by Rev. Dr. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister

Last week I was sitting in a meeting with various leaders in Barrington discussing this year’s upcoming Barrington Day of Caring. (It’s going to be held on October 11th, by the way.) Like everyone else these days, we were discussing how to manage the Day of Caring during the pandemic, especially taking into account the rise of the Delta variant. The first question was, “Are we going to hold it?” quickly followed by “How are we going to hold it in a way that is safe for everyone?” As is common these days, the conversation bogged down with all the unknowns. Will there be vaccines for our kids who participate? Will things start to shut down again if the delta variant continues to surge? Can we make plans at this time without knowing what things will be like 10 weeks from now? We all felt we wanted to move forward with the day and that we needed to begin planning now, we just weren’t sure how to proceed. That’s when Patrick spoke up.

For those who don’t know, Patrick Knotley is the pastor at Barrington Presbyterian Church and serves with me on the Barrington Day of Caring board. He said, “We have this saying in the Presbyterian Church, ‘If the way be clear.’ Generally it means that we will do our best to make our plans assuming that we are doing God’s will. And if the way ends up working out the way we planned, great. If not, clearly we were on the wrong path and we make adjustments as necessary.”

I was struck by this saying and mindset. It is so easy to get bogged down and caught up in all the “what ifs” and “unknowns” that we can keep waiting and never do anything. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times over the last 18 months that I’ve said, “Well, when we meet again in two weeks [or next month] we’ll know a lot more than we do now.” Invariably, that hasn’t been the case. With each new understanding we’ve gained, new questions and unknowns have arisen. I also can’t tell you the number of times I have thought to myself, “Well, by [insert date here] things will look a lot more normal than they do now.” This just hasn’t been the case! It feels like the goalposts are always moving.

I share all this because it is fall planning time. Late July and August is when we, as the staff, begin to make a lot of concrete plans for the coming year. Our official start date, Open Doors Sunday, is only five weeks away! Will we be singing still? Will we need to wear masks? Will our children be vaccinated? Will we have a choir? How many people will choose to attend worship in person vs. virtually? Will we have church school? A nursery? Will parents want to leave their children? Will the education building be open? What cleaning protocols will need to be in place in each of our buildings? Will committees want to meet in person and can we host them in the education building in safe way? What will the added expenses of all the protocols be?

The questions go on and on.

This is why Patrick’s statement touched me. We don’t know all the questions or have all the answers. We can only do the best we can do and see “if the way be clear.” Later today the Moving Forward Team is meeting for the first time since early summer. I have no idea what recommendations they will make regarding our fall planning. Once they make their recommendations, I have no idea what the Church Council will decide on how we ought to proceed. But we will do our best. We will set up guidelines and recommendations that are as consistent with the CDC and Rhode Island Department of Health as we can at this time and then see how things pan out. Everything we do and every decision we have made over the past 18 months has been like playing with a moving target. We make our best decisions and then hope that they are consistent with God’s will and the realities that arise.

So what does all this mean? Make plans. Set goals. Begin to lay foundations for what your ministry will look like in the coming year. The church staff and other lay leaders will also be doing the same. But hold onto them loosely being prepared to adjust and shift as God’s word, the pandemic, and world around us becomes more clear. In the end, it will all work out. Blessings to you and may God bless our ministry together.