THE GOOD NEW DAYS:
A Few (okay, a lot!) More Words about Service Times, Sunday Schedules, the Good Ol’ Days,
and what’s on the near-horizon
My dear friends in Christ,
It wasn’t very long at all after I first announced that we were about to experiment with moving our Sunday service time to 10:30 for the remainder of July that I began receiving inquiries about the change. While some folks reached out to say “thank you,” the majority of the messages that came in asked whether we would ever have an early service again, or if this new, later start time were an indication that anybody who preferred the early service would simply be out of luck, moving forward. Other folks have raised questions about when we might be able to stop roping off every other pew, when we might be able to sing hymns together, and what our “new normal” might actually look like, when and if we manage to get to the point of having a “normal” again, after Covid.
So I wanted to take the opportunity to share with all of you the answers to some of these questions that have come in, as well as a more in-depth glimpse into the thought process behind this experiment and the longer-term goals involved as we try to navigate this strange in-between time of being almost post-Covid, but not quite.
By far, the most common question so far has been “Will we ever go back to having an early morning service again?” The short answer to that question is: YES, I absolutely hope and plan to return to our pre-Covid practice of having both an early and a later service each and every Sunday. Please understand that there is no question of whether we will be adding an early service back into our schedule; the only question is when.
In answer to that question, the current plan is to resume a two-service schedule for Sunday mornings no later than this fall, when we’ll be launching our regular program year. Everything else being equal, that would be the logical time to make such a change. That said, however, there is a consideration that might lead us to return to a two-service schedule sooner than that: if our in-person attendance continues to increase ~ and especially if the diocese continues to require us to rope off spaces for social distancing between usable pews ~ then we will need to have two services in order to accommodate everyone whilst maintaining social distancing.
Even if the diocese decides to relax the social distancing requirements, if in-person attendance gets much higher than it was last Sunday (the 11th), I’ll want us to go to two services anyway, in order to help things run more smoothly in terms of logistics. Since we resumed in-person worship on Palm Sunday, but prior to last Sunday, the highest attendance we had ever had in church on a Sunday was 36 people; we had been averaging about 21 per Sunday. (By way of comparison, in pre-Covid times, we were seeing 13-20 people each Sunday at the early service and 55-75 people each Sunday at the later one.)
This past Sunday, we broke 40 for the first time (41, to be precise). That was good news, not only because it marked a significant increase in in-person attendance, but also because one of the main reasons we wanted to try out starting at 10:30 for a few weeks was that many of our parishioners, including a half dozen of our more senior parishioners, had been asking me ever since we re-opened if we could start later, because they're having such a hard time getting to church by 9:30. They wanted very much to come worship in person, but a number of folks have found the early start time either difficult or preventative. We needed at least to try to accommodate these folks who are so faithful and so committed to being in church but who've been having such a hard time just physically getting here.
Of course, what's easier for one group of parishioners is often a hardship for another group of parishioners. Since making the announcement of the temporary time change, I’ve also heard from a number of people who can only attend an earlier service. We need to accommodate these folks, too, obviously. And we will.
But while it might have been possible to add an 8 o’clock or 8:30 service and continue to hold the live-streamed service at 9:30, I really didn’t want to do that, and I’ll tell you why: long-term goals.
Ultimately, when we get to the point of being truly post-Covid and the pandemic restrictions have been fully lifted, what I'd really love to see on a Sunday morning would be something like this:
There are, of course, any number of problems with trying to organize Sunday mornings that way. Probably the biggest, most difficult problem would be that fellowship and adult formation would conflict with our choir’s pre-Covid schedule, which had the choir rehearsing between services (and sometimes while the first service was still going on). I don’t want our choir members to have to choose between their love of music ministry, on one hand, and both fellowship and Christian formation, on the other. We could, alternatively, do adult Formation after the second service, but I imagine that most folks ~ especially those who would have kids who’d finished up Sunday School before the second service ~ would be ready to leave by then … and of course I’ve been cautioned about making people late for kickoff during football season (for the record, I have several good sermons prepared on that topic, should the opportunity arise! J).
It is, admittedly, an ambitious goal. And, obviously, much more brainstorming and planning ~ and likely some experimenting ~ will have to happen before we can come close to a Sunday schedule like that. But I think that should be the goal towards which we aim.
(Of course, one of the main reasons I’m sharing these raw ideas with you, even though they are not even close to being worked out and ready to implement, is to get your feedback. I very much want to hear from all of you about what you would like our Sunday mornings to look like. Please do take some time to think about worship, formation, and fellowship, and let me know what you think ~ I’m including my email address & phone number below for just that purpose.)
In any case, we will return to a two-service schedule on Sundays. It is my sincere hope that our new “regular” schedule will also include time for both coffee/fellowship and for Christian education and formation for all ages. In terms of overall timing, it would make the most sense, I think, to try to kick off a schedule like that in the fall, when we will be launching our "program year" anyway, so that moving to the new schedule is simply part of what we do, as we gear up for that 21/22 program year.
One important thing has to happen, however, before we can get all the way there: we need to wait to have full in-person Sunday School for kids until there's a vaccine available for children under 12. Parents might not feel comfortable sending their kids to Sunday School without the option to have them vaccinated; as a parent myself, I don’t know that I would. The latest rumors suggest that there might be a vaccine for children 5-12 in September, and perhaps in November there will be one for children even younger. But we just don’t know yet, and that prevents us from making a concrete plan with a concrete timeline.
So that’s what’s going on “behind the scenes”; I hope that this context helps make a bit more sense out of the decision to experiment with starting at 10:30 in July. As I mentioned earlier, I invite and encourage all your questions, comments, concerns, and creative ideas: please share them with me at 920.266.9262 or at firstname.lastname@example.org . I very much look forward to hearing from you and we envision a new normal for All Saints Episcopal Church.
Yours always in Christ,