As this long, hot summer continues, I am growing more and more appreciative of the positive possibilities of virtual community. During a vacation (more accurately, I suppose, a “stay-cation”) last month, I “attended” the Southeast Unitarian Universalist Summer Institute, as well as a couple of webinars, and practiced lots of online yoga. I put quotation marks around the word attended for obvious reasons. I was never physically present in a room with a lot of other people; in fact, I never even left my house for any of the events (unless you count my deck or porch as leaving the house).
Nevertheless, I felt deeply, even powerfully, connected to people who were scattered all across the country and continent. IRT (“in real time”), if not IRL (“in real life”). Whether it’s a live-but-virtual yoga class with one of my regular teachers here in Cincinnati (or – and I could never have done this before – a new yoga teacher I found in upstate New York), whether it’s an expert presenting material in a webinar format, or whether it’s a worship service with hundreds of dear friends, these days technology is actually enhancing my ability to connect with, to see and hear, and to share an experience and a range of emotions with my fellow human beings. Who would have thought?
Many of you know that SUUSI is an annual touchstone for Jennifer, Patrick and me. The SUUSI community is our “tribe,” and for the better part of four decades, we’ve not missed a single summer. Yet for the first time ever, this year we had to do SUUSI virtually. Since Jennifer was this year’s Director, the pivot to creating online SUUSI was felt especially deeply in our household. But an incredible 920 people (about 75-80 percent of a normal year’s attendance) registered, and it was such a joy to see and reconnect with so many of our dearest friends. Jennifer and her team of volunteers put together a wide-ranging, impactful array of programs, worship services and meetups (there were even well-attended, virtual, shared dinner meals). I assure you, the smiles and the tears, the laughs and the lumps-in-the-throat were very, very real. The only thing missing was the hugs.
So as I return from vacation, and as we start a new “church year” while being physically apart, I am feeling a new-found comfort in virtual community, and perhaps even a new confidence in my Zoom capabilities. I am more accustomed to being in front of a camera. I am eager to begin working with a revitalized Worship Committee, and with our new Heritage Church Technology Coordinator, Danny Goldstein. Fittingly enough, Danny has the distinction of being our first staff member who lives outside the Cincinnati area; in fact, he lives just outside New York City.
It truly is a brave new world! And it’s a new church year. But the power of human community, the joys of relationships new and old, and of course the spirit of Love that holds us all together, will always remain the same. Blessings to you. Stay safe. Be well.