Scene: In the Subaru- My husband and I are in the car, driving 6 miles to Boiling Springs, one of our favorite spots to park and jump onto the Appalachian Trail for a hike in the woods. We’ve had more time to hike, lately, because the pandemic has forced our churches to close, and we are all working from home. We’re not encouraged to shop or dine in restaurants or to mingle with others and so… to the woods it is. I said to Glenn as we drove to the trailhead: “Imagine if this Coronavirus-thing got to the point where we had to make life and death decisions about traveling to see our children and grandchildren. Imagine that. It’s dystopian.”
Scene: Harrisburg International Airport- Wearing two layers of masks, hand sanitizer stuffed into our pockets, vaccination cards in our wallets, multiple rapid Covid tests in our checked luggage and holding a newspaper with headlines about “breakthrough cases of Covid,” we prepare to board a plane for California to visit our children and grandchildren. It is dystopian. The amount of suffering and death that this pandemic has wrought is tremendous- 4.55 million at the time we boarded the plane (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/coronavirus-death-toll/) and though vaccinated, it was not with any small amount of trepidation that we boarded that plane. We kept our masks on, sanitized at every turn and, when we arrived at our daughter’s house to greet her family (including an unvaccinated 2 year old grandson and a 5 day old newborn granddaughter, also unvaccinated, obviously) we kept our distance… aching to hug and hold, but careful to wait several days for a negative test result before finally feeling comfortable enough to unmask and do grandparent-y things like giving a baths to the baby and hoisting the toddler up on our shoulders on a long walk.
Harrisburg, PA: I have come to accept as summer wanes and the days grow shorter, that Covid is here to stay as a dangerous companion in our everyday life. Yes, we all relaxed some in the summer- remember those glorious, unmasked days in church and singing, and eating out in restaurants, even? They were short lived. With the arrival of the Delta variant, the freedom of unmasking (for the vaccinated) was brief and now we are back to covering up and keeping watch. Regrettably- and in a development that naively I could not have imagined- a pandemic in the world’s most resourced country with the availability of lifesaving vaccines has turned into a political war. Divisiveness abounds and the chasm is great between those who will not be vaccinated at any cost and those who wait eagerly a booster shot.
Our churches wobble along. In our diocese, we have been “re-opened” since Holy Week but even our strongest churches are feeling weakened by the effects of Covid. We learned to zoom in the past year and a half, but not all our congregants adopted this digital way of worship. We learned how to get the Sacrament with dignity and decorum into people’s hands but driving through a church parking lot with the window down and reaching a hand out the window is not the same thing as kneeling in front of altar and with humility, extending one’s hand to receive Christ’s body. We showed up to tv church in pjs with our coffee and sang alone in our living rooms, the alto and tenor parts that we squeaked out really needing the soprano line to carry the tune. Today, we are learning how to do “hybrid church” as we welcome those who are willing to wear masks and sit at a social distance from their neighbor, drink wine out of tiny glasses and welcome those on line as participants from afar. Lots of our people aren’t comfortable returning and so zoom or YouTube is a credible option. Some are sick and tired of tv church and have given up.
We will be at this…like this… for some time.
And so, here’s what I’d like to offer in as pastoral a way as possible: Take charge of your own spirituality. Invest some time in this season in some real- and hard- discernment about your relationship with God and what you need and want from Church. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Where do I see God’s presence in my life?
What value do I receive from being part of a Christian Community?
How do I want to grow in faith as a disciple of Jesus?
What is my role in building and supporting the new church?
Friends, it will be a long time before we are back in the pews, side by side, belting out hymns, hugging our neighbor and sipping from the common cup. It will be a while before we can sit in the parish house living room and drink tea and study scripture like we used to. Choirs will have to remain masked for a time. We will have cameras and tripods in the center aisle forever. But God will not fail us. God will not leave us. Jesus will be present in the bread and the wine. The words of Scripture will remain as clear as a clarion bell, and the Holy Spirit will wend her way in and around us adding wisdom and insight and mystery to our lives.
Church 2.0 (from now on) is going to ask us to recommit to our faith and to our faith practices, to invest in the communities that feed us, and to be active participants in our own faith development. Our priests and deacons and lay leaders have led so faithfully through this time. We can help by claiming our role at their sides in this time of re-forming and re-designing our holy life together.
Invest in the new- with purpose and excitement.
Be a part of what God is doing next. I’m counting on it being sacred and life giving and joyful.