The After: Making Plans for Post-Pandemic Church​

Some of you know that my partner and I had exactly four hours notice before we went to pick up our daughter from the hospital. With my son, we had three whole days!

I always think about this when, a few weeks or months before their due date, expectant parents tell me how they are not sure they are “ready.” What’s funny is I believe them. Sometimes having too much notice about a big thing makes it harder.

I start with this because, with the vaccine roll-out, it’s time to start planning for what church will look like post-pandemic.

While we had only a few days to move into virtual church, we have months to figure out what “going back” will look like, and so (like with parenthood!), I think that makes it much harder.

We become parents by parenting, and we’ll become the church we’ll be post-pandemic by being the church after the pandemic.

Just as we have learned how to do church in the pandemic by simply being the church. And, of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be making plans! Just like my partner and I probably would’ve picked a better car seat with slightly more time for research and shopping, this advance notice gives us all a chance to consider our options and talk with other congregations, communities, and each other about how we want to gather and with what practices in “the after.”

We anticipate that the families from Family Housing Network / Faith Family Hospitality will be with us through May, after which they will return to rotating across churches as they did pre-pandemic. This will allow us to deep clean and do any needed maintenance in June. Then we believe some degree of indoor gathering may be possible in July.

Between now and then, we will be convening various conversations and task forces to assess the form, content, and timing of our post-pandemic church life together.

The only thing we can say for sure is that there will be robust online and in-person offerings, both because we value accessibility and because there’s a lot about being online we don’t want to stop! Depending on infection rates and vaccine availability, we can imagine some smallish in-person gatherings by early summer and larger gatherings by late summer.

We’ll keep offering a good portion of what we’ve been creating for Sundays, including lay member testimonials, high-quality visual components, and the opportunity for personal conversation and connections in breakouts.

We’ll also add back in things like singing together, choir, and hearing each other laugh (and yawn, and cry, and more). We’ll add hugs and handshakes (when wanted!). I can’t wait.

To offer both of these things is not easy and will take more resources in staffing, software, and volunteers. Some consultants talk about hybrid models requiring 40% more staff and volunteer hours than doing only in-person or virtual. We do not anticipate this heavy a lift, but it is important to remember that it’s not merely the same work across multiple platforms.

With all this in mind, I’m currently anticipating a “re-launch” of in-person services in September or October. While we will have a lot of conversations on specifics, a few priorities for me include:

(1) Using online services to enable us to have two in-person services (rather than returning to three).

(2) Centering the needs and experiences of those who haven’t had access to online services, especially families with younger kids.

(3) Remaining as agile, curious, collaborative, and creative throughout the process as possible so that as new information continues to unfold, we can adapt, grow, and continue to be the church our mission requires us to be.

(4) Ensuring that no one way of accessing the church’s ministry is “primary,” aka, no second-class church members! We need to create meaning-filled and quality experiences wherever they are offered. This means we need to think about sustainability, systems, and support at every step of the way.

The other thing I’ve noticed about long lead times for more traditional routes-to-parenthood is that there’s more time to worry. But our short notice process taught me that sometimes you’ve just got to take that leap of faith! So, let’s keep our guiding values at the center and trust each other. Let’s keep being the Foothills Unitarian Church through it all. And….leap!

With love and in partnership,

Rev. Gretchen