Dear Friends,

It was my hope that I would be able to go at least a full week before circumstances demanded that I write to you again like this. But fate has intervened. So it is with a heavy heart, but clear moral vision, that I write to say this. With the support of your Board, I have made the hard decision to cancel public worship and Sunday School in our building, for this Sunday and until the present public health crisis no longer warrants it.

Here at my desk I am pausing to breathe. I hope that you will breathe with me.

Please know that this was not a conclusion easily arrived at. It runs against some of the most fundamental impulses I have as a minister. Except for the most important one, which is that the purpose of my religion is to heal and not to harm. With that as my lodestar, there simply was no other choice to be made. Allow me briefly to explain why:

I do not want you to get sick. And, as much as I care about the health and well-being of every one of our members and friends (an enormous amount) our choices as a community also impact everyone else around us. Right now, every gathering is a potential opportunity for the spread of the virus – the fewer gatherings there are and the smaller those gatherings are, the less potential there is for community-spread. The fewer people that are sick at any given moment, the less the risk of exceeding our region’s capacity for providing medical care to those who truly need it. Social distancing – staying home, avoiding crowds, reconfiguring our lives to minimize physical contact and even proximity to others – will slow the progress of this virus through our community and our country.

This crisis is a product of chance, but our collective response to it is what will ultimately shape its magnitude. And when, in times of danger, there is a lack of leadership from above, we have a moral imperative to lead from below. It is our faith to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and right now the science is telling us that the spread of this illness is greater than our national capacity to test for it. We must do everything we can to slow the advance, if only to allow our public health system to catch up and gain a more accurate understanding of its scope.

All of that is the why, but you may still be reeling from the what. In taking the extraordinary step of canceling in-person gatherings at our church, we are following the practice of other recently effected communities in New York and Washington state and listening and following the advice of our Unitarian Universalist Association’s President, Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray. We are very much not alone in this; most if not all of the other faith communities in Beverly and our neighboring Unitarian Universalist congregations on the North Shore are making this same sacrificial decision along with us. There is power in acting together.

We are going to remain, resolutely, a church whose spirit is love and whose service is law; it is only our version of dwelling together in peace that will undertake a temporary shift. Events are unfolding quickly enough that I must ask your patience on some of the finer details, which I hope to share in the next week. I am asking everyone with a meeting or other event scheduled at the church in the coming weeks to cancel or postpone it; I will be reaching out about strategies for moving business online.

For this week, there will be a worship video distributed on Sunday morning; for future Sundays we hope to be able to offer more interactive opportunities to join together electronically. The online resources now being compiled and created for building and maintaining community – children’s at-home faith formation tools, adult spiritual growth programs, and just a lot of clever ideas for having fun across distance, together – are amazing. Watch for notices soon. And please, if you haven’t yet done so but wish to be connected directly and electronically to other members in the congregation, please join our “closed” Facebook group (message me on that platform – link below – and I can add you to the group).

At the same time, I know that the medium of the internet works imperfectly for all of us, and not at all for some of us. I’ll continue to reach out by phone and in a few cases by mail. I encourage all of you to do similarly: a church is a web of relationships, and as this crisis strains our social fabric, now more than ever it is good for us to attend to those relationships. This moment, frightful as it may be, is a dramatic illustration of one of our most cherished beliefs: that we are all connected. That my life is bound up with yours and yours with theirs, each to all. Because we cannot reach out to one another physically right now, finding ways to reach out by text or by voice become enormously important.

Please breathe with me, again.

My spiritual companions: I can offer you little in the way of certainty, at this time. But I do give you my faith: that we will do what must be done, to care for our own lives and the lives of our neighbors, strangers, and friends. I love you and I want you to be healthy and well. So far as you are able, stay home, take good care, and remain connected. We are moving into a time that none of us have seen the like of before. The blessing is in knowing that we are not facing it alone.

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson