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

December 14, 2020

Dear friends,

In congregations, pastors, musicians, and sessions are busy (as they have been throughout the Advent season) planning worship, finding work-arounds for treasured traditions that cannot take place in the usual way, agonizing over what is safe for in-person activities with Alabama’s Covid numbers rising, figuring out how to lift a candle in the dark and declare again the wondrous truth that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it – a reassurance most of us need along about now.

And, meanwhile, we are faced with the sober realities of surging Covid 19 numbers all over the nation. A number of you have asked me what I will be doing for Christmas – will I travel west to be with family? and I tell them, “No, I will be staying here. Alone.” Many of you are making similar choices. As my doctor niece says, “We miss holidays to take care of you. This year will you do the same for us?” It’s just a different kind of year. There is light at the end of this tunnel with vaccinations rolling out even as I write. Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel but it will take us awhile to get there.

We are in the season of Advent – the church’s yearly exercise of waiting. Someone reminded me recently that wait is a verb. It’s not passive. One way we can actively wait in this season and through Epiphany is to develop the resilience needed to see this pandemic through. My friend, Tod Bolsinger, Vice President of Fuller Seminary and author of the recent book Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change Maintains that resilience is a critical leadership characteristic. He writes, “First, a word about resilience. Resilience isn’t about “gutting it out”, or even having “grit” that comes from hanging on for dear life. Resilience is about “how things bounce back”; that is developing the capacity, in the words of Andrew Zolli to “maintain core purpose and integrity in the midst of dramatically changing circumstances.”

And he encourages the church to use this season to:

  • Reflect. Ask yourself questions that help you pay attention to what you are paying attention to. Is what you’re paying attention to energizing? Does it make me feel more connected to God? Is it what matters most to me? What does matter most to you? And, finally, what can I give myself to more wholeheartedly?
  • Reorient. Most leaders don’t need more tips and tools. After reflecting, look at realigning, re-orienting what you do that favors the things that lead to wholehearted living.
  • Relationships. Scripture teaches that “iron sharpens iron.” Cultivate relationships that hold you accountable in a loving way. The Synod provides me a coach and I am so grateful for our monthly meetings. Find a mentor, a coach, a spiritual companion to nurture your mind and soul.

In addition to the other many advent resources/devotionals our churches are offering (and there are many good ones) take some time in this season to actively wait. Even so, Lord, come quickly.

Let’s talk about what it means to maintain our core purpose and identity in the various and sundry changes of these days. And let’s talk about the things that are depleting us and the things that are giving us wholehearted life. Join me Thursday at 4:00pm at This will be our final gathering before taking a hiatuss during the Christmas season.


As ever in prayer,

Sue Westfall

And I close with this gem from Howard Thurman via Cathy Hoop.


I Will Light Candles – Dec. 14, 2020

Candles of joy, despite all sadness,

Candles of hope where despair keeps watch.

Candles of courage for fears ever present,

Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,

Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,

Candles of love to inspire all my living,

Candles that will burn all the year long.

-Howard Thurman, The Mood of Christmas & Other Celebrations

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