It is a rare day that I am not asked the question, “Pastor Jim, when are we going to start having church again?” While I wish I could give an answer other than, “You know, we may have stopped meeting in person but we haven’t stopped having church. But, if you are asking about when we are going to resume some form of public worship in the Sanctuary, all I can say is not yet, there are still too many unanswered questions.”
The folks that study church life say that the current time of change and crisis present us with a unique opportunity to pause and very thoughtfully, prayerfully and seriously consider our priorities as a congregation. What are our essentials? What are our highest values? What have we learned that we must live for? What have we learned that we can live without? They tell us that we are wasting this unique opportunity if we simply rush back into doing what we were doing before the pandemic struck. They urge us to prioritize adaptive change (considerations of who, what and why) over technical change (considerations of when and where).
Last week I asked the members of the Church Council what they viewed as the three most important things our church does and their reasons for so choosing. It was a heartening and moving discussion. In this time of waiting, I ask that you consider the same questions. What are our priorities? Why?
I won’t burden you with a verbatim of my answers. I will say that among my three priorities are the continued formation of community. Why? One reason is that Jesus dedicated his life to building a community that would endure after his death, a community that the Spirit could fill, lead and minister through. It would thus seem that the building of community is a priority for communities that bear his name.
Further, a leader I respect greatly, former President Barack Obama, teaches the importance of community. In his televised address to the high school graduates of 2020 he concluded by saying, And finally, build a community. No one does big things by themselves. Right now, when people are scared, it’s easy to be cynical and say let me just look out for myself, or my family, or people who look or think or pray like me. But if we’re going to get through these difficult times; if we’re going to create a world where everybody has the opportunity to find a job, and afford college; if we’re going to save the environment and defeat future pandemics, then we’re going to have to do it together. So be alive to one another’s struggles. Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us — sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed — and set the world on a different path.
I don’t know when we will be back in the Sanctuary, maybe July. I don’t know what it will look like, feel like or sound like. It will be different. I do trust that whatever we do, it will help build a community, a community the Spirit can call home.