Pandemic Ponderings of the Transitional Executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley, Sue Westfall
July 19, 2021
From time to time I like to pause and take stock and share with you what I am seeing in the presbytery. I would describe this time we’re in generally as a liminal space. Liminal is from the Latin root, limen meaning “threshold.” It’s that space where you’ve left the old behind but the next is not quite yet apparent. We have endured – and even thrived in some cases – through the pandemic and met the changes it laid upon us with creativity and resilience. Now we’re mostly out of the pandemic here in the United States (although that Delta variant coupled with low vaccination rates here in Alabama means that there is still the need for measured pandemic precautions). Here’s a glimpse of my view of this liminal space in which God has placed us:
- Most of our congregations have opened up for worship, mission, and potlucks. In other words, we’re resuming life together physically – in person. It’s still a bit tentative – do we hug, shake hands, unmask, sing, handle communion? – but largely we are seeing each other in person again even with some anxiety mixed with the joy.
- Most of our congregations are also trying to maintain the online presence they developed during the shut-down. One of the challenges of that is how to meaningfully include everyone who is gathering regardless of medium. For example, how to share the peace of Christ and include the folk on-line. Or how do we hold a meeting wherein the people on zoom are every bit as much a part of the conversation as those gathered in one physical space.
- As part of its Visioning and Strategic Exercise (VASE report) the presbytery has brought together a tech team to help us navigate those first two points and more. The team is composed of the following colleagues: Chris Scott, Chairing the team from Wetumpka First, John Harrison, Fairfield Highlands, Loren Beckett, Covenant, Tuscaloosa, Harold Dennard, Westminster, Birmingham, Robert Newman, Southminster, Birmingham , Eric Yates, First Pres. Tuscaloosa. They are charged with consulting with the presbytery as we move into new hybrid methods of gathering for presbytery-wide meetings, and also consulting with individual congregations who need some support with technology in their own settings. They’re a great team who’ve agreed to share their expertise and wisdom with the whole presbytery.
- Another example of our liminal moment is that we have just welcomed nine new leaders into the presbytery. We welcome new leaders at First Birmingham, IPC, Mountain Brook, Livingston, First United, First Tuscaloosa, Korean of Montgomery, Korean Auburn/Opelika, Westminster, Tuskegee Anytime we receive new colleagues we are changed by their perspectives, outlooks, ideas, and customaries. This is the Lord’s doing. “Even now I am doing a new thing; do you not perceive it?”
- 94 of our young people and sponsors have just been to Sr. High camp at Montreat, and Middle School camp at Maryville. Their eyes and hearts have been opened to new and deeper avenues of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. As Jesus said, “And the young will lead them.”
- I sense a real dynamism in the presbytery in this liminal season – people going and coming, churches grappling with what it means to be the body of Christ in worship, in spiritual development, and in mission in this changed world we inhabit.
At the beginning of this article I mentioned “this liminal space in which God has placed us.” That is not at all to say that God created the pandemic or the moment we are now in (though I’m thinkin’ that the scientists got a lot of help from God along the way to get to this point). What it IS to say is that God is already here! And God’s mission hasn’t changed in all these years since Jesus told the story in Matthew 25 of dividing the goats and the sheep and the determining factor in that judgement was who had fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the prisoners, made sure everyone had good water to drink, welcomed those not like ourselves. In other words, the beautiful vision of restoration and wholeness that is God’s intent for the world. Whatever else we are trying to sort out, friends, let’s keep our eyes on that prize. Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.
As ever in prayer,
I am leaving this Thursday for a few weeks of vacation in Colorado with family and where, much of the time I will be without cell coverage. I’ll be back on the fourth of August and on Thursday, the 5th of August we will have our monthly presbytery gathering at 4:00pm. Tammy will send the link closer to the day. Hope you will join me and your colleagues!