2020 has taken us to school, hasn’t it?
We’re working and worshipping differently, and we’re thinking in new ways as the Church about what it means to be faithful in a pandemic. Pastoral leaders (and teachers and so many other professionals) have learned (and continue to learn) about the need to stay connected and keep others connected in new ways, and to take care of the needs in their own homes and families as well. Few of us knew anything about filmmaking, and some of us know a little more nowadays. Pastoral care takes on new dimensions as hospital visits or even meeting for coffee have disappeared or have radically changed.
As I’ve written and said many times before, congregations who are thriving in this time are finding that one of the secrets is to remember our roots. We are called as disciples to be reaching out, caring for others, seeking to address human need, and offer hope to our neighbors, the ones we know and the ones we’ve yet to meet. Sessions that have gotten weighed down by navigating the fine points of to gather or not for in-person worship and have little energy for ministries of care and compassion for members and the wider community are just that, weighed down.
On the other hand, congregations that have learned to adapt their long-held practices and MacGuyver everything– worship via Zoom or a sermon-by-phone service! faith formation in a box that gets delivered to the homes of children! mission fundraisers that have moved online and exceeded prior years’ giving by a lot! are discovering an energy and a vitality…and even some new members…. that have been surprises and gifts and delights.
There are other discoveries as well worth celebrating. We’ve collaborated in some new and exciting ways with other faith communities and organizations to “walk the mile and bear the load.” We’ve embraced technology as an important and valuable tool in these times. It’s not a replacement for the joy of being together, side by side, but it’s a lifeline for now, and perhaps for always for some. It’s a form of community. It is.
Not one pastor has declared in my hearing that they love crafting and leading virtual worship. The vast majority never made an iMovie prior to March 2020, and say they will be glad to be out of the video production business as soon as possible. They tell me ALL THE TIME how hard it is to be a pastor in a pandemic, when everything they know about pastoral care and teaching and worship and preaching is off limits. Every one of them longs for the day when they are back in a familiar sacred space, not preaching to an empty room, and feeling the sweet, sweet Spirit in that place. The ones that are keeping their wits about them in this trying time, while also supervising online learning, or editing a video, or trying to keep themselves and loved ones safe and health are coping well because they have a deep spiritual practice of some sort and are drawing some joy from it. They’re also keenly aware that it may be the best thing to keep these online options in place for a long time to come, because technology has extended the church’s ministry reach in some pretty exciting ways.
Also, pastoral leaders who are coping pretty well in these times are drinking up a bit of gratitude like thirsty sponges. Rather than wondering in their presence what pastors are doing in this season since “pastors are not working,” (Please stop saying that now.) church members who take a moment to thank their pastors for their efforts are doing so much good in this season. The road runs both ways: we inquire of each other in this season. We care about each other’s well-being, pastor and parishoner. We’re missing the in-person interaction, so we need to find other ways to say thank you and we see all that you’re doing. Pastors are missing you as much as you’re missing being in the same non-virtual room with them.
A vaccine is on the horizon, so close that we can practically read the label, but we’re a ways off from it being widely distributed to the point where it will be safe to gather again. And when we return, it will likely not be just exactly the same as it was prior to March 2020. Some of our dear ones will be missing. Others will have compromised health and be unable to gather again. We can and will and should leave space in our lives and our rituals for lament, for there is unexpressed grief that will haunt us if it is not allowed some room.
I hope we’ll also do everything we can possible manage to prepare him room in other ways as well, and soon. We need tidings of comfort and of joy. Both are ours for the taking and the giving. Cultivating gratitude is a tremendously important practice in these times of diminishment, denial and separation. Look and listen. Stand outside on a winter’s night and use all your senses to capture some of those tidings. Hug someone with your words.
As a weary world figures out new and old ways to be open to the thrill of hope, let’s find our way to the manger. Let’s fall on our knees, metaphorically, and give thanks for what we can, and allow our hearts room for the Christ child to enter once again.
Photograph of the signs of Advent in Lafayette.