One Year Later
This past year has been a roller coaster for each of us. On March 11, 2020, I was lying in bed and recovering from oral surgery. In between sleeping, taking medicine, and binge watching “The Good Place,” news came out that we were officially in a pandemic. I remember calling (not a good idea when you have stitches in your mouth) our staff and leaders to discern what our next steps would be.
One year later, our world has changed forever. We lament the fact that more than 2.6 million people have died from this virus. Friends, co-workers, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, neighbors, sons, daughters—all known by and loved by God—have passed from this world too early because of this virus. Today, we pause and we remember them. We pray for their loved ones who are still mourning their deaths.
As we remember them, I invite you to reflect on what you’ve learned during this pandemic. This has led to some great discussion in our own household and we’ve reminisced on some of the memories we’ve made over this past year.
This year has tested our faith and the church more than any year in my memory and that seems to be true as I talk to people who are older and wiser than me. The following is a list of things I’ve learned about the church through this pandemic.
- Digital ministry is powerful. We can connect in wonderful ways online and we need to continue to have an online presence. This year truly taught us how to grow spiritually with the help of technology.
- I need to be WITH people. While virtual ministry is important, there is still a deep need to worship, pray, study, and fellowship together in the same place. I can’t imagine digital relationships replacing personal relationships.
- The church can be the church without the building. Some of our most faithful members have not stepped foot inside our building for one year, and yet they’ve continued to faithfully support the ministries of the church with their prayers, presence (digital of course), gifts, service, and witness.
- It’s important to have sacred space, set apart, for worshipping God. Whether it was the times we were in our sanctuary, in our parking lot, or our living rooms, designating a time and space to connect with God is life-giving.
- We need community. We aren’t meant to do life alone. The faith community can be a place for us to care for, support, and encourage one another. The most difficult times of this year were not ultimately made better by my sermons (half of which were through YouTube), but through one person caring for another person. As we continue through COVID-19, I know that there are many people in our community who are hurting and who desperately need the support the church (read: YOU and I) can offer. The church is perhaps more important than it’s ever been.
- The church has a PR problem. I have numerous close friends who have left their churches this year. At a time when the world was trying to stop the spread of COVID-19, churches around the country gathered in mass, maskless. Throughout this year, I’ve been in places requiring masks and have seen people with giant crosses or the words “faith” and “freedom” on T-shirts proudly walking around maskless. The perception is that Christians care more about their own personal comfort and convenience rather than the safety of their neighbors. While this is not the majority of Christians, I believe we have a massive PR problem.
- The church has stepped up. While some parts of Christianity have missed the mark, I’ve also witnessed parts of the church step up to meet needs in our community. We’ve switched to virtual mentoring at schools, served at food pantries, taken up collections, and discovered and met new needs. While I might be frustrated with churches I’ll never attend, I am so proud of the way that Vista Ridge UMC has continued to be what a church can and should be through all of this.
- God is with us. This is one of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity. God is not removed from us, but we are connected to a God who is with us amongst the pain and suffering as well as the joy and celebration. Throughout this crazy roller coaster of a year, I’ve needed and felt God’s presence more than ever.
I recognize that what I’ve learned this year is paradoxical. It’s full of highs and lows and more emotions than I can express here. My prayer for us as we move forward is that we’ll take what each of us has learned this past year and use it to help us build life-giving relationships with God, with each other, and with our community.