We are writing to share that after 73 Sundays of worship online and outdoors, United Church of Chapel Hill will be open for indoor worship on August 15. Thanks be to God!
We need to share with you some important details about our approach to worship, the community guidelines we are adopting, and what you can expect as we take this step together. Because the pandemic is still a presence among us and there are communities that will not be able to join us in person, we find it helpful to think about the image of a “dimmer switch” that slowly turns up the intensity of congregational activity. In other words, we’re moving forward slowly and cautiously by taking incremental steps toward our regular programming.
WHAT TO EXPECT
On August 15, those who are able to join us can expect our activity to be limited to La Mesa at 9:30 am in the Fellowship Hall and Festival Worship at 9:45 am in the Sanctuary. Communion will be served at both services as you exit the worship space and an outdoor coffee reception will follow. Childcare will be offered outdoors on the playground. Advanced registration is not required for worship, but families who anticipate needing childcare at these first indoor services should contact Director of Children's Ministry Anitra Grove so that we will be prepared with adequate staff coverage. As a further precaution, our services will not include congregational singing (no hymns, for now). Music will be provided by instrumentalists and small ensembles of vaccinated musicians.
After several weeks of assessment and evaluation, we may choose to “dial up” our activities further by adding Faith Formation programs. The earliest date that we are considering the addition of these programs - such as the Adult Forum, Sunday school, or choir rehearsals - is September 19.
As we return to in-person activities, it is important for us to maintain our digital presence because some families will be unable to join us indoors. However, online viewers will begin to notice some changes in content and format. Beginning August 15, our services will be offered on YouTube, where anyone will be able to find the videos on demand. The Facebook “premiere” at 9:30 am will be discontinued. The services featured on YouTube will include scripture readings, a sermon, and a piece of music. Our eventual goal is to livestream our worship services so that online viewers can participate in our worship services in real time. This will require updates to our recording equipment, sound system, and internet service. At its meeting on July 27, the Church Council commissioned a task force to evaluate our readiness to livestream our services. A report on the investments needed to show our services live on Sunday mornings is expected by the end of August.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, our approach has been guided by the collective wisdom of several faith communities in Chapel Hill. Pastor Cameron meets with clergy representing area congregations on most Monday mornings. There we receive a public health briefing from Dr. Wesley Wallace, a UNC Health physician and member of University Methodist Church, and discuss best practices for congregational life. Most of our churches are sponsoring worship indoors now, and all of us are watchful of changing public health conditions.
We know that families and communities have differing needs. We trust that families in our church will make the best decision for themselves about when and how to participate in worship. For our part, we’re going to do our best to provide options that meet the needs of everyone. So as we return to indoor services, we do so prayerfully. We remember the communities that aren’t yet vaccinated - children, people with weakened immune systems, those without access to the vaccine, and those not yet willing to seek it out. We’re especially mindful of the Delta variant, and because public health information is subject to change we are moving forward with humility and openness to revise and update our plans as conditions require.
More details about indoor worship, online access, and Covid-related concerns will be added to our website as we approach August 15.
When the time is right for you and your family, we hope to see you in church!
In faith, hope, and love,
Rev. Cameron Barr Mary McMillan
Senior Pastor Moderator