by Rev. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister
I don’t think any of us expected the pandemic to be going on as long as it has. Initially I thought we would have a few weeks out of church and then back in the pews. Then I thought, “Certainly by summer things will return to normal.” Then, “Well, the fall is the time.” Today I heard that the director of Operation Warp Speed, the White House’s plan to get vaccinations out to the general public as soon as possible, announced that a vaccine “will not be widely available to the general public until summer or early fall of 2021.”
That’s a long way off!
As the effects of the pandemic have continued for nearly seven months now, I asked the church council to explore what the most pressing priorities are for the church right now. After a fruitful discussion at their September meeting, the council made a few decisions that will have short and long term implications for our ministries.
Putting Brakes on the By-Laws
The first of these decisions was to suspend the Vision 2020 Team. This was partly due to reassessing priorities and partly based on a recommendation from the by-law revisions (AKA Vision 2020) team. The reality is that this group has been working hard since June of 2019. They have developed a new system of church governance that will minimize elected positions, streamline our efforts, and open the door for more people to begin or continue ministries that they are passionate about.
It’s pretty exciting! It’s also pretty ambitious.
The team is now at a point where they need to refine the details of their vision and begin to share it with the congregation. This led to two concerns:
- Is during a global pandemic a good time to introduce a substantial change in the way we do business?
- Is using Zoom and other physically distanced approaches an effective means of trying to convey a new vision of the church and receive helpful feedback?
The team and the council felt the answer to both was “no.” Therefore the Vision 2020 Team has been suspended until a time closer to when the congregation can gather en-masse and hold meaningful conversations.
Who Will We Need When All This Clears Up?
The second decision holds perhaps greater impact for our church in the short term. The council decided to suspend the search for a settled Associate Minister of Congregational Life. This was a hard decision.
When the Church Council voted to move forward with forming a search committee in March, they did not expect the pandemic shutdown to last this long. We felt confident that the job description we prepared would remain relevant post-pandemic and that our finances would hold strong. Well, the pandemic has lasted longer than any of us guessed and it is worth revisiting both of those assumptions.
Our ministry has changed since March and it will likely keep changing in the year ahead. A question I ask is, “What will we need from a settled Associate Minister in the post-pandemic church? I don’t know. And I don’t think we will know for another 6-12 months. Times and the church are changing and we don’t know yet what they will become.
Also, while our financial outlook remains strong right now, we do not know what it will look like as we move through 2021. I am optimistic that giving will continue to keep pace with expenses, but for now that is just optimism and not based in any concrete numbers. We will learn the answer to this soon enough.
For these two reasons, along with a third I mention below, the council decided that now is not the best time to hire a new settled associate minister. We will instead seek to continue working with Linda as long as we are able and follow up with another interim or designated term if need be. We will restart the search as soon as we are confident in what our ministry needs will be and what our financial outlook presents.
So What Are We Doing Instead?
This is the question we are asking now. In addition to the points raised above, the council recognized that those two priorities were very demanding on my time. The originating question for the discussion was, “What ought our priorities be at this time in the life of BCCUCC?” Should I be spending hours each week working with these two teams or would my time be better spent supporting and initiating ministries directly related to keeping us strong and vibrant during the shutdown? Obviously, by the results, the council decided on the latter. The would like me to be focusing on keeping us healthy, strong, and vibrant right now.
But what does that mean? We are still wrestling with that answer. I am hoping that the council will continue that conversation each month. Not only the council, but our ministry teams, deacons, and other missional groups should be asking that question too. We can’t do ministry the way we always have. So, how do we still remain relevant in this day and time? There are still needs in our congregation, community, and world. How can we still fulfill our individual and collective ministries when we can’t do it the “old way”? We have to adapt.
I hope that as we continue this journey together we can keep this conversation going. I hope we can keep adapting. I hope we can keep reinventing ways to be in ministry that makes a real difference in peoples’ lives. Even if we have to suspend some of our planned activities, with faith, I know we will make this happen.