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Moderators share insights for traveling through COVID

The last Wednesday of April, Vince Larkin, moderator of All Pilgrims Christian Church UCC/DOC in Seattle, received an email about a weekly meeting for congregation moderators that Courtney Stange-Tregear, PNC minister of church vitality, in March.

Vince Larkin values virtual PNC moderators’ meetings. Photo courtesy of Vince Larkin

Curious about how others were traveling through COVID with their congregations, he joined that Thursday evening and discovered “a group of committed leaders, filled with wisdom, seeking to navigate challenges and celebrate successes,” he said.

As time went on, he found new friends whose presence was a touchstone for his week.  Courtney’s goal as convener is to address moderators’ need for support and resource sharing. Wendy Blight is note taker.

Vince knew he had new friends when one reached out to him at the death of their father, seeking ideas on how to remember and celebrate his life given restrictions on gatherings. His career is in the funeral business and he has been manager since 2007 of Acacia Memorial Park and Funeral Home, where he has met the impact of COVID-19 as people seek ways to grieve, remember and honor family and friends who die.

He understood the difficulty for families losing loved ones in these times, but is glad the Governor set clear limits for gatherings, because some funerals have spread COVID-19.

“The moderators’ conversations range from how to transition from in-person worship to the church’s future,” he said.

Seeking advice on how to address needed staff changes, hold virtual congregational meetings and work through conflict via zoom, moderators share their concerns and hopes, provide and receive support, pray and grow in faith. They recognize there is much work to be done as their churches work to address systemic racism.

“One day, this time of physical separation will end.  When that happens there will be a pull towards what was before COVID,” Vince said, “but we have an opportunity to re-imagine and rediscover what calls us to be church outside of our buildings. When it is safe, I hope to break bread and be more fully known with these new siblings in Christ,” he said.

Vince began attending All Pilgrims in 2003. He was moderator 10 years ago and has served in that capacity again  for the past four years.

He grew up in the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) in Salt Lake, but when he came out as gay, he left the church.  After moving to Seattle in 1992, he met his husband in 1997.  They attended the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Seattle for six years, before church shopping.  They found All Pilgrims and liked it because it’s a mixed congregation—half gay and half straight.

“I’ve experienced God’s unconditional love. I realize God’s loves us and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Vince said.

The church drew about 70 to 80 for worship before COVID-19. It has a committed core of 50 to 60. It’s in the heart of Capital Hill where people move in and out for work and school.

“When it came time to physically distance and go online, we found our draw was beyond Seattle, Washington and the Northwest,” Vince said.

“The church’s future will not look like it was,” he said.  “Many who may have felt in the last 50 years they did not need what the church offers, may see church in different ways now, seeing need to connect to God’s unconditional love.”

All Pilgrims also affiliates both with the UCC and the Disciples of Christ, so they celebrate communion every week, the the MCC and LDS churches.

“Now we do worship virtually on Facebook live, Instagram and YouTube.  After four weeks, they began pre-recording services a day or two ahead,” he said. “With pre-recorded services, I can ‘visit’ other congregations to see what they are doing.

“Online worship needs to be visually engaging, so we use videos, other resources and speakers, along with our pastor, Greg Turk.  Music ministry is also changing from singing four verses of a hymn all at once to splitting a hymn into two or more sections.  With pre-recording, we can move through worship without a pause.

Instead of spending 10 minutes to pass the peace, as they did in person, they break into small groups, offered virtually on Zoom several times a week to reflect on the message.

Just as he shares his experiences, Vince learns from others how their churches are navigating being physically apart while knitting community together. 

“More brains are better than one,” he said of moderators who gather. “More than 12 have participated, but don’t come every week.  Those who come leave with something valuable and come back regularly. I have met people who otherwise would not be in my orbit, people from Ferndale to south of Spokane.

“COVID-19 changes how we do things and will affect future interactions, especially meeting virtually. We will think if a meeting has to be in person. While a few may have a 15-minute drive, others may drive one-and-a-half hours, making a meeting a four-hour commitment.  Zoom meetings take less time from other activities.

“I miss seeing people face to face, but we need to respect people’s time and not expect them to drive. It also opens us to include people not only in Seattle, but also in Tennessee or Hawaii.  That can lead us to reconsider how we structure congregational life coming from anywhere, to church and going out to be church and be God’s hands and feet wherever we are.”

For information, email or to be added to the moderators meeting.


Pacific Northwest Conference United Church News © Fall 2020


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