It came to me one morning about a month ago as I was making my way through the newspapers. No one was using the word “pandemic” yet, but story after story was making it clear what a cataclysm the COVID-19 coronavirus would be for us all. Then, suddenly it popped in my head: what an insane time this would be for this congregation to change lead ministers!

Yes, UUCA had an Interim Search Committee diligently planning for the change, and I was well into planning for retirement. But, oh my gosh, every sign was that about the time I was slated to leave was also when health experts were predicting the infection would be peaking. In the midst of all this trauma, I couldn’t imagine walking away from this congregation.

So, when Debbie got up, I told her I thought I needed to stay. I told her that I wanted to offer to delay my retirement. She nodded and said it was a good idea. The next day I had a Zoom conference scheduled with Board President Ryan Williams. He told me that he had a few things to run by me, and I said I had something to run by him, too, but I thought I should go first, since it would probably affect the subjects he wanted to talk about.

I was right. Ryan was a little stunned at first – after all he was hard at work on the interim process – but he quickly agreed and said he was grateful for the offer. Over the next day or so he polled the board and the consensus was quick: yes, please stay!

It is heartening and humbling to receive notes of thanks from many of you. It will be a challenging year for us all, but I can’t think any others who I’d like to have as company on the ride.

Now that I know that I’ll be sticking around, I’ve begun thinking about how we’re going to negotiate the year ahead. We don’t know exactly how it’s going to be, but it’s definitely going to be different.

For likely the next several months what had been our weekly gathering of some 300 of us for worship will continue as a prerecorded link that you receive on Sunday mornings to watch when you choose. Religious education classes, the Wednesday Thing, committee & staff meetings, covenant groups – all the various ways that we gather outside of Sunday will devolve into Zoom calls or some other meeting app.

Meanwhile, as we stay in with groceries and other needs delivered to our homes, we will need to be more attentive to each other than ever. People are finding all sorts of creative ways to stay in touch – Debbie and I are using Zoom calls to our daughter in Wisconsin to play Scrabble. But the old-fashioned ways work, too. Thank you to those of you who have responded to our invitation to join a group to make calls to members of our conversation.

But don’t wait for our invitation. I’m finding it rewarding to call around in the congregation just to check in. It’s a great way of building relationships. Also, please keep me, Claudia or pastoral visitors apprised of people you know who are having a hard time or may be in need of support in some way. And, as you hunker down, look for ways that you can reach out to the larger community providing money or support. There are many people who are struggling to get by.

As we negotiate all these changes, it’s occurred to me that it would be useful for us to use this time to reflect on some larger questions. I’ve told Ryan that I’d like to invite the Board into a conversation on this topic, but I welcome you into the conversation, too:

What is needed of us, what is called from us as a congregation at this time? What do you need, what does your family need, what does this community, heck, what does the world need of us now?

And, once you’re done binge-watching everything you’ve been saving in your online queue, give some thought to what you think this congregation will need to be when we get to the other side of this crisis. Once we can gather and hug and march and dream together, what is your vision of us then?

Give it some thought and send me a line here. I’d love to know what you’re thinking.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister