We’re back this week! The CDC has lifted much of the protocols for in-person worship — we can return to what we know and love. I’m excited, nervous, and a little scared. Just when we figured out how to operate under the terms of a pandemic, the rules changed, and we’re needing to adjust our sails!
This Sunday, June 20, masks will not be required in worship for people who have been vaccinated. Singing out loud will be allowed, too. Social distancing is reduced. You can sit where you want to sit.
All along I have said that we will not follow what a president or governor says but rather we will listen to the CDC. Well, the CDC has spoken. It is written down. And vaccinated people can return to normal practices within worship.
So, come as you are this Sunday — even if you’re like me and are excited, nervous, and a little scared. If you feel that you need to continue to wear a mask, you’ll get no negative judgment. Do what makes you feel safe. The Palms is a no-judgment zone! Sing out loud! Be the church!
P.S. Last week I mentioned my top ten plus three list. A couple of you reminded me of other big, big things that deserve mention:
- Our 50th anniversary celebration
- Creation of our Labyrinths
- Our chiller (a/c unit for the sanctuary, narthex, and King Hall)
So now, I guess, it’s a top ten plus six! It is wonderful to be a part of a congregation where there is so much going on that it’s hard to recall everything!
This past week marked my 5th anniversary as Senior Pastor at The Palms. Thank you for all of the patience you have shown me – thank you for the grace you have demonstrated. Thank you for the love and support you have shown my family.
As I have reflected over this anniversary…
I am amazed at the ministry God has done with us – it’s not you or me – but God’s Spirit working through us.
Here’s a top ten (plus three) list (in no particular order) of highlights for me.
- The ordinations of Pastor Jim, Debby, and Shea!
- Bringing on Pastor Jim full-time!
- Solar Panels / Creation Justice Team!
- New organ!
- New doors and security system!
- Feet-N-More Shower Trailer!
- Flying the Rainbow Flag!
- Redoing the sign!
- I-Help Program!
- Becoming a WISE Congregation!
- Doubling our endowments!
- Social Justice Ministry!
- Leading the SWC in new members!
And so many, many more!
That’s being the church! Good job, Church of the Palms. I am so very proud of you. Now, what will the next five years bring?
One of my favorite hymns is “I Am the Light of the World!” which is based on a Howard Thurman piece entitled, “When the Song of the Angels is Stilled.”
Here is my Summer 2021 version.
When the protocols have been stopped,
When the masks are taken down,
When family and friends can gather again,
The work of The Palms resounds:
To welcome the refugee,
To heal a broken planet,
To feed the hungry,
To build bridges of trust, not walls of fear,
To share our gifts,
To seek justice and peace for all people,
To bring Christ’s light to the world.
I drive a hybrid vehicle. I have driven one since 2007. Hybrid vehicles combine at least one electric motor with a gasoline engine to move the car, and its system recaptures energy via regenerative braking. Sometimes the electric motor does all the work, sometimes it’s the gas engine, and sometimes they work together. The result is less gasoline burned and, therefore, better fuel economy. I confess that it took me a while to learn how to drive a hybrid vehicle to maximize the fuel economy. I had to relearn how to start the car — no turning the key — just push a button. But, with experience came knowledge, with knowledge came results.
The Church of the Palms is entering a hybrid time. We are going to be doing some in-person meetings, some online groups, and some gatherings that are both at the same time. We hope to get better spiritual fuel economy using the hybrid model. My guess is that it will take a while to learn how to drive a hybrid church to maximize spiritual economy. But with experience will come knowledge, with knowledge will hopefully come results.
What we are trying to do is adjust our sails and take advantage of every spiritual blessing we can as we go onward. When we can safely include people for in-person worship, classes, and fellowship, we will push that pedal. When our online bridges program can give us the mileage to reach people far away, we need to push those buttons. Hopefully, working together to create a hybrid church, learning what works and what does not, we will grow the church spiritually. Thanks for journeying onward with me.
“How long, O Lord?” the Psalmist cried.
We, too, ask that question: How long, O Lord? How long until this? How long until that?
How long do we have to wear masks? Take temps? Register attendance? Use hand sanitizer? How long are we going to have a truncated worship service? What about singing? What about entering and exiting the building? What about handshakes, hugs, and passing the peace? Plus, I miss the cookies after worship!
It is out of abundance of caution that we act – protecting the most vulnerable within our group. It is out of abundance of caution that we are requesting that you continue to wear masks for worship; and we recommend using the hand sanitizing stations. We will no longer take temps or ask you to register your attendance.
We’ll continue to have a shortened worship service (don’t get used to it!) but will begin to expand our liturgy to include a liturgist, responsive readings, and such. Please refrain from singing at this point. We hope to be able to make a joyful noise soon, but not yet!
More changes and constants: We’re changing our exit point: we’ll enter exactly as we have but will exit through the back of the sanctuary – no more side exits (or as Snagglepuss used to say, “exit, stage left”). The constant is no formal fellowship time (cookie time) just yet. Handshakes, hugs, and passing the peace are on hold as well.
Thank you for your patience and abundant caution. We will update you as things change.
How many kids have asked that on long car rides? “Are we there yet?” I remember asking such a question as a child – we were on day one, about 100 miles from home, on a 5,000-mile cross-country trip and I asked, “When are we going to get there?” adding, “My bottom is tired of sitting.”
Civility prevents me from quoting the exact words my parents chose as a response to me that day. Suffice it to say that I didn’t ask that question again nor did I comment on the soreness of my bottom.
As a church coming out of quarantine, are we there yet? And when are we going to get there?
Short answer: we’re not there yet. And I don’t know exactly when we will get there. However, I do know that we have a group of dedicated folks who are using abundant caution and who are looking into those questions trying to answer them. We aren’t there yet, but we are getting close.
I love being back in the sanctuary with you, but I ask for patience as we try our best to navigate these times of sail-adjusting in the middle of a gale! In the coming weeks, as we are able to get closer to our goal of normalcy, I ask for grace as we learn and adapt and learn and grow and learn and listen and make changes.
I look forward to the Sunday when we can sing hymns, have responsive readings, and pass the peace. We’re not there yet. But we’re getting close while making sure everyone is safe. When will that Sunday come? I will sing it from the mountain tops and let you know. Until then, let’s enjoy this ride.
This coming Sunday is special. We have many lay leaders participating in the design and leadership of worship – the Creation Justice Team will be leading our Love of Creation Sunday as we begin the week of Earth Day celebrations.
Rev. Doug Bland, a long-time friend, will be our speaker. Doug is a gifted storyteller who is known for blending humor and insight into his sermons. It’s a “Can’t Miss” kind of Sunday.
Speaking of love of creation, now is the time to get your gift in for our solar panel / greening the church capital campaign. We will complete this campaign this April. The overage will go to other green projects at The Palms to reduce our carbon footprint.
I confess to having many sleepless nights leading up to Easter morn. The “what if” detail questions kept bubbling to the surface. What if this…what if that? Then there were the “will the” questions. Will the set up go smoothly? Will people actually show up willing to sit outside in the sun? Will the visitors find a welcome place to gather? The answers were clearly: Yes! Yes! And Yes! It was a wonderful day to be on the church grounds.
Because we are a resurrection people, quarantine didn’t break our church, but it taught us (again) to lose our fear and go up on the roof and out into the streets with our ministry and mission.
It taught us…Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!
I have literally been waiting for this moment for a year! It broke my heart to have to go from in-person worship to video; I know you join me in missing our in-person gatherings. I truly believe that I will never, ever, take for granted the blessing of being able to gather in our sanctuary! The good news is that we are almost at the end of our extended stay of being locked in the tomb. The stone is rolling away this Easter!
I am so excited to be able to gather for in-person worship on Easter Sunday. We will gather for worship outside on the patio by the fountain for a 9 a.m. worship, which will be less than 45 minutes in length.
We’ll gather, but we still do need to observe some protocols. Mask up. Please refrain from hugging, etc. The church is also a “No Judgment Zone.” That is, we respect the decisions that individuals will be making for their own safety. Some may, for example, need to stay home for a while longer. We want people to make up their own minds on what best fits their health and safety needs – and then feel good about that decision. Whenever you make it back, I hope you can rejoice with me!
Check out these other Holy Week Worship Opportunities:
- Maundy Thursday, April 1 on our Bridges platform on the webpage. Our sister congregations of Desert Garden UCC, Sun City Christian DOC, and United Church UCC will be joining us. It will be available starting at noon and be up for your watching anytime on Thursday.
- Good Friday, April 2 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Labyrinth Walk. Outside at our labyrinths. Easter Sunday, April 4 at 9 a.m. In-person worship at the fountain patio. Call by April 1st for reservations at 623.748.3574. or click on this link.
- What will the Sundays after Easter look like? I don’t know exactly. But I am glad to be journeying with you. See you soon!
It is an exciting time for us at The Palms. Before we rush head on into the joyous celebrations of Easter, let’s pause and reflect why we have Easter in the first place.
At the Last Supper, Jesus gave us a mandate to love one another. Then washed the feet of the disciples. Soon afterwards, he was broken. We will journey with him in our Maundy Thursday service in which we are honored to host Desert Garden UCC, Sun City Christian, DOC, and United Church UCC and their leadership. Today, April 1, at noon, a worship service will be available on our website. It will move from the Last Supper to Jesus’ praying, arrest, trial, and crucifixion. I hope you make a special effort to watch it.
Then, on Good Friday, April 2, from 1 to 3 p.m. we invite people to come and walk our labyrinths, meditate, reflect, and pray.
Easter Sunday will happen outside around the fountain patio at 9:00 a.m. Visit the website to register or call the church office and let us know that you are coming. While here, please wear your mask and observe social distancing.
It is an exciting time for us at The Palms.