By Conference Minister Diane Weible
We have begun to hear more about additional vaccines that will soon be available and the belief that by the end of this year, we may be able to return to pre-pandemic activity, including some level of worshipping together in our church buildings. At the very least, the hope is that we will be able to be physically present with one another, even if we are masked and even if some of our traditions need to be modified. And, of course, some of that modification is a joyful acknowledgement that for many of our congregations, there are individuals joining our faith communities from all over the country and the world and we want to continue to find ways to include them in our life together.
What we have experienced in the last 12 months is unprecedented. Early on a colleague referred to those first days of sheltered-in-place ministry as “building the airplane while we are flying it” and now, 12 months later, we are being stretched in new ways by the levels of grief and anxiety in our personal, home and community lives.
Considering all of this, I heard something last week that resonated so deeply with me that I felt a need to share it with all of you and ask you to seriously consider it as you are making your “return to Sanctuary” plans.
What I heard was a simple comment that went something like this: “When you, as Pastor, return to your sanctuary, return as if you are a brand new pastor beginning a new ministry in that community.” In other words, ask a lot of questions and lean in with wonder. Do a lot of listening to where people are and what they need. The people who you last met with in your sanctuary are not the same people who will walk through your door that first Sunday. You aren’t either.
And then I took it one step further. “When you as members of the faith community, return to your sanctuary, return as if it is the beginning of a new ministry with one who has been called; a new chapter in ministry for your church. Hold the excitement and expectation and anticipation about what all that means. Take time to get to know your “new” Pastor and take time to rejoice and celebrate and listen to others in your church. There is an excitement and an air of forgiveness and grace that accompanies the beginning of a new ministry relationship. Lean into that with wonder and joy.
I continue to pray for all of our churches as well as our ministers and chaplains. We are living in times of challenge and sometimes the anxiety and grief and concerns can seem overwhelming. Always remember that we are not alone—God walks with us and encourages us. As you look to the future and begin to envision the possibilities of what ministry looks like beyond Pandemic, may God’s never-relenting presence give you strength and offer you grace.