change in plans. May God bless and keep our technology and our technology team!
As your pastors and leaders, we will do our best to stay safe, so that we can continue to offer something familiar in the midst of the new that is coming at us every day. Connections such as these are what makes a church a church. It’s not so much about being in the Sanctuary as it is about being present for one another. God is in those interactions, however they occur. May your time of worship, however it looks, bolster your courage and offer the familiar in the midst of the new.
The Big Question: Christmas Eve Worship
With all of the above still swirling around us, the Grace staff has poured over plans for worship on Christmas Eve. Grace usually has an attendance of about 1800 persons in six services on that most special night of the year. Our biggest question has been, how do we offer the sacred moment of candle-lighting that opens hearts and minds to the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ? Even if we offered services throughout the day and evening, we would still only reach about one-sixth of our usual attendees. And you can’t really light candles from six feet apart.
But, if we think beyond the boundaries of what we have always done in the past, new ideas emerge amidst the familiar. We know we can offer excellence in worship with our pre-recorded video. Grace Music Ministry does not disappoint. The flexibility of engaging in worship when it works best for your family is a distinct advantage. So, we will offer a pre-recorded video worship for Christmas Eve.
We also have a huge opportunity to recreate the sense of holiness, peace, and hope that wraps us in love during the lighting of candles in a new way. This year, in addition to the worship video, we will offer a “Journey to the Manger” luminary drive on Christmas Eve!
The Grace property will be transformed into a pilgrimage of light that takes us on the journey of Mary and Joseph, through the darkness of night and into the light of God’s greatest gift. You will be able to participate from your car as you enter the lower parking lot, with guided music and messages, and make your way to the manger. From there you can take the light of Christ with you to share with the world.
Christmas will still be Christmas! Watch for more information and for additional resources as we equip you with all that you’ll need to celebrate Jesus, God among us. Of course, as always, we welcome those of you willing to volunteer to serve for our luminary event and/or to donate to underwrite the costs associated with it.