We wish Wellesley’s Jewish community Shanah tovah, as Rosh Hashanah begins the new year this Sept. 6.
The decision to celebrate Griffin Baum’s baptism by Zoom came down to a race between when it would be safe to join in community at Wellesley Hills Congregational Church in light of the COVID-19 crisis and when the baby would outgrow his great grandmother’s baptismal gown.
But with Griffin born in February at a solid 9 lbs, 14 oz, it became apparent this was going to be no contest. A hybrid digital-and-in-person ceremony it would be.
Baum, a single mom by choice, had big plans for Griffin’s baptism before the pandemic emerged. The mom and her baby were to be joined at the ceremony by family, friends, and the congregation. The family included Baum’s parents and 2-year-old son Parran as well as the Godparents—a cousin who is a resident at Washington University, his wife, and Baum’s sister, who lives in Virginia. Plus 5 kids between them.
“About two or three weeks ago it was clear that the day wouldn’t happen as planned. But I wanted to have Griffin baptized in his great grandmother’s baptismal gown,” Baum says. “Because we are a unique family I wanted to make sure that Griffin feels that he is part of a great family from the start. Many family members have been baptized in the gown.”
Baum’s parents moved to Wellesley in 1990, when she was in 8th grade. She went to college and lived elsewhere for years, but moved back in December of 2015 to have her children near family and join her father as a financial advisor.
That local family joined outside on the porch on Sunday, June 7th for the newfangled baptism. Rev. Anne Marie Holloway led the service in person, and was joined there by Baum, her children and her parents. The Godparents and their families joined by web conference, as did other friends and family, making for about 30 people on the call across 15 devices.
“I emailed and talked a lot with Anne Marie” leading up to the ceremony, said Baum, who has been working from home during the COVID-19 crisis, with many thanks to a reliable nanny. “[Anne Marie] and the church were in constant communication about what they could do to make the baptism happen. She said that the church proper would remain closed but that we could have it at the house outside. We didn’t want to put anyone at risk having it indoors (for my parents or my children).”
The baptism took lots of planning. This included staging an altar in preparation for Griffin to receive the sacrament, as well as getting the camera and mic working. Readings were chosen for the Godparents and Baum’s niece, and a program was created. Set-up was done with masks on; they were removed just for the actual ceremony.
“Making sure everyone could be seen and heard. Avoiding zoombombers. Making sure everyone was on mute and there were no unconventional sounds during the ceremony,” Baum said. “In the end the actual ceremony was only 13 minutes, according to my sister… In the end more family was able to attend via Zoom. And they probably had a better view than from the pews.”
Plans are to do something in the church once it re-opens to all. “It will be announced in the Parish Register this Sunday,” she says.
Those who Zoomed in this past Sunday weren’t disappointed. They were treated to a moving ceremony plus the sort of hijinx you’d expect from a 2-year-old big brother.
“We had Parran pour the water into the font. Anne Marie blessed it and then Parran and I baptized Griffin. Parran said, ‘Bless you, I love you.’ And then big brother baptized him three more times…,” Baum said.
Aiming to hold Parran’s attention during the ceremony, Rev. Holloway had given him a little lamb to hold. Naturally, the lamb got baptized, too, and went swimming in the font toward the end of the ceremony.
Any pictures I asked? Why of course…
Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday revealed the state’s re-opening plan, which includes a rough timeline along which organizations in various sectors might re-open. Up first were places of worship (up to 40% occupancy), beginning May 18. But don’t expect Wellesley’s religions houses to rush toward re-filling those pews. They’re all still praying on it.
Despite the new guidelines, religious organizations in town are taking a cautious approach under advisement of each of their own committees as they study the situation carefully. Services and masses, which have been online for weeks now, will continue in that vein, while baptisms, weddings, and funerals will be managed on a case-by-case basis.
Temple Beth Elohim‘s (TBE) Rabbi Joel Sisenwine in an interiew said, “Preservation of human life and health is one of the great values in Judaism. In the rabbinic tradition we’re told to sacrifice certain joys of religious life in order to preserve life, and that is true today.”
Sisenwine said the synagogue, which has not scheduled a re-opening date, has gone as far as temporarily re-branding itself. For now, call it TBE Online.
Milestone Church‘s Pastor Jay Mudd in an interview agreed that now is not the time to take COVID-related health concerns lightly. “We’re huggers at Milestone,” he says. “That’s just not going to work right now.”
Mudd noted that when services do resume, worship will look different than before. According to the Milestone website, “We will have to limit interaction and worship with only a handful of people in the room. Your overall worship experience will be much different than you expect.”
Day by day
No church or synagogue offices are staffed right now. A pastor or rabbi might stop in briefly to record a section of the upcoming online worship service. A bare-bones cleaning crew does the rounds of chores quickly and at a distance from one another. Phone calls either go to voicemail or are picked up by a staff member working from home.
When the buildings do re-open, expect to see masks on clergy and worshippers; plenty of sanitation supplies available from hand sanitizer to bleach wipes; and even plexiglass shields in some offices to protect staff as they interact with the public. All scenarios are currently up for discussion including traffic patterns throughout the spaces and a dismissal system that could look less like a meandering flock headed out in to the world and more like a military operation.
It seems likely that most sanctuaries will remain closed until fall, which could be the most sensible course given that attendance at Wellesley churches and synagogues already trends downward during the summer months. The closest to opening may be St. John and St. Paul’s. Weekly mass attendance is a precept of the Catholic Church, although dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation has been granted to the faithful for now.
According to Wellesley Village Church (WVC) pastor Sarah Butter in a statement on the church’s website, “I am not ready to reopen WVC for public worship or gatherings until we discern it is in the best interest and well-being of all. For now…worship will be remote and small groups and meetings will continue to gather on-line.” WVC is looking to work toward a phased reopening, hopefully in the fall.
The commandment has been delivered loud and clear: Love they neighbor as thyself — but do so at a distance.
Only John and Dwin Schuler, the forces behind Wellesley’s annual holiday-time Salvation Army (SA) Red Kettle Campaign, could simultaneously accept an award and deflect the attention away from themselves and onto others. Why has the husband- and-wife team for 25 years volunteered countless hours in service to collecting donations for community members in need? According to John as he accepted the SA’s Joseph P. Barnes Memorial Award, they do it, “To make sure that voices who cry out for assistance are easily and rapidly heard.”
To make red kettle time happen, every November Dwin starts working the phones in search of volunteers, many who have been waiting for the call. She shamelessly promises good weather for all shifts. Then, when volunteers end up standing in the inevitable cold winds, snow, and rain, Dwin just says, “Don’t you feel good at the end of your shift after what you’ve done?”
What volunteers do is substantial. Their bell-ringing efforts in 2019 helped raise over $25,000 at the Roche Bros. kettle in Linden Square, funds that help those in need right here in town. Money raised is distributed to those in need by the Wellesley Council on Aging, Wellesley Department of Health, and Wellesley Friendly Aid. Holiday-time services include providing toys for needy children, food and clothing for families, and small practical gifts for shut-ins. The effort is sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Wellesley
Janice Coduri, President of the Kiwanis Club, compared the Schulers to Christmas-time legends. “Dwin is Santa. She checks her list and makes sure it’s accurate. You are our conscious, Dwin. John is Bob Cratchit. He toils away at Waterstone, making sure the money is accounted for.”
Although the Schulers have officially stepped down from their volunteer efforts, there’s no doubt the red kettle bells will still ring next year. Many, though, will miss that annual ring of the telephone in November, with Dwin on the other end, not taking no for an answer.
This year we signed up online. It was quick. It was easy. We got handy email reminders to show up. It’s the way of the world today.
Thanks, Dwin and John, for the way you did things. As Salvation Army representative Major David B. Davis said, “We’re so thankful to be able to call you friends.”
It’s been four years since St. Paul School at 502 Washington Street in Wellesley closed its doors after 60 years of providing a Catholic school experience for students in PreK through grade 8. Now the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston, which serves Norfolk county, has entered into an agreement to lease the St. Paul’s space to The Goddard School.
At all five masses between St. Paul and St. John’s churches, Father Jim Laughlin on Sunday, Dec. 15 shared with parishioners the news that St. Paul received a signed lease for the rental of the St. Paul School building from The Goddard School. In a phone call with Father Laughlin he said, “This lease is for fifteen years, with two five-year optional renewals. The agreement will bring life to the school and will be a significant source of income to the parishes to help us fund our missions and outreach.”
Father Laughlin said the news was met with applause at each mass.
The two Parishes in 2013 entered into a collaborative relationship which allows them to maintain their individual Parish identity while sharing resources, including pastors.
The Goddard School organization is planning extensive renovations to the building, including an elevator and a new HVAC system that features central air. They are expected to put up to $3.5 million in renovations to the school building. St. Paul’s Parish will still own the building.
Pending Goddard’s financing for the project and permits from the Town of Wellesley, the church will likely begin receiving rent revenue from The Goddard School in early 2021.
Goddard Schools are independently owned franchises and educate children six weeks to six years of age. There are three additional Goddard Schools in the area — in Medfield, Wayland, and Weston. All three of those schools are staying put.
The St. Paul space had been among the considerations for swing space for the Wellesley Public School system during its Hardy-Hunnewell-Upham elementary school planning.
(Thanks to Swellesley reader LR for the tip.)