by Rev. Dr. Linda Hartley, Assoc. Minister

I was reminded this past week of the Buddhist saying that the only constant is change. How true that has been this past year and a half. So much changed. And we have talked about that a lot, perhaps to the point that we just don’t want to think about it anymore. But now we come to a new phase as we begin to emerge from all those changes, and we find that things are changing once again. I don’t know about you, but I find myself in a rather grey area these days as I go about my errands – do I wear a mask in this business, or not? Some have signs requesting me to wear a mask, and some leave that decision up to me. I follow the signs, although I must admit that I tend to err on the side of caution and wear my mask in most places. Perhaps I’ve just become accustomed to what had initially felt so strange.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent my week of vacation on the Cape. I was hoping it would be cooler there, although I had booked my reservation before I knew the weather report. Unfortunately, it was as hot on the Cape as it was here in Barrington, so I didn’t escape the heat wave. But it was nice to get away; something I hadn’t done since the pandemic began. Like many of you, I had been spending my vacation time at home – doing the “staycation” thing. So, I was looking forward to getting away, seeing something new, and revisiting familiar haunts.

I found that many of the familiar places are still there. The ocean doesn’t change, although the beaches have changed over the fifteen years that I’ve been going to the Cape. Most years, I’ve been able to walk the beach at Nauset (at the “elbow” of the Cape) and collect small flat stones worn smooth by the waves. But one year, after a particularly strong winter Nor’easter, the beach was noticeably narrower and covered in clumps of dark seaweed and large, jagged rocks. No matter how I’ve found the beach, though, I always feel a sense of peace looking out over the expanse of the ocean. It makes me realize just how large and amazing creation is, and it makes me feel grateful to be a part of it all.

This year, the beach was filled with soft sand, and I did find a few smooth stones. However, when I sought out familiar places in town, I found that not everything has remained as I remember it. A few shops in Orleans that I had enjoyed browsing either have closed or morphed into something else. One shop is now half the size it used to be. Another has been converted into an insurance company. Yet another has become a pub. None of these changes dramatically affected my ability to enjoy Orleans again, but they did make me a little sad because I was anticipating the Orleans I remembered from previous trips. I was looking forward to finding it exactly the way I had left it – perhaps looking for that constant in the sea of change we’ve all been through this past year.

Of course, we don’t have to travel away from home to find that things have changed in recent years. Just this past year, my favorite consignment shop in Bristol closed and some restaurants have either shortened their hours or closed up. This probably won’t change how we give directions in Rhode Island, though. How many of us have given newcomers directions in some iteration of “turn left where the Benny’s used to be.” When I first moved here in 1997, I remember being so confused when someone told me to turn where the ALMACS used to be. I didn’t even know what an ALMACS was. And now I find myself doing much the same thing, and laughing at myself as I do it!

So, now we’re coming to a new change here at the Barrington church. We’re returning to in-person worship in our sanctuary after a year and a half of virtual worship services. This is a change we’ve been looking forward to ever since mid-March 2020 when we thought we’d only be closed for about a month. We’ve missed seeing each other. We’ve missed sharing our joys and concerns in person. We’ve missed the sense of being home in a space that’s so familiar and welcoming to us. And now, we will be back! This is a good change. It’s something we’ve been looking forward to for quite a while. But you also will notice some changes, especially in the beginning.

As you may have read in the email that was sent out last week, we will be observing some physical distancing by sitting in every other pew and staggering the pews in use across the aisles. Hymnals and Bibles won’t be in the pew racks, and we won’t be singing as a congregation just yet, although we will have music and hymns that our choir has recorded over the past year. We won’t have coffee hour just yet either, but you are certainly invited to catch up with friends after worship outside in the parking lot. These changes aren’t the way we’ve always done things, but they are necessary for the time being to ensure that we can welcome everyone back in the safest way possible.

There will also be some new additions to the sanctuary as we prepare to offer multi-platform worship services. These new additions will allow us to continue to provide online worship for individuals who may not be able to attend in-person worship. We foresee that these new additions will serve us well now and in the future. So, you will notice some changes in the sanctuary – some are temporary, some are permanent. Some may feel comfortable to you, some may not. But above all, the reasons we gather together in our sanctuary haven’t changed. Over the 200+ years that our congregation has been worshipping in this sanctuary, we have always gathered together to worship our God, to support each other, and to share our lives in this community of faith. This remains our constant in a sea of change, and it will continue to chart our course into the future. We look forward to welcoming you back this Sunday as we enter a new chapter in the life of our church.