Another leg in the COVID journey

I was thinking about closing out my short, travel fantasy series. So far, I have journeyed back to Hawaii (writing about forgiveness), to France (hope), and through health care (priorities), but then I actually got to travel! 

So, this travel journal isn’t just about fantasy anymore; but it also isn’t a lesson from a vacation. This entry comes from doing real ministry in the church I attend.

Like most churches these days, the church I’m writing about is well short of full attendance. In fact, churches nationwide are recording anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3 of their average pre-COVID attendance, according to numerous reports

For the last year or so, the church I attend has had half the people wearing masks and half not wearing masks. There has been no animosity between the groups because they settled on the philosophy of “whatever you’re comfortable with.” The pastor has steered clear of autocratic decision making. The church created an apolitical protocol team, with medical personnel on that team. 

Right or wrong, my mask has come on and off, depending on the practice of whomever I greet. But, as the Delta variant filled up our hospitals, the leaders have become very concerned. 

While church leaders believed most of their adults were already fully vaccinated, they had two active members who had ridiculed the concept of a pandemic, the use of masks, the practice of social distancing, and the idea of getting vaccinated. One recently tweeted “I was wrong” from the ICU. The other recently quit attending but is still using social media to ridicule medical experts. 

Unlike most churches I know of, this church never transitioned to online services or online giving. Two coffers in the back of the sanctuary collected their offerings. They have seen no decline in giving, not even a slight increase. The large percentage of fixed-income senior citizens likely contributes to this act of faithfulness as they have “risen to the challenge.” 

There has been no live Sunday School, but the Mother’s Day Out ministry has been up and running at a reduced capacity (due to the limited demand, not due to the church limiting space). MDO operated under a whole different set of rules.

We’re now back to facing another time where no one really knows what’s going to happen, but I’m amazed at how churches are PRESSING ON! It’s helped me to rediscover an adage I learned long ago: It’s not just the destination; it’s the journey that matters.

In visiting with pastorless churches, I’m constantly sharing two stories about their new interim journey. Both journeys take place in the wilderness.

In the Old Testament, there’s one story which sticks out above the others. It’s about Moses. Most pastorless churches want to “get a pastor faster,” as that’s all they know to do to fix their situation. They think they need a new Moses. Well, they’re right. They just need to rethink Moses.

Moses never got the children of Abraham to the Promised Land. He did, however, lead them through their wilderness journey as God used the time to do a necessary work in their lives. 

In the New Testament, there are only a handful of true wilderness stories (e.g., Paul’s three years in the desert and the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt). But the obvious story is about our Lord Jesus Christ’s wilderness journey. He was baptized. Then, going deep into the wilderness, he fasted for forty days. There, Jesus faced and conquered the Devil three times. And it was only after his own wilderness journey that He began his public ministry.

I’m still eager to take a vacation away from home—and when health issues in my family make it possible, I hope COVID will let us do so. But in the meantime, I’m looking at the journey all of us are on. What might this time be preparing us for? What is God teaching you?

Leonard Sweet wrote a book which lists 25 challenges facing the church. Written in 2019, it still reads like this morning’s news. But in this year’s annual conference of DMin program directors, Sweet added one more challenge: pandemics. He said we will face one after another from here on out.

Lord, please let him be wrong! But please let us journey with our eyes, minds, and souls open to whatever it is You are trying to teach us. And let us be like the church I mentioned, which has been charitable, generous, and faithful.

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