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Turning Leaves Are Not Just For Trees

The weather app on my phone says it will be down in the 40s at night this week, my dogwoods are starting to turn reddish, and the setting sun is at that particular angle that makes it shine right in my kitchen window just as I’m getting ready to start dinner. Fall is here!

Fall is the favorite season for many of us, especially those who live where the summers are hot and humid. I know I yearned for the warmth at the end of last winter and a rather damp and chilly spring, but now I am eager to get out my long-sleeved shirts, sweaters and long pants and maybe even put the flannel sheets on the beds. Even so, I know that by February, the memory of the hot, muggy summer weather will be transformed in my mind into days of balmy warmth filled with singing birds and flitting butterflies rather than the reality of sticky August heat, buzzing wasps and mosquitoes. I think most of us experience the same thing and it seems to me that what we are really wanting is change.

But lately, it’s been as if the universe has said to us, “Want change, do you? How about a pandemic. That’ll change things up.” And, indeed, it did. Our lives were disrupted in innumerable ways that linger on to the present. Many of us still wear masks both to protect ourselves and others, are hesitant about eating in restaurants, and I, for one, really can’t imagine myself sitting in a crowded movie theater for three hours ever again. I wanted to say back to the universe, “That wasn’t the kind of change I wanted! I wanted comfortable change, change that doesn’t ask so much of me!”

After all that disruption and unwelcome change, things seem like they’re getting back to normal at Westside. Services are in person again; coffee hour and snacks are back and soon we may be able to sing together. (Some of you may be happier about that than others.) But things are different in ways that are or may be permanent.

In order to continue to reach people, we had to develop a virtual presence on Zoom and YouTube that will be ongoing. This has had many benefits, but also perhaps some downsides. Services on Zoom and YouTube enabled people to attend even if they could not leave their houses, and church business and meetings could be conducted virtually. Evening activities such as the Religious Exploration groups enabled people who did not want to be driving at night to participate via Zoom, and those are likely to continue in the virtual world.

But even though we were able to reach people on Zoom and YouTube, including some who had never been to Westside in person, there were others who had been regular attendees at services and other church activities who did not participate remotely and did not return when we resumed in-person services. It remains to be seen if people who have been regular viewers of services on YouTube will stay connected to Westside as lives become more normal and busier. The loss or tenuous connection of members is hazardous to the Westside’s health.

When the Westside Board of Trustees met for their annual retreat on September 17, we spent the afternoon focusing on a theme of rebirth and rejuvenation and ways to bolster the health of Westside and enable it to be a thriving presence for our congregation and our community. While the leaves are turning on the trees, we will be turning over some new leaves as well.

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