The main hall at Tapestry, a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Lake Forest, was empty on Valentine’s Day. A quilted blanket covered the piano from where music director Melissa Sky-Eagle usually leads everyone on songs. The name tags that members wear whenever they meet hung unused near the entrance.
The sounds of a Christian rock band from a church echoed outside. But Tapestry hasn’t held a service in person since March, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We bought this building more than two years ago, but we have used it for half that time,” Reverend Kent Doss told me, sitting in his office in front of an iMac. He said it in a natural tone, not out of rudeness or bitterness, but because he had a job to do.
It was almost time for service.
The 42-year-old minister draped a multi-colored stole around his neck and draped a white sheet over his bookcase. He removed his mask and turned on two spotlights. With a click of a Zoom link, Doss began chatting with his distant flock as if all was well in the world.
And for the next hour or so it did.
Instead of a single person lighting a chalice, as all Unitarian Universalist services begin, most of the 86 in attendance lit candles in their homes. Sky-Eagle and other musicians and singers dazzled with their prerecorded, synchronized hymns and secular classics, like a bilingual version of “This Little Light of Mine.” Doss delivered a sermon on manifestations of love in which he quoted everyone from Saint John of the Cross to the Hindu mystical poet Mirabai.
“Every Sunday I am impressed by what they have gathered,” Doss told the Tapestry worshipers at one point. “Feel this community distant in body, but close in spirit. Share your compassion with our world that is quite scared these days.”
Most of those who entered stayed after the sermon to catch up with others in the randomly assigned Zoom break rooms. I watched all of this on my laptop, from Tapestry’s empty coffee room. But the web service was no less sacred and moving than it would have been in person.