Rev. Sam's May 2021 Newsletter Column

My Friends,

When I was growing up in the Frozen North, the onset of Spring was a somewhat religious event. After spending the long, snowy winter stuck inside, the first even slightly warm days were a very big deal. I remember once running out of the house with a T-shirt and shorts on because it was fifty whole degrees outside - practically tropical! I ended up catching a cold.

This spring feels particularly special to me, not only because the weather is getting warmer, but also because we are beginning to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Sandra and I are now both fully vaccinated, as are many members of our congregation, and I have loved getting to have in-person conversations with you all again after spending so much time apart (speaking of which, if you are fully vaccinated and would like to have a meeting with me, please send an email at minister@churchoftheriver.org and I’d be glad to set it up!).

Seeing our congregation slowly begin the process of returning to normal along with the rest of the world has been truly beautiful. Almost every day somebody asks me when we will be getting back together for in-person worship services and events. I am afraid that I don’t have a very concrete answer, but I am happy to share with you the insights that I do have.

Some in-person activities will be resuming immediately. Our congregation’s COVID-19 Task Force has been meeting monthly since the pandemic began, and at our April meeting we agreed that it is now safe for some of our congregational groups to meet in person, provided that they meet certain safety criteria. At the moment those criteria are:

  • A group of 10 people or fewer may meet indoors if every member of the group has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • A group of twenty-five people or fewer may meet outdoors if every member of the group wears a protective face mask the entire time and remains at least six feet apart the entire time. The people at this gathering do not necessarily all have to be vaccinated.

These are small, first steps, but I hope that they will be the first of many steps towards getting back to our regularly scheduled congregational programming. It is also worth noting that these guidelines are only for officially sanctioned church events; what you do in your own social life is, of course, none of our business. However, as somebody who loves you all dearly, I do encourage you to make choices that are safe for you and for the people you love.

As for worship services, we will be coming back to worship together in the sanctuary when two conditions have been met: The first condition is that the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Centers for Disease Control must both state that it is safe for all of us to gather in person. The second condition is that it must be possible for all people to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

This second condition exists because at the moment there is no COVID-19 vaccine available for people under the age of sixteen. So, if we opened our church now, we would not be able to allow our young people back in, which would mean that they (and their parents) would have to be turned away at the door if they tried to come in. To do that would run counter to our Unitarian Universalist values. As a Unitarian Universalist congregation, our worship spaces must be open to all people. We must communicate to the young people in our congregation that they and their families are a vital part of our community, and that we will not be starting without them.

From now on there will almost certainly be an online component to our worship services. We haven’t decided what exactly this will look like, but my guess is that this will take the form of a live stream of our worship services online on Sunday mornings. Once we are back in person the online components of our services will probably be less elaborate than the pre-recorded services that we are offering now, but I don’t plan to abandon the people from all over the country who have been tuning in and connecting with our Sunday services during the pandemic.

Finally, I just want to state again how much I miss you all. Talking with you via Zoom or in small groups has been wonderful this year, but I miss leading worship in our building more than I can even say. Leading worship behind the pulpit at The Church of the River is the greatest honor and joy of my professional life, and I, along with all of the church’s leadership, am committed to getting us all back together as soon as possible. I love you all dearly, and I will see you very soon.

Rev. Sam Teitel

Minister

The Church of the River

Memphis, TN

Peace in the valley

Joy in the morning