In May, Governor Charlie Baker announced his plan for reopening Massachusetts. Among the first places permitted to reopen are places of worship. There are stringent guidelines for this reopening—no more than 40% of maximum occupancy, no child care, no coffee hour, no sitting fewer than six feet apart in the pews, and everyone masked. Some religious communities may take their first steps toward regathering for worship in the coming days and weeks.
As much as we long to return with you to our beautiful sanctuary, we do not feel the time has come to reopen the Memorial Church. Opening at this point would still put too many people at risk: from congregants to ministers and musicians to the custodial staff who clean after each service. Although coronavirus infections and deaths seem to be decreasing in Massachusetts, the virus is still too widespread to make gathering in enclosed spaces safe. Our first concern is for the health and safety of all who walk through our doors. We continue to follow the scientific developments and to look for an appropriate time to open, but that time has not yet come.
We know what a disappointment this is; on the staff, we feel it keenly. It is one of the cruelties of this virus that many of our cherished practices — our congregational and choral singing, our prayer in unison, our sharing of the Lord’s Supper, our greeting one another with a sign of peace — are ways that the virus can spread. When we do begin reopening, our gatherings are likely to look different from what we remember from our pre-pandemic days.
There are many dimensions of our community life, though, that can still be practiced during this pandemic. We can still pray with and for one another and lift the needs of our world to God. We can study together on Zoom and care for each other through phone calls, emails, cards and letters. We can worship together (thank you, WHRB!) and sing our favorite hymns together, even if we can’t hear everyone’s voices. We can continue to worship God with our offering, which goes to support the work of grassroots organizations that meet the needs of communities most vulnerable to Covid-19. We can resist hatred and xenophobia and honor the humanity and dignity of all in how we treat and speak of others. And we can love our neighbor as ourselves by staying home on Sunday mornings.
This Sunday, May 24, will be the last Sunday service of the spring semester. During the three Sundays following, we will broadcast music and sermons from our archive. On May 31, we will share an hour of sacred music; on June 7, a sermon by the Rev. Peter J. Gomes; and on June 14, a sermon by Professor Jonathan L. Walton. Following each of those services, I will host a gathering on Zoom from 12:15-1 pm for you to ask any questions you have — about worship and programs, about the Pusey Minister search, about the life of faith in these difficult days —and for us to think together about how we will stay on pilgrimage together through this challenging time. If you would like to join one of these gatherings, please send an email to Elizabeth Montgomery at email@example.com and let her know which day you would like to join — May 31, June 7, or June 14.
On June 21, our regular services will begin again with the start of the Summer Term, followed by a Zoom coffee hour. Our staff will spend the summer planning for a vibrant and welcoming program in the fall, no matter the circumstances. We are grateful to WHRB for broadcasting our services without interruption, every Sunday morning at 11 am, and we look forward to being with you in all the ways we can in this moment.
God bless you all.
With love and gratitude,
Interim Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church and the Susan Shallcross Swartz Professor of the Practice of Christian Studies in the Harvard Divinity School