Rev. Staci Imes
We Choose Welcome
Several years ago, WPPC participated in the PC(USA)’s We Choose Welcome campaign as a way for the faith community to speak up and say that we did not agree with the Muslim Ban and other exclusionary immigration policies coming out of the federal government. As time went on, We Choose Welcome continued to represent a communal stance on immigration, but it also came to represent a broader and deeper faith commitment at WPPC. When we declare at communion every week that ALL are welcome, we really mean it.
Choosing welcome is not always easy. As we prepare for a return to our sanctuary and hybrid worship, the Session and the Spiritual Formation Committee have been asking themselves what it means to choose welcome in this context. We know there is a longing to get back to “normal” as quickly as possible... and we know that, when we do return, things will not be as they were. Part of that is due to ongoing COVID precautions, particularly for large groups meeting indoors, and part of that is because we believe it is essential that we prioritize remaining as inclusive as possible. That commitment is why we aren’t back in person for worship already. The Zoom format for worship isn’t perfect, but it does have certain advantages. It has allowed home-bound members to join us on a weekly basis. People who live in other parts of the country join us — some on occasion, some almost weekly. Community members who are traveling or who had scheduling conflicts have been able to watch the automatically- archived videos via our Facebook page. We know of at least three new worshippers who lives out of state who watches the Facebook Live feed almost every week. We are eager to return to the gifts of in-person ministry...and we don’t want to lose the opportunity to continue to choose welcome by remaining accessible to those who aren’t able to join us and/or who aren’t comfortable joining us in- person.
When I started at WPPC, it was clear to me that this was a congregation that would probably never put a screen in the sanctuary. That was okay with me — I didn’t love the idea either. And then the pandemic happened. While there are some things I still don’t love about the idea of having technology far more visible in our worship space, we’re doing it not because more technology is always better (it’s not) but because of our faith commitment to welcome and inclusion. We are committed to not only remaining accessible to those who can’t come in person but also creating an environment in which the online worshippers and in-person worshippers are part of the same congregation. When a member who is homebound (or traveling, or in the hospital, or living out of state, etc.) logs in for worship, you will be able to see them and interact with them and they will be able to see you. We will also use screens more than we did in the past for sharing liturgy and music because that will allow online worshippers to participate just as you do now during Zoom worship (but, fear not, we will also make accommodations for those who are in the sanctuary who might have trouble reading words on a screen). We also won’t use screens for everything. We plan to mount them in a way that allows us to fold them back to the sides so they should be barely noticeable when not in use.
There will be other changes, and then there will lots of things that feel familiar and homey, and it’s going to take a while to figure out what the “new normal” is. Just as being with friends and family again has taken some getting used to, this will also take time. As I wrote in last month’s newsletter, I hope we can all lean into those spiritual practices of transition—empathy and patience—and I pray we can all remember that, although these changes and times of transition will be uncomfortable and challenging for a while, we genuinely believe we are called to choose welcome. And so we do.
May it be so. Amen. ~Pastor Staci