Dear Heritage Church community,
We are living in difficult, anxious, unprecedented times. I am certain that each of you has been experiencing a wide range of emotions while, together as a society and as a religious community, we navigate the changes to our lives, our plans, our hopes and dreams, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since Feb. 1, when I began my sabbatical, I have watched the news with growing concern and compassion, and my heart has ached imagining all that you must have been going through. My prayers for the health and safety of you, and those you love, have been and remain a constant part of my spiritual life.
As the pandemic began to take shape, and to reshape our lives, I opened lines of communication with Rev. Leslie Woodward, and we have been discussing appropriate responses for me, considering that I was on sabbatical. You may recall that part of my sabbatical covenant included procedures that we would initiate in the event of a national crisis or emergency. Certainly, we are in such a situation now.
Therefore, I am ending my sabbatical, and returning to an active role as your Senior Minister. Together with Rev. Leslie, we will be acting as a pastoral and ministerial team, effective immediately. This is simply no time for me to be on the sidelines, or even behind the scenes; I want to be with you as we live in and through these fearful times, and as we find new, “virtual” ways to remain in community and mutual support.
Let me acknowledge and express my profound gratitude to my trusted colleague, Rev. Leslie, for the amazing ministry she has been providing to the Heritage Church family. I have simply been blown away at how she has, with skill and grace, risen to the occasion, and to this moment we are all facing. Although we Unitarian Universalists don’t do canonization, I think “Saint Leslie” has a pretty good ring to it – and is a well-deserved moniker. Thank you, thank you, Rev. Leslie!
I know that many of you have developed strong, important connections with Rev. Leslie in these past months (and years), and we assure you, she will continue to be there for you. It’s just that now, the two of us will be back together serving as your shared ministry team.
While I’m at it, I am also aware that countless lay leaders in the church have also stepped up and taken on additional responsibilities, gladly and graciously, over the past two months. Though I cannot list you all (and certainly don’t even know who all of you are), I definitely want to lift you up; please know that the many ways you have expressed and embodied the Love that is the spirit of this church are deeply appreciated! They mean the world to your fellow congregants – and to your ministers.
Now let me say just a little bit about how my return to the church will look, in the weeks ahead. Keep in mind that we are all creating this new reality as we go.
My primary focus in the next few weeks will be pastoral care – reaching out to those who are most affected, most fearful, most at risk. And I will be available, by phone or email or even (gulp!) Skype, to speak with or just to listen to anyone in our community who needs a shoulder to lean on and a (sadly, virtual) hug.
I will also begin slowly re-engaging with administrative activities such as meetings (Zoom, here I come!), the pledge drive and fundraising, staff concerns, and so on.
Thanks to the hard work of Rev. Leslie and our outstanding Worship Committee, worship services are in good hands for the immediate future (and I understand that the Cincinnati churches are banding together for certain Sunday and other services). So my return to whatever amounts to “the pulpit” these days will be a little slower than my return to pastoral and administrative duties. It is also hoped that, now that my sabbatical has ended, and she will not be spread so thin, Rev. Leslie will be able to give more time and loving attention to our families and the Religious Exploration program.
I realize this is already a lengthy letter, but if you will indulge me just a couple more paragraphs, I’d like to update you on what has been happening in my family. Most of you are aware that our son, Patrick, has been living in New Zealand since graduating from Ohio State in 2018. Recently, his visa expired, and he began the next stage of his planned adventure, in Thailand – rock-climbing, backpacking, snorkeling, and just all-around “living the life.” However, when the U.S. State Department issued a warning that American citizens abroad should return home immediately, or risk being stranded abroad indefinitely, Patrick, Jennifer and I put our heads and hearts together to reconsider things. Soon, we were scrambling – along with countless other Americans — to find flights home. Many flights have been cancelled. The past week has been quite an emotional rollercoaster, but two days ago, our prayers were answered and Patrick made it back to Cincinnati. We are incredibly relieved!
Our new reality looks something like this: Both Jennifer and I are working from home – in different parts of the house. Patrick is re-acclimating to life at home, while experiencing to-be-expected jet lag. We are striving to follow shelter-in-place and self-quarantine guidelines. All three of us are isolating ourselves as much as possible from each other in the house, and venturing outdoors only for exercise, walks, and the occasional work at Heritage Acres.
There are many stories to tell, at another time, about Patrick’s adventures both in New Zealand, and in getting home – but for now, the bottom line is, the three of us are reunited, at home, and wishing very much that we could hug and hold each other. Yet we – like all of us – must adapt to what is needed right now, holding to the faith that this too shall pass. We are feeling blessed to be alive, in the same home, and currently symptom-free.
So that’s how our family is doing. I am eager to hear how you and yours are doing. Feel free to reach out, if you are so inclined. And know that I am here for you, praying for you, and giving thanks, as always, for the Love that is the spirit of our church.
Stay safe. Stay healthy.
Rev. Bill Gupton
March 26, 2020