In November, the staff of Unity of Livonia honored the volunteers that worked so diligently during the pandemic by hosting a luncheon in Friendship Hall. Our theme was “Unity of Livonia Banks on its Volunteers”. We handed out little banks filled with chocolate coins, Payday and $100,000 candy bars. Our theme was reiterated on the bank: “Unity Bank and Trust: Bank On and Trust In the CHRIST within”. And finally, in keeping with the bank theme, I, Nancy Bank, was asked by Rev Cindy to speak at the luncheon regarding what’s been happening at the church since we’ve reinvented ourselves in the wake of COVID-19. Below you will find an excerpt of the speech given.
Hello everyone. It’s so good to see you all here and to be able to thank you in person for everything that you’ve done for Unity of Livonia over the years, but especially since the beginning of the pandemic. One thing is certain…. We would not be here today if it had not been for you all. Let me set the stage. Picture us back in February of 2020. Like most winter months, attendance at Unity of Livonia was a little low due to an occasional bad weather Sunday and members that winter down south. We were without a minister at Unity of Livonia, but thanks to our most reliable guest speakers, we were still drawing in a crowd. Suddenly we were told by the CDC and government to stay home. Do you remember how scary that was? We all were wondering how long we needed to stay home. How would we get food and provisions like toilet paper? I had the same worries as you had, but because my job was essentially the caretaker of our church, our spiritual home, I had a few extra worries.
As it’s been shared with you at numerous annual membership meetings, Unity of Livonia runs on a budget that is barely in the black. We do not have a stockpile of cash or funds on reserve to pay the bills that were still coming in even though the people and associated donations weren’t. Now as Unity teaches, we all know that worriers are living in the future, not in the present. So before I allowed myself to get caught up in our financial woes, I focused on something I enjoyed doing…ensuring we could stay in contact with you… since we wouldn’t be seeing each other face to face for a while.
Most of the staff decided they needed to stay home, as they should have. Through the miracle of technology and the dedication of a very small band of volunteers we were able to Livestream Sunday services for you in those first few months. With the support of our outstanding Board of Trustees (thank you David Askew, Chuck Shermetaro, and John Hobart), a couple of platform assistants (thank you Judy Cole and Cheryl Graundstadt), a couple more tech savvy church members (Sabrina Smith, Ashton Whitehead Coyte), a very brave piano player (Michael Krieger), and a very short list of guest speakers (also brave enough to leave their homes) we pulled together a service and continue to stay connected during this very scary time. And while all our volunteers are extremely important to us, those of you who worked with me in those first few months of the pandemic are the VIPs. We could not have delivered a Sunday service if it weren’t for everyone who was willing to work out of their comfort zone. I rewrote the order of service every single week trying to improve the experience for those of you watching from home. It was only through God’s grace that we were actually able to hold services and continued to affirm that our new minister was being manifested as we spoke.
And then it happened. Rev Cindy Yamamoto decided that Unity of Livonia was her spiritual home! We quickly made some changes to the service, this time using Zoom, to keep the brave volunteers safer at home. This made recording Sunday service less stressful as the Zoom technology was a lot more reliable. Under Rev Cindy’s leadership we were able to raise the necessary funds to improve our technology platform which made Livestreaming viable again. Livestreaming was now sustainable so we could continue to reach homebound people on Sunday mornings in perpetuity. Rev Cindy also introduced other changes like Morning Reflections, Live at Five, REALLY Live at Five, that grew our membership and introduced new volunteers into our pipeline, like Christine Josiah.
Somewhere during all this, a group of volunteers led by Mary Kruskamp decided it was time to release what was no longer serving us. Three lovely organized ladies came into the church weekly to sort through and recycle those items that were no longer needed around here. The office supplies, youth area, as well as every closet was cleaned and straightened. While we didn’t find any of the much sought after toilet paper hidden in the building, we did find enough office supplies and craft materials to eliminate the need for reordering for quite some time. Thank you Ellen Dull and Judy Cole for being an integral part of the clean up of the building’s interior.
It was shortly after that when we reintroduced our Midweek Mindfulness services, albeit remotely. It is important to note that this program was run completely by volunteers. Judy Cole and her band of merry meditators began running Zoom calls to keep those of us who needed something other, or more, than Sunday services to stay connected. They saw a need, and filled the need themselves. They did not come to the staff or Board and ask them to bring meditation back. They just stepped in and provided the service. All staff had to do was promote their event through newsletters and announcements. Thank you Judy and your committee for stepping up and fulfilling a void in our community.
Once we addressed the spiritual needs of the congregation, it was time to look at the looming problem of finances. At this point, the staff had not yet returned to the building. This was partially because of COVID and partially because the building, having been left empty so long, had developed a mold problem. But again, a few very brave volunteers joined me in the office to ensure the bills got paid, the donations got recorded, and we could hold an annual meeting. It’s here I would like to thank Janet Roberts and Ellen Dull for their amazing dedication. Ellen came in monthly and Janet weekly not knowing if we were going to develop some other kind of illness from our surroundings. I’m so happy to report we were able to remediate the mold issues and have since passed our air quality test with flying colors. And not one of us got sick from the mold.
A big milestone came last November when we prepared for our grand reopening. The Reengagement Committee, led by John Hobart and Rev Peggy Konkel, was chartered with coming up with proper protocols to guarantee the safety of those members who were willing to return. The staff turned to these volunteers to determine what a safe building looked like and to how we should best communicate everything we were doing to our members. While our plans were thwarted when new variants of the COVID virus resulted in another peak in outbreaks, we did finally open our doors and offer in person services on Easter Sunday of 2021.
Since then volunteers like you have given extra time, talents and treasures to make sure more people came back to Unity or perhaps started coming for the first time. Volunteers thought outside the box to brainstorm ideas about how to hold Fellowship outside in the parking lot or via Zoom, or how to offer virus-free friendly food and drink during Fellowship. And boy, was it good to see you all again, not just from the neck up but to see your whole entire vessel. All these ideas did not originate with the staff…. many of these were ideas that originated from volunteers. Each and everyone of you made it possible for us to reopen our doors. Unity of Livonia is OUR spiritual home. It would not exist without the grace of God and the dedication of volunteers like you! I have never been more proud and honored to be part of an organization that did so much with so little that had such a big impact on so many.
Whether you arrange flowers, take the trash to the dumpster, usher, or greet people at the door, help with the bookkeeping, beautify our building and grounds, pray for fellow members, organize closets, chair committees, make coffee, verify membership contact information, work in the bookstore as a cashier, author, or drum maker, help with audio/visual and technology challenges, host special events, wear a costume on Sundays, take tickets, open or close the building, play the tambourine on Sundays, read the Daily Word, fix the furnace, empty the dehumidifier, come to Morning Reflections, accept a speaking part in a Maundy Tuesday or Halloween service, sing out loud…. it all matters! It makes Unity of Livonia a better place. It gives people a place to come and feel safe while they grow personally and spiritually. And that in turn makes our community a better place, which makes the world a better place. What you do here matters! on behalf of the staff of Unity of Livonia (Rev Cindy, Barb, Lynn, June and myself), thank you, each and every one of you for doing your part.
Unity of Livonia has always COUNTED and BANKED on their volunteers, but never so much as they did over the past two years! Thank you for sharing your INTEREST, LENDING a hand, CHECKING us out, and REGISTERING for this luncheon. We hope that Unity of Livonia continues to hold a special place in your heart and soul. And as your little banks say, remember to
Bank on and Trust in the CHRIST WITHIN.