The agenda for the local pastors’ alliance meeting, on resuming in-the-sanctuary services, was sent out ahead of time:
- Singing, and how to make singing safe vs. not singing at all [A few of the pastors had already heard from members, “If we don’t sing, I’m not even going to come!”]
- Rules for a safe return [Additional services with smaller groups, separate entering and exiting doors, switching which pews were marked off in-between services.]
- Continuation of online services and online giving options
- Pastoral care from a distance
- Managing those who refuse to cooperate [This would take the most time, as every pastor would want to talk about unpleasant members and who they anticipated acting out with raw emotion at no touching and distance rules, mask requirements, etc.]
The monthly meeting was always fun and helpful, and the pastors’ group had continued to meet during the pandemic. A few pastors attended in person. They sat, well scattered, at the large table of First Church’s conference room. The rest attended by Zoom, showing up on the large screen mounted on the wall. The regathering catch-up conversations were warm and jovial. The initial discussion about item one was inclusive and informative. The meeting was going well.
Until John came in, fifteen minutes late.
He sat at the open end of the conference table, slumped in a chair. He held his head in hand, with his hand on his forehead so no one could not see his face. An awkward pause was followed by the inevitable question, “Are you alright, John?”
With some difficulty, John explained he got to the meeting on time, but he had been sitting in his truck. “I don’t want to interrupt this important discussion, but I just can’t ignore that our planned topic has become secondary to me. Just before coming in, I read a Facebook post from one of our community pastors. It said that the rioters ought to be strung up. It said violence must be met with violence. And the post was receiving a lot of positive responses by church members. I just shook my head in disbelief … until I realized that I haven’t said one thing publicly about George Floyd … nor has this group.”
The conversations which then took place around the table were confessional, somber, and some even repentant. What the alliance concluded, however, is what they found worth reporting. In fact, each of them promised it would be the content of their next column in their church newsletters. Specifically, they listed these “findings”:
- Confessional—As a group of Anglo pastors, not a one of us has any right to speak with authority on the racial strife in America. Our educational backgrounds, community involvement, and church ministries leave us poorly equipped for the moment.
- Somber—We are heartbroken, lamenting for the state of the nation, the African American pastors and churches in the community, and the extended families of Georgia Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.
- Repentant—This is a time for us to listen, though listening won’t always be enough, and we must eventually speak and act, but this is a time to listen to people of color—in and out of the church. In retrospect, we wish we had had a pastor of color to address us today. We recognize now, disproportionate representation is a part of the problem.
One in the group suggested they close in prayer, which they did by reciting the Prayer of St. Francis, together.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Time was up, so they said goodbye, and everyone left saying they looked forward to returning to the next month’s meeting and their COVID-19 discussion. The pastors all felt much better.
Everyone, that is, except John. He was left at the table, his head back in his hand. He grieved that they didn’t get it; he knew they would do nothing. But suddenly, he also realized it wasn’t about them. It was about himself. He was the rich young ruler. Jesus was saying to him, “One thing you lack.” And now it was up to John to decide. Would he go away sad? Or, would he also follow the Lord’s call to do something?