As I write this, we are less than two weeks from Thanksgiving. When you read this, it will likely be almost, or already, December and we will be counting down to Christmas. We, both individually and collectively, have been trying to manage, and cope with, the constantly changing restrictions on our lives brought on by the Coronavirus since March. And the latest resurgence and new peaks of COVID-19 are forcing change on us yet again.
As I met with our Worship Committee and our staff, I had hoped to find a way for us to hold on to some of our Advent and Christmas traditions. We talked about a drive through service, and even began designing a Christmas Eve service that would travel from station to station, in small groups, through the church and still light candles in the sanctuary. But with the latest surge in virus cases, and the newest recommended restrictions, I doubt that we will even be able to do that. Instead, we will pivot, again, and try to find a meaningful way of celebrating Christmas Eve together while we are apart.
Few of us imagined a Christmas quite like this one in March and, if we’re honest, we’re having a hard time imagining it now. But as we rush toward the end of what has probably been the strangest year any of us has ever seen, we also struggle to imagine what the new year will bring us. We have hope that new vaccines will successfully conclude their clinical trials, be approved, and begin distribution but, at this point, we are told that widespread availability probably won’t happen until mid-summer. Sigh. That means we probably should prepare ourselves for Coronavirus to dampen our plans for yet another Easter.
But a new year still encourages us to image a new beginning. A new year now, as always, presses us to reflect on the year we leave behind and envision a better, brighter, bolder, future. Perhaps this year, more than ever, we look forward to leaving 2020 behind and hoping for something better. But as we do, let us also grapple with what lessons, however difficult, that we have learned.
I believe that this pandemic has taught us, or at least boldly reminded us, that “church” is not a building and “mission” is not what happens inside of that building. We are learning that “community” and “family” are bigger ideas, and stronger ties, than just the people with whom we can shake hands each Sunday and we are finding ways to stay connected to the people we care about, the people in our church family, and the people in our communities in other ways. We are learning that the “reach” of our church, and our worship, is bigger than just the people who show up in person, on Sunday morning and we are learning, I hope, how to reach out to, and to connect with, the people around us in ways that we hadn’t considered before. We are already seeing “new faces” in our church that have joined us on the internet and haven’t yet attended a single “in-person” worship service, and despite not having what we might have, a few months ago, considered to be an essential element, they now consider themselves to be a part of our church.
And so, as we hurtle toward the end of one year and the beginning of the next, I hope that we will continue to reframe our ideas of what some of these words mean. For some of us, words like church, mission, outreach, community, and even family will never be the same even after things return to “normal.” As we grapple with these new meanings, and with our new knowledge, and yes, new skills, let us also continue to re-imagine what we could be, what we can be, and what God is calling us to be as individuals, as a people, and as a church. Clearly, the situation that we have is not one that we wanted, or even one that we ever imagined, but I am certain that through it, God is trying to teach us something incredibly valuable…
…if we are willing to listen… and learn.
I pray that, years from now, rather than mourn over the things that we lost during the pandemic of 2020, we would instead rejoice over the things that we learned, and what that new knowledge, and that new understanding, allowed us to achieve.
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