By Ed Thompson

Cameron Trimble writes a blog for Convergence, a group she co-founded and serves now as their CEO. To be honest, I don’t read everything she posts, although I have to wonder why because I find her perspective encouraging. Recently, she wrote about a project they have come up with called “Letters to 2021.”

Here’s how she described it: “We are inviting people of faith and congregations to write a letter to 2021, which will both remind us of the lessons we learned during this challenging season and how it felt to live through it, and cast our personal vision for the world we want to see coming into being by December 2021.” 

Here’s my attempt at such a letter, looking back at the pandemic from the vantage point of the end of the year:

Dear 2021,

Although 2020 was a pretty crappy year, things have gotten a lot better these past 12 months. Most people have now been vaccinated. That took longer than we expected, and initially some people were reluctant to take this step, but eventually most of us did, and that has allowed much of life to get back to normal and  our churches to resume in-person worship. We still have to be careful and wear masks and stay six feet apart, but we can now bump fists after the service and even sing without fear.

Churches continue to livestream their worship services, though, which allows people to watch during the week when they’re busy on Sunday mornings and also allows people who have moved away, as well as those who have found a spiritual connection with our congregations, to take part. A number of our churches have upgraded their technology using New Life Congregational Grants from the presbytery. Worship has become a more consistent experience as churches remember to check the sound levels each week to make sure each speaker is able to be heard and as they remember to check what’s actually showing up on screen and focus on the person who is speaking. Poor audio quality and videos taken from the back of the church or from the church balcony are now a thing of the past.

A number of churches have used the New Life Congregational Grants to strengthen their mission efforts. A few have started blessing boxes, making food available 24/7 for anyone in their community who might be hungry. Some have set up Wi-Fi hotspots for public use in their parking lots and provide space for kids to do their homework after school in previously empty church school classrooms. Although kids are back in school for in-person learning, not all of them can afford internet access to do their homework. A number of our churches have stepped up to bridge this digital divide, and some are even providing tutoring for senior citizens on how to use computers so that no one is left behind.

It’s been surprising to see how many churches have begun antiracism work. The demographics of the state had convinced many that this wasn’t really a problem we needed to work on. The number of blacks killed by white police officers throughout the country got our attention, though. Maybe we’re only taking baby steps, but at least we’ve made a start.       

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this whole pandemic, however, has been how generous our church members have been. Although there were many months without in-person worship – and for some churches, many months without any worship at all – people have continued to give generously, seeing God at work in what our churches have been able to do. Instead of cutting back on their mission giving and having to cut salary for the pastor and staff, churches have been able to give more to mission (as well as do more mission) and provide more than a cost of living raise for all their employees.

With the shift to session meetings being held online, younger members have been more willing to serve. With the shift to online worship, members from outside the immediate area have begun to join. They take part in Sunday school classes, Bible studies, and book studies too with a greater frequency than members who live near the church. They are engaged and committed to their new congregations. Some people have stopped calling it a pandemic and started referring to it as a revival.

While we grumbled and groaned when it was happening, while we couldn’t wait until it was over and things could back to “normal,” the experience with the coronavirus has turned out to be a blessing. God was actually at work strengthening our faith, expanding our ministry, and bringing us into the 21st century. Some churches did close, but they probably would have closed anyway.

As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s not over until it’s over.” The coronavirus isn’t over. For the rest of our lives, we’ll probably be getting vaccinated for Covid-19 like we get flu shots each year. But hopefully, we realize, now more than ever, that God is at work in all things and that by the power of the Holy Spirit, God can and does bring blessings even when we see only reasons to despair.

Yours in Christ, 
Ed Thompson

What kind of letter would you write to 2021? Would it be more of a lament or a list of complaints? Would it be filled with anger or fear? How do you see God at work in what has been happening? What lessons have you learned? What do you hope happens by the end of the year?