Dear Emmanuel Community,
The last several months have looked vastly different from anything we could have imagined. Since early March we have shifted our community from one that primarily gathers in-person to one that gathers exclusively online. We pivoted quickly in the face of the Covid-19 crisis in order to continue our practices of prayer and fellowship while keeping our community safe. I have been deeply moved by the many ways you all have continually shown up for worship and fellowship. The connections and relationships in our congregation have, I believe, become even more vibrant and essential to our spiritual wellbeing, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your continued willingness to show up and be present for each other in these challenging times.
None of us imagined that we would spend this many months outside of our building and meeting via screens. Unfortunately, the health and safety of our community has continued to make it necessary for these precautions to continue, and the question remains: When can we be back together in person?
A committee of members has worked tirelessly to sift through guidelines from the CDC, Washington State, and the Diocese of Olympia in order to outline what a potential return could look like. Guidelines for our worship community have been assembled and presented to the vestry, and it has become clear that, if we were to return in Phase III, it would look vastly different from how we are accustomed to gathering on the Emmanuel campus. Our gatherings would be limited to those under 65 and without health risks; there could be no childcare or children’s formation; we would be required to gather with less than 50 people, and social distancing, masks, and frequent sanitation would be necessary. There would also be no fellowship or coffee hour, and it would require many additional trained volunteers to both prepare the sanctuary and staff these gatherings.
While all of this is possible, it would continue to pose a risk to those who gather, and it would mean excluding a large portion of our beloved community. Part of what I cherish, even though we are only meeting virtually, is that every Sunday I am able to see your many faces. We can sit and talk on Zoom in worship and in coffee hour. Nobody is excluded. There is no capacity limit, and we are posing no risk to each other’s health.
Part of the Emmanuel vision is that we nurture each other through prayer and fellowship. In these times, we nurture each other by fasting from our in-person gatherings. To that end, the Emmanuel leadership is planning to maintain our community in a virtual fashion until we can safely and inclusively gather together in person. I am as eager as any of you to gather together in our sanctuary, and I know that day is coming. For now, the work we do of staying home is part of our spiritual practice of loving one another. It is how we care for our neighbors and our community and do our part to stop the spread of Covid-19. I grieve with you for all we are unable to do, and yet if it means protecting my neighbors and my community I believe it is a grief worth bearing.
My hope is that when we do gather together again in person - and we certainly will - it will be in a way that the whole of our community is welcome. The staff is hard at work dreaming up creative and new ways to be together virtually. The building is closed, but the church is not. Our worship, our fellowship, our formation, and our faith are all alive and vibrant, albeit in ways that we had never imagined before.
The Emmanuel leadership will continue to evaluate this ever-evolving situation to assess how we gather. For now, we will continue to make our virtual worship as vibrant and inclusive as possible. I look forward to seeing you online on Sunday morning.
Rev. Elizabeth Riley