Well, this is rather humbling. The COVID-19 virus just did in two days what I could not do in two years.
Let me explain. Over the last two years I have been trying to “loosen the soil” of the presbytery. Recognizing the church of the future will likely look significantly different from what it now looks like I had a deep sense that my first job was to till the soil of the presbytery and to break up the dirt clods (not thinking of any specific people or groups here—it’s only a metaphor!).
Innovation and creativity does not happen in ecclesiastical soil that is packed down, hardened, and sapped of its nutrients. Innovation and new possibility flourishes in rich, loose soil that has been fertilized by the compost of past innovations and programs. That which dies nourishes that which is about to be born.
I was trying to prepare us for a time when we might want to experiment with building-less churches and connecting through social media and using technology to communicate the gospel. I was trying to get a handful of our congregations to take the first pioneering steps and then teach the rest of us what church might look like “When God Has Left the Building”(a reference to a documentary about church beyond the walls).
And bam! Here we are. The COVID-19 virus just did in two days what I could not do in two years.
My friends, I just want to say today that this is our moment. This is when dreams of a possible future become the reality of the lived present. This is when transformation takes place. I tried to invite us into transformation, but my words paled in comparison to the actual power of these circumstances that require transformation.
Transformation is no longer an option; it is a requirement.
This is our moment. If we approach this time as simply an obstacle to get over, to get through, and to survive on the way to settling back into our former lives we will have missed God’s invitation. This unsettling coronavirus is not just an obstacle to overcome; this is an opportunity to embrace.
One of the reasons that I took this position is that I am attracted to people and organizations that are at a certain threshold. All of my work has been centered on a certain “sweet spot” when transformation can take place. It was true when I was working with juveniles as they were being removed from their homes as wards of the court. It was true when I was working with families as their loved one was dying on hospice. It was true when I worked with Eastminster as they crossed over from a chartered church to a lasting legacy. It was true as I took on interim positions knowing each congregation was in that transformational “sweet spot.”
This is our sweet spot. This is our moment.
In Eastern countries there are numerous stories of how the Christian church thrived in a time of persecution. One of the things we know about that is that these Christian communities had to learn how be connected, how to take care of each other, and how to nurture their faith even when it wasn’t safe to assemble. We are fortunate that the Presbytery of the Cascades is not being persecuted, but we are under siege by a particularly nasty virus. And our ability to assemble has been disrupted for who knows how long.
- How will we continue to find our unity in Christ when worship spaces don’t draw us together?
- How will we continue to nurture our connection to each other even as we practice “social distancing”?
- How will we continue to honor the spirit of “passing the peace” but do so without shaking hands or hugging each other?
- Will we still find ways to worship in spaces and places dedicated to more mundane purposes?
- Will we still find ways to nurture the faith of our children without classrooms dedicated to that purpose?
- And what about communion? How will we practice being a sacramental community without the usual sacramental rituals?
Over the coming weeks and months I will be blogging on a daily basis to interpret this adaptive moment we find ourselves in. This is our transformational moment. Each day our new circumstances will change us and remold us into a new people. When we come out the other side of this we will be a changed people and a changed church.
“So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” 2 Corinthians 5: 17
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By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Mission and Vision, Presbytery of the Cascades