Pandemic Ponderings of the Transitional Presbytery Executive of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley

July 27, 2020

Dear friends,

Ah, baseball is back! I watched the opening game between the Yankees and the Nationals and much of the commentating involved explaining the new protocols the MLB put in to place for this 60-game 2020 season. No spitting. Pitchers can’t lick their fingers but instead can have a wet rag in their back pocket to moisten their fingers. The National League will have designated hitters for the first time in its history. All extra innings will begin with a player already on second base. And so on. Commentators Alex Rodriguez and Matt Vasgersian, far from being skeptical of the new protocols, embraced them. “Make all the changes!” Matt Vasgersian said at one point. “It’s a different kind of season so just make all the changes. Maybe some of them will even improve the game going forward.”

I heard the same kind of embrace of change at a Rethinking Church Virtual Summit I attended last week. Speaker after speaker boldly declared, in one way or another, “Normal is ahead of us, not behind us.” Howard-John Wesley, pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia (which in its 217 year history has only had 8 pastors!) has seen Alfred Street grow from 2000 members to 10,000 members with membership continuing to sky-rocket during the last several months of this pandemic. He talked compellingly of the need to go forward digitally, to invest in building the capacity to do that (AV, IT, video-editing, creative production), and to be creative in making disciples, caring for members, and mission in the world. He pointed out that the millennials, who every church is wringing their hands to reach, are digital natives so digital church for them is just the way they interact in the world. “Make all the changes,” Rev. Howard-John Wesley proclaimed without a hint of longing for the old normal. Now, I gotta admit I’m not quite there yet but his own embrace of change and his unabashed hopefulness about the future of the church did leave an impression and has caused me to look at the landscape of the church in an expanded way. “Behold,” God says, I am doing a new thing; even now it breaks forth. Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah43:19). It was an invigorating summit including an excellent presentation by Joe Scrivner (Brown Memorial and Dean of the Chapel at Stillman College.)

Speaking of study leave – and vacation for that matter – it’s time you pastors took some of both!! These months of pandemic have taken their toll on everyone and most especially, perhaps, on pastors who, because of the technology involved have been feeling indispensable (“Who would I get to lead worship?) May I make a suggestion? A Sermon for Every Sunday provides just what it says it does – a sermon for every Sunday. It’s a great line-up of nationally acclaimed preachers and you could just drop their video recording into your service at the appropriate time. (This is assuming you’re still meeting on line.)  Here are three, in particular, which are all people of color (and all excellent) so you could take a break AND diversify your worship!

Frank Thomas – Psalm 139 (17 minutes)

Raquel St. Clair Lettsome – Exodus 14 (15 minutes)

Michael Curry – John 1 (12 minutes)

And you could further spice it up with a minute for mission from Doug Marshall about the Presbyterian Home for Children

 Ok. That’s it for now. Would love to see you at our Thursday 4:00pm gathering. Our guest this week is Dr. Lisa Allgood. Lisa is my counter part in the Cincinnatti Presbytery and is also an immunologist. She will share with us the latest in the pandemic landscape. Join us!

As ever in prayer,

Sue Westfall

PS. Prayers for Tammy Strickland as she heals this week from gall bladder surgery.

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