“I can’t wait for things to get back to normal.”
You’ve all heard it. Sometimes it seems as if we hear someone say it every day. But you know what? The old “normal” is dead and it isn’t coming back. I’ll explain what I mean in a minute, but while the death of normal makes me a little sad, it also gives me hope.
For most of us, getting back to “normal” means that everything returns to the way that it was before COVID-19 turned our lives upside-own and sideways. But so much has changed and, if we’re honest, we have changed, that there’s no way for us to go back to the way that they were before. And, if we’re brutally realistic, some things are still going to get worse before they get better. So, how is any of that hopeful?
First, let me explain why we can’t go back as if this year was a children’s playground “do over.” Some things have changed that simply can’t be erased. People we love have died and we can’t get them back. Businesses have closed that won’t reopen, and more are likely to do so before this is over. Movie theaters and other businesses are starting to close as the pandemic drags on and while some of them may have enough money to try again when things get better, most of them are gone forever as are the jobs that they created. But, after six months, our behavior is changing too and, by the time COVID-19 burns itself out or we develop a vaccine, our habits and patterns of life will have changed as well. People who never used the drive thru at the bank or the pharmacy will be used to it, and many of us will like it enough to keep using it. Many of us have discovered the convenience of Zoom meetings and, while we might not meet that way all the time, some of our meetings will remain on Zoom and other electronic platforms. People who didn’t cook at home a lot are learning how, and some of them are getting pretty good at it and are discovering that it’s a lot cheaper (and healthier) than eating out. Families are spending more time together and more time outdoors. And every one of those changes, from small ones to big ones, changes how we do business and how we live our lives.
Churches are discovering the same thing. Churches have had to completely change the way that we fund our operations. Obviously, there isn’t a weekly offering plate if there is no weekly in-person worship service. So, with essentially no notice, churches had to find ways of either collecting a weekly offering by mail or doing so electronically. Christ Church has been blessed to have a congregation that navigated that pivot well, thanks to your adaptability and thanks to finance and computer literate members who had the building blocks in place long before we needed to rely on them. But some churches haven’t navigated that transition nearly as well, and many of those churches may not survive. All of us have seen those changes in our Cub Scout pack, our weekly Community Dinner, our collections for the hungry and the homeless, our online worship, and a hundred other ways.
But, at the same time, not all those changes are bad. Some of us are discovering how easy that donating electronically can be, and we might just like it. Our move to online worship may have lost a few of our regular attenders but, at the same time, we’ve added a few new “faces” in worship. Each week there are several people who are “liking,” commenting, and sharing our services online that we haven’t yet met in person. People are “visiting” our church, and our worship services, that likely would not have physically walked in the door before we were forced to change. And some of the people we’ve known for years have discovered that our online worship, newsletters, and “Newsy Notes” have allowed them to stay connected even when they are working weekends, sick, travelling, or retire out of state. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to shift our perspective. As much as we love our church building, it’s possible that we are less likely to think of “church” as a building when we are prevented from spending so much time in it. It might just be easier for us to think about “being Jesus” to the people around us when we don’t physically see the Outreach Committee at church every Sunday and expect them (or the pastor) to be Jesus for us.
And if those changes help us to meet new people, share the gospel with new friends, reach out to our neighbors, get to know their names and their problems, to love them, and be Jesus to them, that’s certainly not a bad thing and it’s not something that I want to give up when this is over.
It’s time for us to accept that the old “normal” isn’t ever coming back. But while this pandemic is still a long way from being over, now is a great time for us to think about what our “new normal” will look like when it finally is. Church in the “new normal” is almost certainly going to remain online in addition to “in-person.” Some of our meetings are likely to remain on Zoom simply because it’s convenient as well as easier for some of our member who don’t like to drive after dark during the winter months. Some of us will continue to use the option of giving online.
But how will we, as the people of God, be changed? Will we be more loving? Will we be more compassionate? Will we be more aware of our neighbors, coworkers, and other people around us? Will we be transformed by this natural disaster, and by God, into people who are more like Jesus, who love like Jesus, than we were before? Will our church become known, even more than we were, as a church who cares about our neighborhood and about our community? Will we, more than ever, act as if we are the ambassadors of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God?
I hope so. I see it happening in bits and pieces and it’s growing. We are, every day, taking baby steps in a new direction. And, if that new direction carries us closer to Jesus, I don’t ever want to go back to the old “normal.”
I urge you to keep praying for Christ Church, for our church family, for the new names and new faces that we are reaching in new ways, for our neighborhood, our community, our nation, and for the world.
The old “normal” isn’t coming back.
Feel free to grieve its loss.
But there is hope.
We will, eventually, pass through this trial and arrive on the shores of a new “normal.”
Let us pray that when we arrive, each one of us, and our church, is more like Jesus than ever before.
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