Yes, we’re back in the nave, after almost exactly one calendar year.
In late June 2019, we had one final Sunday in the nave, “Folding Chairs Sunday,” which bookended nicely with the very first Sunday in the new nave in January 1950, also before the new pews had arrived.
This past winter and spring, the nave renovations were on schedule for a triumphant return on Palm Sunday.
But then the season of Covidtide hit, and everything changed.
Indeed, we have had a bit of a jumbled return to the nave. Some history:
In mid-March 2020, when we began socially distancing and everyone went to livestream worship, the nave, with its already-planned permanently installed livestreaming camera system, was not finished.
Our main chapel, Quilling Memorial Chapel, is a transept of the nave and was, therefore, inaccessible as well. Our only functioning liturgical space was the new Children’s Chapel in the Children’s Ministry Suite.
We quickly set up iPads and iPhones on tripods and began holding Sunday services there, where we held all Sunday liturgies until June 7, the date that we returned to the nave.
Speaking of iPads, all the new state-of-the-art systems in the nave are controlled by laptop computers (cameras) and iPads (audio). The electronic brains for everything are in a locked closet in the narthex.
And the electronic learning curves are steep, particularly for Episcopalians, bless our hearts.
Dr. Koziel and I now have a video monitor and an audio iPad on the organ console, and we presently know how to do only one particular thing on each device. The learning curve is real – exciting but real.
Our parishioners have been wonderfully patient but were understandably eager to see the new interior of the nave. When a Palm Sunday triumphant re-entry became impossible, the schedules for the final projects (nave, parish hall, parking lots, landscaping, signage) were revised and stepped-up. In many ways, Covidtide bought us a few weeks during which the final work could happen faster.
But, again, just like 1950, we found ourselves waiting on the pews.
(Why is it always the pews?)
The week preceding June 7 arrived, and the question then became, “With Covidtide and required physical distancing, how to we invite the parishioners in to see the finished nave?”
Do we have a liturgy every hour on the hour all day to get everyone in, donned in masks and grouped into 48 (our nave magic number) socially distanced family units?
Do we schedule some combination of socially distanced and livestreamed services?
Do we spread the invitations out over a couple of Sundays and, again, come up with a combination of in-person and livestreamed offerings?
A very wise Episcopal priest once said to me that Episcopalians have an innate desire to “tweak and revise,” which I have found to be very true. Add myself to this list.
Perhaps we have this desire because our liturgies, thanks to the richness of the Book of Common Prayer, are rooted and grounded in centuries of unchanged tradition. Because we love our worship traditions, we want to always offer our best, ever improving and making things better.
So, as human beings are irresistibly wont to do, we tweak and revise.
Wisely and in a moment of parish staff clarity, we decided to not meddle with what is working well, that is, our Sunday livestreamed services at 8:00 and 10:30 AM and 5:30 PM.
Moving these liturgies from the Children’s Chapel into the nave was fairly easy, only requiring one big liturgical rehearsal ably guided by the professionals from Memphis Audio.
For two successive Sunday afternoons, we designed afternoon Pilgrimages, brief liturgies of rededication adapted from the Dedication and Consecration of a Church in the Book of Common Prayer and consisting basically of opening sentences, scripture, homily, prayers of rededication, a blessing and dismissal, and two organ voluntaries.
Each service lasted about twenty minutes, leaving a full hour buffer for our sexton staff to clean and sanitize to keep everyone safe. Parishioners signed up to attend the service of their choice. There was even enough time for people to depart slowly and look around a bit, all physically distanced and wearing masks, of course.
On the Saturday prior, a professional video reveal of the nave was uploaded to our parish platforms. An unexpected blessing from Covidtide is that we now have this beautiful video, which may now be used for all-time.
For the foreseeable future, Sundays will consist of a variety of physically distanced in-person services and livestreamed services, requiring all of us to think and plan differently and creatively.
But, we’re back!
View the grand reveal nave video by clicking here.
Photo Credits: David Perry Ouzts.