The rant that has been brewing in my vacation brain was superseded yesterday when West Virginia was joined by Pennsylvania in pulling back on some reopening plans. Ohio – still doing OK?! Sadly, I confess no surprise at the changes as the COVID numbers have begun to shift and I am grateful that we are pulling back before realities become more critical.
I believe the voices telling us how crucial mask-wearing and distancing are to successful mediation of the COVID spread, and I think how easy those two actions seem in the face of full hospitals and new deaths. For me, to embrace those two practices is an action of faithful living for now and the foreseeable future.
How challenging the call is to faith communities who may have permission to gather in ways beyond state guidelines, but who perhaps should continue to stand as models of care for neighbor and self, living as everyone else is being asked to live and gather – or not. (See Vacation Brain, Part Two!) As faithful individuals and communities discern their walk forward, I commend to you four points from Skip Noftzger, exec of the Presbytery of Redstone:
- While there may be exemptions for churches, viruses do not care about the first amendment.
- To engage in Christian community and worship by alternative means for a season does not deny or compromise our identity in Christ.
- To make choices based upon responsibility and care is not to act out of fear. Our lives are in God’s hands, but faithful response acts are based in wisdom.
- Our witness as communities of faith in our towns should not flaunt some disregard for the restrictions imposed upon others just so we can continue our gatherings.
Vacation Brain, Part Two:
Vacation in COVID time has been unique, complete with bleach, wipes and the whole COVID drill. We actually went tubing this week on the LOW Shenandoah River with masks worn to the water’s edge and tucked away to stay dry for the return bus trip! Almost normal, but not quite – it was joyfully relaxing and fun.
I watched Jimmy Fallon the other night on his first show back in the studio. He talked about wanting to give folks some “normal,” even if it wasn’t 100 percent, and even if it was only for the hour. Almost normal, but not quite – though fun indeed.
Here is my confession: I enjoyed the “Tonight Show” at home! I enjoyed the conversations between Jimmy and Nancy; I enjoyed the sound of their kids – sometimes in the background and sometimes hilariously helping with the skits; I enjoyed the serious conversations in this setting where I wasn’t used to hearing them. I wondered how far Jimmy and NBC might go with the possibilities presented by this new context if they would allow some new TV life to emerge.
But for now, nostalgia has won out and kept possibility tethered to what was known enjoyed and comfortable, even if what we get is kind of far from what was at its best. We’ll see!
We’ve been at this now since March, and friends, the nostalgia piece is getting old to me. I don’t want to hear that “We are in a new place” from the pulpit anymore. Almost as difficult to hear, is us laying claim to “a new normal“ – hmmm, the world is almost too fluid to claim that, no? Not sure it is helpful to be thinking and articulating church with an eye on “When we are on the other side of this we will….”
We aren’t on the other side, and though we can hope and pray, we really don’t know. We don’t know when. We have to do and be faithful now – in all its fullness. We have to do and be faithful now – individuals, congregations and presbyteries, with fellowship, study, training, outreach, communion, baptism, ordination, installation, mission and (maybe shorter?) meetings – right where we are. Staring us in the face is the need for antiracism and civility work – it cannot wait for a COVID vaccine!
We are here now – and whether by phone, Zoom, hangouts, parking lots or………….. you name it (PLEASE name it so others can claim it), we go. I think we have been at this long enough now to stop crafting towards what was, and taking what is essential, what is core, reach towards what can be.
And yes, we care-ingly and care-fully bring those in our charge to this current day and its possibilities, and yes, we pray for one another in our service and leadership. And if we are too tired and stressed to imagine and reach into forward-moving ministry, then we need to say that, and join hands with those who can imagine and embrace more easily. Friends, there is no shame here! It is not easy to loosen the tether to what has been, whether it was serving us well or not – we knew it. What great opportunities for new partnerships and experimentation to emerge if we will make room for the Spirit to birth and brew them! (And yes, I believe I am repeating myself there… don’t tell anyone!).
Susan Faye Wonderland
Synod of the Trinity