by Rev. Kathryn Shreiber
(This is an excerpt from an adaptation of Rev. Kathryn Schreiber’s weekly email message to her congregation, Berkeley Chinese Community Church, UCC. Published July 16, 2021)
I hope you and yours are staying strong and enjoying fun summertime activities. One of the summertime activities many UCC folks do every other year is attend General Synod. UCC members from across the USA gather to worship and build relationships, to learn together and make decisions. We do so by listening to the Still Speaking God… together.
Usually, we really are physically together. This year, we’re in our own homes connecting through digital devices. Lots of hours of screen time using different apps, sometimes they don’t work, but we plug along. Most of the speakers and presenters I’ve heard have been filled with big “push” energy – so many words, ideas, passions! It’s wonderful… and a little overwhelming, too. I miss slowly walking from event to event, running into friends and pausing to chat or have a cup of tea.
During opening worship, a lovely new tech thing happened. Sitting in front of our private screens we were asked to “Pass the Peace” however we could. A UCC friend texted me and I texted her right back! On different coasts, a nation between us, we were immediately connected in the Peace of Christ thanks to our smart phones! Wonderful!
During in-person Synods, I always carve out a few quiet breaks to reflect, to ponder the Big Picture. Recently, I had a chance to do a little of that.
These past 16-months have asked so much of all our faith communities. We who thrive on coming together once or twice a week to worship God, fellowship, and engage in service were stilled and separated; but we adapted, and adapted, and adapted, and we have done the best we could. We who believe in God’s beautiful dream for all people have been wounded and shocked by successive waves of violence and hatred. Sometimes, we or our loved ones have been targeted or wounded. We are resilient, but we have been rocked to our cores. We who know well the dance of life, death, and life eternal have been heavily leaning on our faith. God has not failed us, but the loss of ritual and community has left us lonely and weary from successive losses.
I’m convinced we should not be okay, not yet. The COVID-19 virus is still a globally disruptive and deadly pandemic, as are the related breaches in our social fabric. Praise God, our congregation and extended communities have fared much better than most, but we, too, have not made it this far without struggles or suffering.
As we slowly increase our in-person worship services and activities we face new challenges. We need to develop support for our evolving physical ministry. Our digital ministry needs attention, too.
Since March 2020, we’ve been critically dependent upon digital communications and online technologies. Unfortunately, our equipment and skills haven’t kept pace – true for most churches. Every pastor I’ve talked with is equally excited about new uses of media and daunted by the help and technology we need to do so.
This pandemic time put a halt to what we were doing. As we restart, we’re called to deeply reflect on our ministries. How are we going to evolve as Christ’s Church now? A lay leader said this week, “We’re building the plane while we’re flying it.” This isn’t easy, is it?
Recently, Jenny Smith wrote about a “second marathon.” She was writing to pastors, but I believe this will speak to you, too:
Our bodies are still recovering from the first marathon.
Maybe the answer is to stop running the second race.
What if we looked at each other and gently nodded.
Slowed our forced jog.
And started walking.
What if we walked our second marathon?
Side by side. No racing. No competing with anything or anyone.
Resting when it’s time to rest.
Saying yes to a new idea when it glistens with possibility.
Saying no when something feels too heavy.
Asking new questions in places we assumed the old answer.
Giving others permission to rest because we choose rest.
Questioning the speed at which we live and move.
Loving our people with beautiful boundaries in place.
Taking a nap.
Going to therapy and spiritual direction because we’re humans too.
Breathing deeply of God’s grace and love and restoration.
Maybe this is how we disrupt the deeply engrained oppressive realities of our world. We choose to walk.
Days before shut down began in early 2020 none of us knew we’d quickly be shifting mission focus. Our new goal became staying alive and virus-free, and supporting frontline medical and essential workers. The global public health crisis also revealed social inequalities. Old wounds and new tensions and vulnerabilities exploded. A once-in-a-century outbreak of national political upheaval shocked and shook us. Economic, workplace, educational challenges, and family dynamics impacted us, too. And climate change. Let us not forget the Western wildfires and that horrible orange night-day. Yes, we’ve all been running a marathon for over a year.
Most of our Synod speakers have passionately spoken Gospel truth to power. They remind us of the Hebrew prophets, Jesus Christ, and the change-making saints of the Church. Many bold injunctions to keep on going, keep on pushing! But do we have to immediately begin another marathon? How do we go forward faithfully?
I am sensing something internally, it might be from God, it might not be. You judge. This is what I’m hearing:
“Dear Ones, please be careful. Remember Moses and the liberated Hebrews? Do you know why it took them 40-years to make a 5-day journey? It took that long because that’s how long it took for them to change. Be gentle with yourselves and each other.
Dear Ones, you are not alone. I am with you. The sacred way forward moves at the pace of relationship.* Tend us! Tend your relationship with me, each other, and your own precious souls. We’ll get there… together. Truly, I am with you.”
We are all listening for God’s Still Speaking voice as we advance into this newest era. It isn’t easy, is it? I believe God is offering us abundant guidance. The God I know, worship, and preach speaks with hope and care, inspiration and affirmation, wisdom and kindness, encouragement to stand up to systemic injustice as we hold ourselves, and others, personally accountable with grace and mercy.
(js) Jenny Smith, “The Second Marathon: A Thought For Pastors On Walking the New Normal” posted 7/2/2021. https://www.jennysmithwrites.com/post/the-second-marathon-a-word-for-pastors-on-walking-the-new-normal