The question can be beautiful. (Magda Ehlers @ Pexels)
By nature, I'm an optimist. I see the glass as half full. About a hundred years ago when I was in middle school, I wore those annoying neon-colored smiley face buttons each and every day. Sometimes I wore more than one button at a time. I like being positive.
However, this Delta virus is kicking me in the you-know-where. Oh, I don’t mean literally, mind you. I don’t have COVID (thank you, Pfizer). It is, however, getting me down mentally and spiritually. Are you feeling that way too?
We’re at a full year-and-a-half into this pandemic with no end in sight. My ministry-in-place went by the wayside way back in 2020 when it looked like we’d come through the worst of it. We started back in-person worship just this August only to have two key staff get COVID. Now it looks like it’ll be October before we’re welcomed back into the sanctuary. And even then, it won’t feel “normal.”
The buildings of our old and wonderful church sit empty. No kids running around, no AA meetings, no random people wandering in looking for help. It’s downright depressing.
I was speaking to a clergy friend yesterday and he was lamenting that in this liminal space - the waiting areas between one point in time and space and the next – it’s hard to figure out the purpose of the church and even what it means to be a pastor. I know that there are a lot of earnest reasons why the church exists (or why it existed in its previous form). But now? In Delta-Season 2021?
So many of you have had to make difficult decisions. Laying off beloved staff. Not being able to visit loyal church members in their darkest hour of need. Saying “no” to people who want to be back in church. Surely, this is not what God was intending for you when you first heard the call to ministry.
I came upon a fascinating article How the Church Responded to Previous Pandemics. In it there are extensive quotes from a 1918 sermon by D.C. Presbyterian minister, Francis J. Grimke. He had this to say about the impact of the 1918 pandemic:
I have been asking myself the question, what is the meaning of it all? What ought it to mean to us? Is it to come and go and we be no wiser, or better for it? Surely God had a purpose in it, and it is our duty to find out, as far as we may, what that purpose is, and try to profit by it.
When I talk about stewardship, I always emphasize that there are two things that you must focus on: adaptive/culture change and technical change. The technical change is generally pretty easy to implement. It’s “how to.”
However, if a congregation doesn’t grapple with the hard work of figuring out why it exists (part of the adaptive/cultural change), technical change is mere window dressing.
I recently went back and watched two of my favorite videos that address the “why” question.
- Michael Jr.’s, Know Your Why. You’ll hear two very different versions of “Amazing Grace.”
- Simon Sinek’s 2009, How Great Leaders Inspire Action. I can’t count how many times I’ve watched this video. Sinek asks: “What do you do?” “How do you it?” And, most importantly, “Why do you do it?”
This liminal time is giving us the opportunity to re-examine why we as faith communities exist. No doubt, the reasons will be different than they were pre-pandemic. This is a painful blip in our history but it does give us space to grapple with the deeper questions of why the church? Why people of faith?
Take the time. Pull your leaders together via Zoom or gather together outside, six feet apart with your masks on. Start the discussion about your new “why.” Doing so can be an exciting and life-giving opportunity to engage in conversation about the future.
And perhaps, best news of all…it may just help you get out of the Delta funk.
Now go find yourself a vintage smiley button.