What ‘opening’ means to us

Church ‘unfolding, spreading’ as we emerge from shutdown.|

Definitions of ‘opening’:

1) Having no enclosing or confining barrier: accessible on all or nearly all, sides

2) To unfold or be unfolded; to spread out

The political and cultural push these days reflects the first definition as above. “Opening” is about eating in restaurants, sending children back to school, having parties, and political rallies, going to concerts, and movie theaters. These are the activities that filled our lives before the arrival of COVID and are, of course, missed by many. How to reopen in these ways is also the center of the contentious division in our country, the polarization of opening and safety. But do we need to accept these polarizations?

If we imagine unfolding or spreading out to be at the heart of “opening,” then other possibilities emerge. Our church, First Congregational Church Sonoma, United Church of Christ has always embraced spreading out. Our mission has included welcoming people not historically welcome in churches. It is a spiritual and social home for many, and with a commitment to the environment, peace and social justice. We welcome tolerance for and discussion of differences in various preferences regarding worship and belief.

Since California adopted the limitations of “sheltering in place” our congregation has first needed to alter our practices to counter the frightening contagion of the coronavirus. We moved to on-line services, prayers, meetings, social gatherings, music and worship. Creative contributions of church members and the leadership of Rev. Dr. Curran Reichert have helped us stay connected and enlivened. And we continued our commitment to the community as individual members helped with the homeless and to feed those who were hungry or in need of a supplement to support their families, often because families had lost their jobs. In this respect, we never “closed.”

Recently, however, the national drive has been toward opening in the first definition of the word -- unconfining, sometimes cautiously, sometimes not. As too often happens these days, differences between those who wish for caution in “opening” and those who demand the freedom of regaining their “rights” has been contentious and sometimes violent. Yet quietly, and without fanfare, individuals and groups have been “unfolding” and “spreading out.” We know families who have found ways to spend time together with creative variations on the rules of sheltering. Parishioners have reached out to others to provide support and to counteract their own isolation. All this done quietly, without much fanfare.

And the larger body of the church has safely and legally opened itself to the community. For the month of May we provided Sonoma Overnight Support, or SOS, the nonprofit which serves the homeless, the use of our commercial kitchen. Recently, our Council agreed to make an extra room available to Old Adobe School, a longtime companion on our church property. The day care programs were allowed to open, but new distancing and safety practices needed to be in place. The school had previously served 24 children. With new distancing requirements its capacity dropped to 16. Knowing that the availability of day care is a critical need of parents in the community, we worked to make one of our rooms available for six more children. We maintained the safety of our community and contributed to creating a place for the care of children and support to their families.

To the minds of many in our church, the heart of “opening” is the unfolding, the spreading out of compassion, care for others. Rather than assume these are irreconcilable polarities, we know that the heart can guide us toward creative, undramatic pairings of openness and acceptance of limitation without participating in the contentiousness of the national dialogue.

Norma Campbell Barnett is a member of the Social Action Committee FCCS, UCC.

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