A MESSAGE ABOUT MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER
FROM PASTOR ANDY
I want to speak directly to the moment in which we currently find ourselves as a congregation. Many of you will recall that last June the board of Community Christian Church adopted a plan developed by the Moving Forward Together Committee. As part of that plan we invested in the technology that we now use to stream worship over Facebook Live with great sound and video quality and with the help of Mark Slaight and Bill Whitley who have been faithfully serving behind the scenes every week for over a year. The plan gave birth to the Fun and Games Committee that is sponsoring the picnic that has been postponed until next week. And the plan called for the Moving Forward Committee to reconvene when there was a 14-day decrease in the number of Covid-19 cases in Dallas County.
I don’t know about you, but I never imagined that we would have a vaccine before we had a 14-day decrease in the number of cases. Back then I guess I was was naïve — I suppose I thought that we were going to flatten the curve by responsibly following the advice of public health experts while we waited for vaccines to be developed — and that the vaccines would be the last nail in the coffin of the Covid-19 virus. But instead, the opposite has been true. We experienced three surges of cases and only because of the vaccines have we finally recently seen an extended plateau in the number of cases in Dallas County. Not a 14 day decrease in cases, but for several weeks the number of cases has plateaued.
I confess to you that I still like the metric of a 14 day decrease in cases as a sign that we can safely Move Forward Together in the next steps as a congregation. The headlines have been about how Covid cases are today at an eleven month low. And this of course is welcome news, but it also means that the case numbers are just as high today as they were in June of last year when we decided to stay online until things improved. Granted, we now have remarkably safe and remarkably effective vaccines now — but they have only brought us back to the levels that we were at when we decided to wait for a 14 day decrease in the number of cases. Dallas County has only been at Orange Alert since the end of March when they dropped it from Red Alert because the level of vaccinations had begun to cause the number of cases to drop precipitously. And thanks be to God for the vaccines, thanks be to God for the scientists, thanks be to God for the front line medical professionals, thanks be to God for the county health department and the U.S. Marines and everyone who has been giving so many shots. Thanks be to God for the plateau.
And yet, despite the fact that we have not yet seen a 14 day decrease in the number of cases, last week I spoke with Elaine Kellam, the chair of Moving Forward Together, about reconvening the committee. And we agreed that we would ask the committee to consider recommending a new Moving Forward Together plan to the board. And so I will ask the committee to prepare a plan with three parts:
First, we need a plan that will guide a process of safely and gradually returning to worship in the sanctuary. I know that this will come as welcome news to some in the congregation. There are several logistical questions that must be answered before we take the first step. And so I ask for your patience as we seek those answers. Among the questions is how to keep safe those among us who have not or cannot be vaccinated for reasons of health, age, or choice. For me, this is a critical matter of Christian hospitality. We cannot allow our Moving Forward Together as a congregation to leave even a single member of our family behind.
Second. We do not know what the ultimate trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic will be. We do not really know how long vaccines will remain effective; we do not know what the impact of an increasing number of variants will be on our ability to keep control of or even defeat the virus. We seen that what happens in a remote part of the globe can and will affect us here in the United States. And even as we rejoice at being able to relax, Covid is burning through Latin America, India, and other places in the world. There are no guarantees that we will not experience a fourth surge. And so our new plan will include a metric for returning to online-only worship should that step become necessary for the sake of public health.
And third, the new plan will propose concrete ways to fully enfranchise our members and friends who do not or cannot return to in person worship. When we invested in the audio visual equipment that we are using right now to broadcast on Facebook, the board made a commitment to continue to stream worship on Sunday mornings and we intend to honor that commitment. But this past year we have learned that being a fully-digital congregation means a lot more than just streaming worship one-way on Facebook Live. We have successfully moved every aspect of our ministry together onto the internet. If you had told me in 2019 when I accepted the call to be your pastor that I would be preaching to a camera and hosting church meetings on Zoom — and that the result would be the growth of our congregation by nine new members, I would have told you that you were crazy.
What we have learned by having been forced onto the internet kicking and screaming is that what we were doing before simply wasn’t working. We haven’t had this kind of growth in a year since 2010. This is part of a trend that has been experienced by mainline Protestant congregations for years. And that is what makes our growth this past year so remarkable. We have bucked the trends, and we have done it under the most difficult of conditions — and we didn’t even set out to make an effort to reach new people. Last March when we went onto Facebook, I was praying that it would mean that at least we wouldn’t lose too many people. And the exact opposite has happened.
We have new and longtime members who may never step foot in the church building. But this does not make them any less a part of the Community Christian Church family. We must find ways to continue to provide equal access to all of our ministries. And to that end, we will have a Zoom link open at the picnic next Sunday and the Congregational Meeting that will happen as a part of that picnic, so that anybody who isn’t going to be physically present on the lawn can be a part of that fellowship and that business of the church. This is merely an example of the kind of care that we need to take in guaranteeing that we do not leave our permanently digital members behind.
When I got to Community Christian Church, we were a purely analog congregation. I’ve come to think of that as CCC version 1.0. In the matter of two days’ time last March, we experienced a mandatory upgrade when we became a fully digital congregation — CCC version 2.0. And we are now approaching another watershed moment in our life together. We will never be fully analog again. We will not be downgrading to version 1.0. We are on the cusp of CCC version 3.0 — a hybrid congregation in which people are fully a part of our family whether they ever step foot in the building.
This, my friends, could prove to be as challenging as moving online-only was last year. But we will face this step with intentionality and purpose. As we move into a hybrid life together, we will ask ourselves how to continue to grow instead of merely hoping that we won’t lose some people along the way. Our new hybrid life together will not be an impediment, or a reality that we simply have to accept because we have no choice. Our new hybrid life together is the new thing that God is doing among us. It represents an opportunity for a renewed commitment to share our life together as a congregation with new people — whether we meet them in person or get to know them through a computer screen.
And so I ask an interest in your prayers as we discern how God is calling us to Move Forward Together in new ways into the future.
Stay tuned for more information from the Moving Forward Together committee in the coming days and weeks.