In-Person Worship to Resume in May

Read to the end for more details …

Dear friends,

Thank you so much for all the survey responses, insightful comments, and participation in Sunday’s parish forum about resuming in-person worship. It feels like a true Redeemer community process, since so many have given their good ideas and thoughts. Here’s a report on what we heard from the survey and the forum, and where we go from here.

Survey Responses

We had 41 responses to the survey. The Regathering Team asked three simple yes/no questions on the parish survey. Given the current protocols provided by the Bishops office, would you participate in indoor worship, outdoor worship, or prefer to worship online?

  • On indoor worship, the responses were 53.7% Yes, and 46.3% No.
  • On outdoor worship, the responses were 70.7% Yes and 29.3% No.
  • On preferring to continue online only, the responses were 36.6% Yes and 63.4% No.

So it was clear from these responses, if they represent a true sample of the parish as a whole, that almost half of the congregation is not ready to worship indoors yet, and a solid 1/3 of the parish would prefer to continue worshipping online. However, more than 70% would participate in an outdoor service.

In addition, people responded about what was holding them back from saying “yes” indoor or in-person worship. Some of these responses were:

  • Until Variants and Vaccines get ironed out just a little nervous to do inside yet.
  • I will wait until I can sing and the music is live.
  • Being inside with a mask for some reason it’s a bit easier being outside with one.
  • Ideally, I’d like to wait until everyone can be back together that feel comfortable to come. Also, want the children to be able to attend.
  • I’m still not comfortable being indoors with people for any length of time. The variants are concerning to me, and I’m not yet ready for indoor gathering.
  • I’d rather have the full worship experience via zoom, than a piecemeal experience.
  • For indoor, the ventilation capability makes me nervous. For outdoor, I just have a personal preference not to be sitting in the elements.
  • I would want to have live choir music at the in-person services, and an in-person coffee hour after the service.
  • I would prefer to wait until the vaccination program is complete and the epidemiological evidence confirms a sharp downturn in rates of infection.
  • I think I’d have a hard time watching screens in the sanctuary
  • lack of air circulation; prefer the outside
  • It is not a question of protocols, but more of the overall state of the Covid numbers within MA

People also gave their thoughts about the future and post-pandemic worship. Those ideas will be very useful for the Regathering Team and Worship Committee as we look to the fall!

Forum Discussion

On Sunday, April 25 we had a parish forum to discuss in-person worship. After sharing some background information, we split into small groups for discussion. The small groups were asked to consider some ideas like having an indoor service that would also be streamed online followed by an outdoor service in the afternoon, or having a pre-recorded online service that could be shared at the same time as an in-person service.  Then we came back together to share what the small groups came up with. Here is a sampling of the ideas and comments from the small groups. I’m sure I’ve only captured a small part of the wonderful conversation in my notes, but this will hopefully give the flavor of it.

  • Streaming online is very important – and being together in person is also important.
  • The options feel divisive – having different types of service (indoor, outdoor, online) would split us, not gather us.
  • Community is the most important thing – what is going to contribute to a sense of community?
  • Pre-recorded services loose the community aspect.
  • Pre-recorded service would distance people
  • Pre-recorded service is just not appealing
  • The current service reaches the greatest number of people – why change since it’s working?
  • The current service is not working at all for kids and youth – we’ve lost them.
  • The current service is also not working for some adults – not engaging to watch online.
  • The current service is reaching a whole new group who couldn’t participate before due to health or travel limitations – I’m more engaged with church now than I was before the pandemic.
  • Streaming an outdoor service would not be cost effective, especially if we only do it for a few months. Yes, we could buy all the additional camera equipment and train people how to use it, etc. but that does not seem worth the volunteer time and money if we’ll be back to “normal” in the fall.
  • The kids are actually really good at wearing masks and maintain social distance since they’ve been doing it at school all year – they’ve been trained and do a great job.
  • If we have an outdoor or in-person service, what’s the best time? Couldn’t it be at 8am like before?
  • 8am is not a good time for families, and kids really need the outdoor/in-person service.
  • Best time for families is Sunday morning – that’s what we’ve set aside in our busy calendar for church and try to protect. Sports, etc. are at other times on the weekend including Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
  • Children learn with all their senses – they need an in-person service.
  • There seems to be a tension — the online service is really working for our older folks, but really not working for our children and youth.
  • Couldn’t we just experiment with different things?
  • Can we have Communion distribution more often than once a month?

The underlying theme of the whole conversation was “what is going to contribute most to our sense of community?” People want to worship TOGETHER. Many get that sense of worshipping together by tuning into the live-streamed service and knowing they are doing so at the same time as their friends and the whole Redeemer community. Even though separated by space, they feel united in time and intention. Others, especially our younger members, don’t have the same sense and need to be in each other’s presence to have a sense of community.

Worship Committee Recommendation

The Worship Committee (Bernadette Colley, Charlie Coons, Murray Daniels, Susan Dresley, Kate Ekrem, Emily Garcia, Cara Kalf, Mary Ucci, John Wright) met the same afternoon. We talked about what we heard in the forum and from the survey. The Worship committee reflected that:

  • We need something for the kids, particularly something participatory and interactive
  • We don’t need radical changes or a big expense
  • People want Communion more often

We talked at length about indoor versus outdoor in-person worship. In the end, the Worship Committee did not recommend having indoor in-person worship this spring and summer. There still seems to be a lot of hesitation about it (nearly ½ of our congregation would not participate), and not a high sense of urgency about it from the parish as a whole. A main reason for not recommending it is that the clergy would then have to wear masks while leading worship, and if it was also being streamed this would be a downgrading of the experience for people participating from home (which is still a solid 1/3 of the congregation). Many people said that it’s hard to hear or understand what people are saying when viewed on a screen while wearing a mask.

However, we did hear a high sense of urgency for having an in-person worship at a family-friendly time that would be engaging for the young people who have been all but left behind by this pandemic. At the same time, it also seems essential that we continue the current online service which has been so meaningful for many who feel safer at home, especially our older members.

Therefore the Worship Committee proposes the Summer Sunday schedule:

  • 8:30am: Breakfast with Redeemer/fellowship on Zoom?
  • 9:30am: The same online live-stream service from the Sanctuary as we’ve been doing
  • 10:30am: An outdoor, intergenerational, family friendly, informal and short Eucharist
  • 11:15am: Communion Distribution for both services, every Sunday. This would also be a time for people from both services to briefly greet each other.
  • 12:00pm: Zoom Lunch Hour?

Families were clear with us that Sunday morning is really the only time that works for them for an in-person service. This leaves open the question of our Zoom Coffee Hour, which has been an important social connection for many. The worship committee wondered if we could have “Breakfast with Redeemer” at 8:30am, or a “Lunch Bunch” at 12:00pm where people could gather on Zoom and socialize during the summer months. This would just be for the summer, as we hope and pray that we’ll be resuming indoor in-person worship and maybe even regular old Coffee Hour by the fall. Please let me know what you think about that!

It’s our hope to start this new schedule on Pentecost, May 23. Our new plan needs to be approved by the Bishop’s office before we can implement it. And to do that, the vestry will need to vote on it. So our next step is to schedule an extra vestry meeting (we don’t want to wait until our regular one at the end of the month!) for the vestry to discuss this proposal. If they approve it, it will go to the Bishop’s office for final approval. Then we can have in-person worship!

One of the most helpful comments in the forum was “we can just experiment and see what works.” Indeed, this will be an experiment. We will certainly make changes if it doesn’t work well or if we find a better way to build up our community. Redeemer has proven to be a wonderfully resilient community and we have everything we need to figure it out as we go.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback. Please let me know what you think, particularly about Zoom Coffee Hour. You can reach me anytime at I always love it when I get to talk on the phone, Zoom, or go on a walk on the bike path with someone. I look forward worshipping with you, either online or in-person, soon!