Pandemic Ponderings
from the Transitional Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley
June 7, 2021
Dear friends,
On May 10th my Pandemic Ponderings centered on the recent Barna report that for the first time in the nation’s history those who identify as religious has dropped below 50% of the population. In that article I noted a need to grieve; the loss our churches have experienced is all too obvious and it’s hard to watch especially when we are at a loss (and have been for 20 plus years) to do anything to turn it around. Weepeth, though, as the psalmist put it, endureth for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
It’s morning in a lot of ways right now. We have come through the worst of an epidemic that shuttered our churches for months and even a year or so. We have seen a rending of the social fabric that has exposed anew the deep divides and injustices we no longer have the luxury to ignore or quietly go along with. We have learned some things in the process:
  • We love our buildings but we do not need them to worship God or proclaim good news or to be the church. What freedom there is in that realization! The freedom to be wildly creative! To repurpose the building for community ministry, for example, or get rid of the building entirely and use smaller, less costly places to gather and reach out. Our extended experience with virtual church may allow us to appreciate our buildings as hubs for mission without idolizing them – a healthy reset.
  • Our obsessive counting of attendance is not a useful metric for how faithful the church is. (Those of you who are concerned about the number of people who have returned – or not – to in-person worship are on a slippery slope downward for measuring the efficacy of the church’s ministry.) There is a recognition at the mid council level of the church that the statistical reports we cherished are not that meaningful now. What is more important is how people are being engaged – church people for sure, but also our neighbors. How do we engage each other and our neighbors for collaborative work for the common good?
  • We as a church offer a clear antidote to the divisions that plague our national life. God made us one community. The politicization of our national life is destroying our nation’s capacity to make wise decisions about the country’s direction. As the old proverb wisely observes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The church is a witness to the power of going together that could have a huge impact on our nation’s psyche right now.
  • Truth still exists despite the trend toward casting doubt upon it. Alternative facts are not facts. Jesus said that you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. For freedom’s sake we must call out the truth as a church and not stand silent in the face of lies and conspiracy theories.
  • We can learn from our past reluctance to address the pressing social issues of the day – the racism, the obscene gulf between the haves and the have nots, the reality of the racism embedded in our system of policing and mass incarceration, the pain and suffering society and the church has inflicted on the LGBTQ community, to name a few. We can learn from our silence of the past to find our voices and speak a powerful word of healing and hope to a people desperately in need of such a word. There still IS a balm in Gilead and our nation’s sin sick soul is desperate to experience that.
I take enormous hope for the times in which we are living. Not hope IN the times but hope for the times because of the One who created time and won’t stop seeking to redeem the time until God’s blessed kin(g)dom comes is still the head of the church through Christ. As long as God still needs the church to accomplish God’s mission of saving the world, the church will not only survive but we will have the incalculable joy of partnership with God in God’s world-wide work of redemption and shalom.
So take heart, church. Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteous intent for the world and all these things will be added unto you. What things? Purpose, joy, the lightness of generosity, meaning, and life eternal now and forever.
As ever in prayer,
Sue Westfall
  • Tammy is on vacation next week and there will be no newsletter
  • Prayers for Patsy Chaney who is in the hospital for observation

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