United Parish Reopening Planning

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak. Ecclesiastes 3:1, 5-7

Dear United Parish:

On Monday, Governor Baker’s office announced a plan for phased reopening of Massachusetts that allows houses of worship to open up at 40% capacity with restrictions. We appreciate the helpful, honest and matter-of-fact way the Governor’s Office has managed the Commonwealth’s response to the pandemic. However, we believe, along with many other colleagues, local houses of faith and health experts, that this directive is premature and raises many questions and concerns.

Jesus taught us that love of God and love of neighbor are the two most important commandments (Matthew 22:36-40). Jesus also said that he came that we might have life abundantly (John 10:10). With that in mind, we are compelled to place a high priority on our care and concern for ALL our neighbors and members, especially those who are most vulnerable to the effects of this virus. It is simply too early in the pandemic response to safely and ethically allow gatherings in our space, especially with no vaccine available. Like the early church, learning to practice their faith amid imperial oppression, we also need to continue to embrace creative ways of community connection, amid the real life-and-death threats of a pandemic.

We also have logistical concerns. We are grateful to have welcomed David Dunphy as our new Facilities Manager, but we still do not have a full facilities staff. The required sanitizing efforts would place staff at great personal risk at a time when cleaning supplies, latex gloves, and medical masks are difficult to obtain. Furthermore, the Governor’s required distancing guidelines would be challenging for both adults and children attending services or religious education, and implementing the necessary health precautions would prevent us from gathering before or after services, serving communion, sharing meals, or singing together, resulting in a much-reduced worship experience.

With all this in mind, it is unlikely that we will be able to safely open our building for worship before September. Neither will we reopen the building for outside groups at the present time. We know this news will be disappointing for some and a welcome relief for others. God calls all of us to continue figuring out how to live abundantly, thrive and be creative in this new, uncertain normal.

We are establishing a team to develop detailed plans for reopening our spaces, based on the best possible resources we have from our denominations, collegial houses of faith and other non-profits and businesses. This team, along with staff and leadership, will assess our readiness to open the building in the coming weeks and months.

We are grateful for all of your encouragement about online worship and look forward to more meaningful worship to come. With warmer weather, we are also looking at options for safe, physically-distanced opportunities that can meet our collective spiritual needs.

We continue to keep all of you in our prayers and are here to help respond to whatever needs and concerns you have: spiritual, theological, emotional, physical and financial. Please continue to keep in touch with staff and other members.

As always, we welcome your prayers, your patience, your ingenuity and your continued participation as we all figure this out together. While physically apart, we remain spiritually strong and connected.

Gratefully,

Kent French, Senior Pastor

Jennifer Rodine, Moderator

Amy Norton, Associate Pastor

Susan DeSelms, Minister of Music