To paraphrase Charles Dickens, “It was the worst of times; it was the best of times.” The year 2020 will be remembered as an historically challenging year for all Americans, not just for those of us at Falcon Heights Church in Minnesota. A pandemic, civil unrest, an economic recession and political turmoil all converged to create a stressful and anxious time of uncertainty and loss. Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did.
But here’s the thing: such extreme challenges summon forth the creativity that is needed to find solutions and to thrive. Because of our involvement in the Crossroads Vitality Program and the Growing Young project in 2019, we were learning to become an agile church, a congregation that could quickly adapt to changing circumstances and still minister to God’s people.
We quickly learned how to Zoom for meetings and find our worship services on Facebook. We joined the 21st century world of online giving, adding more people as e-givers than before. We discovered that our parking lot could be used for more than cars. And we learned that our neighbors cared about us when some volunteered to mow our lawn in the spring.
Church goes virtual
On Friday, March 13, when our governor locked down the state to try to slow the spread of Covid-19, Rev. Rick, Noah Keitel and Linda Owen immediately pivoted and managed to get our first worship service livestreamed on Facebook in time for our regular service time at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, March 15.
Soon, the Worship Ministry Team – Margot Olsen, Patti Holmes and Marianne Dietzel – took over planning as we moved to prerecorded services on Facebook Premiere, and Office Manager Shannon Kaiser learned to edit the disparate pieces recorded on cell phones at home and on Rick’s laptop at church, adding beautiful images and music to the meaningful content.
And, anticipating that we will want to continue online worship services even after moving back into the sanctuary, three Executive Board members took the lead on raising funds to replace our antiquated audio system, an effort that was augmented by a $2,000 grant from the Minnesota Conference of the UCC to purchase video cameras.
Our congregation steps up
When the Executive Board suggested that we create an e-giving portal on our website to facilitate contributions to our community programs, Treasurer Dave Hill made it happen. When the worship services and other events moved to the parking lot, At-Large Board Member John Reitan and son Ben were there with the audio equipment.
When rioting after the George Floyd killing moved into St. Paul and threatened Falcon Heights, Bob Olsen checked on the church and made sure it was secure. When civil unrest was rumored to occur during the General Election in November, several members of the church as well as Rev. Rick showed up in the parking lot to welcome voters – many of them casting ballots for the first time – to our church as a voting site.
While some of our priorities for the year were interrupted and/or delayed by the extraordinary events of this year, we honor and celebrate the ministry teams, congregants, board members and staff who stepped up and demonstrated that the church is much more than a building.
These are some of the positives of the past year:
As an agile congregation, we were able to pivot to being an online church immediately after Gov. Walz called for a lockdown on March 15 to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
Despite the lockdown, we were able to move two new initiatives – the “Is Nothing Sacred” Bible study and a new meditation group – immediately to Zoom meetings.
Worship services continue to evolve from very basic to more elaborate and meaningful spiritual offerings thanks to the efforts of the Worship Ministry Team and Office Manager Shannon Kaiser.
We used the parking lot as an outdoor gathering space for both congregational worship and neighborhood activities, such as a Solstice/Father’s Day party, a concert and dance party, and July 4 and Memorial Day carillon concerts.
We were able to bring another seminary student on board as an intern, despite the pandemic, thanks to a Minneapolis Fund Seminary Internship Grant from the Conference.
The Executive Board approved our collaboration with St. Anthony Park UCC to raise funds for RIP Medical Debt.
The financial health of our congregation has remained stable.
Our Treasurer was able to create an e-giving portal on our website, making it easy for congregants and others to contribute to support our various missions and special offerings.
We completed a major revision of the church Constitution and By-laws, including a provision that enabled us to hold an online congregational meeting.
We decided as a Board in the fall to hold the 2021 Annual Congregational Meeting virtually, on Zoom, allowing us the time to implement and communicate the changes necessary to make this the most inclusive Annual Meeting ever.