Saturday, May 22, representatives of at least fourteen Vermont churches attended a virtual seminar on the subject of Re-Launching as a Hybrid Church. Three volunteers – Eleanor Guare, Rosann Hickey and Hal Gray – joined Rev. Sunday-Winters to learn how our church might emerge stronger after the isolation of COVID-19.  Rev. Paul Nickerson of Beverly, Massachusetts, was our facilitator and introduced the topic by noting that 60,000 U.S. churches are on life-support, i.e., are in such a state that returning to “normal” – where they were before the pandemic – would put them back in their state of decline.

Nickerson reviewed several hybrid formats for resuming in-person worship while continuing some form of on-line service. These included pre-recording the service, streaming selected segments (such as music, readings, and the sermon) and other combinations of live and online.

Representatives of each church then went into breakout sessions for more detailed discussion. There was agreement that GUCC will explore the continuation of live-streaming even after we resume in-person worship. We discussed how our technical capabilities seemingly surpassed many of the other participating churches, who have been struggling with the online format.

Nickerson presented a segment on outreach programs aimed at enhancing church attendance, which has declined steadily in our country since the mid-1960’s. In the breakout group, we discussed what outreach programs would work for GUCC, and agreed that the best avenue was to continue to attend the needs of our community and add value to life in Greensboro.

Attendees discussed ideas for a Grand Re-Opening, e.g., a time to honor heroes of the community, such as health and education personnel. Ideas were exchanged for sponsoring and/or engaging in community events. We acknowledged the need for the congregation to discuss such re-opening events, such as holding a Gratitude Sunday.

Each group was asked to make a date to reconvene and create an action list to send to Nickerson in advance of his future coaching sessions with church representatives.  The seminar concluded with thanks to Paul Sangree of the Vermont Conference and an inspirational video “Every 1 Counts.”

In our follow-up meeting on May 26th, we proposed an action plan that included:

  • Conducting an online Communion and Conversation on June 6th, allowing small groups to reflect on what was learned during the pandemic about God, our community, and ourselves.
  • Publishing our quarterly newsletter including reflections on our June 6 discussions and other content aimed at connecting with our congregation and community.
  • Launching in-person worship towards the end of the summer, depending on Orleans County’s vaccination rate, at which time we are proposing a Gratitude Sunday to acknowledge community heroes.
  • Conducting a community-wide outdoor art festival on the theme of Gratitude and Grace.
  • Holding a September/October day-long retreat with GUCC members and leaders.
  • Initiating community discussions as to how the GUCC can be most helpful.
  • Exploring the idea of a physical Time Capsule reflecting the community experience with the pandemic.

Rev. Nickerson will be chairing a coaching session with the seminar participants via Zoom on June 16. This will help to execute our plans and further engage our congregation and community.