This pandemic elicits several different feelings in me.
1) This is hard. Not that ministry has ever been easy, but this is stressful in a far different way. I may have worked from home a couple of days in the past – recovering from surgery comes to mind – but that seems far more relaxed, far more casual than what I’m experiencing now. I find myself more tired after a typical Zoom meeting than I am after most in-person meetings. (Those rare 5-hour session meetings or 6-hour COM meetings serving as exceptions.) My eyes glaze over after the 10th email on the CARES Act. (OK, that probably happened after the third email.) And while I miss preaching, I cannot imagine what it would be like to try to put together a worship service that has to go online or that is being livestreamed on Facebook. That skillset gets added to the long list of things they didn’t teach us in seminary.
2) Wow! I am impressed by the ways the pastors of this presbytery have stepped up, figuring things out on the fly, and making adjustments from week to week. They have done and are doing a great job. I am impressed by the quality of the production as well as by the quality of the sermons and the worship services I have experienced. Several pastors report that they are reaching people outside their congregations. Former church members are tuning in as are old friends from college, high school, or even elementary school. Churches have been able to connect with people they haven’t seen or heard from in years. We may be reaching more people now than when we were worshipping in person. There is certainly a silver lining in this cloud.
3) The question that keeps running through my mind, though, is “What comes next?” Of course, we don’t know when we will get there. You hear different opinions. Some say mid-May or June. Others say it won’t be until late July or August. Others say it may stretch out for a year or longer until an effective vaccine is developed. Maybe once the restrictions are lifted, infections and the death rate will jump again and we’ll be back where we are now. No one really knows. Eventually, however, we will get there, and our in-person worship and committee meetings will resume, and official social distancing will be a thing of the past. What do we do until then?
I found a variation of that question in the book Sailboat Church by Joan Gray, which I just finished reading. To be honest, I didn’t like the book. Although she makes some valid points, it struck me as being judgmental and in some ways patronizing. I am enjoying, though, the 40 day prayer exercise she offers. It has been fascinating to look at the scriptures and to craft prayers in light of our current circumstances.
At the end of the book, Gray reflects on a visit she made to Nebraska and noted that while there were some churches that had closed in light of the changes in the agricultural economy, a reality which I also saw in Kansas, there were other churches that wanted to keep going and were asking God the question, “What do you want us to do now?” The conditions, the context had changed and were so very different than when their churches had been founded. They still believed, however, that God had work for them to do and so they offered up this question to God in prayer.
“What do you want us to do now?” I think that needs to be the question we need to be asking God as well. It feels like we had some momentum leading up to Holy Week and Easter. We tried to find ways to adjust our Lenten services and programming and were able to do that. Once Easter is over and we have no clear goal to work toward, what are we going to do? What do we need to do? What does God want us to do?
I don’t have any answers. The more I think about it, though, I think that’s the right question. The conditions have changed. We’re living in a different world. I’m not sure things will ever get back to what we once considered normal. I believe God still has work for us to do however. The world still needs hope. The world still needs a savior. We still have good news to share. What’s that going to look like for your church? What do you think?