by Rev. Dr. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister
On Tuesday the Church Council voted to officially announce the plan to begin multi-platform worship on June 27th. This will be quite a change for us. We have not gathered in-person, indoors, for worship since March 8, 2020. That is a long time to go without something that has meant so much to us. And, when it came, it came suddenly. For many of us, we hoped, and perhaps still hope, it would end just as suddenly. But the reality is that it has been a long slow slog. And we are not through it yet. Coming back to church may not be as easy as we might expect.
What should you expect?
Things Will Be Different. You cannot go through 15 months of pandemic induced isolation without things changing. You have changed over the past year. Those around you have changed. The world has changed. Your church has changed. Literally, everything is different. In some ways it might hardly be noticeable. In other ways it will be like running into a sign post. You won’t be able to miss it. And you probably won’t like it. On some level we are all longing for things to return to “normal”. The reality is that will never happen, because that normal has changed. Everything is different.
When you feel comfortable returning to worship in the sanctuary, you will likely be met with a series of emotions. Part of you may be overjoyed at the return. Part of you may be afraid or timid. Part of you may be sad that so many of your church friends are not there, having chosen to not be present for their own reasons. All these feelings will be different than what you may expect to feel. Then add in that everyone around you will also be going through this emotional blender too. Yes, even if we were doing everything the same, church would likely feel very different than you expect.
Offer Extra Grace. In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, author Rick Warren coins the phrase EGR, Extra Grace Required. He states that in a Christian life you will come across people that require extra grace. Difficult people abound and sometimes the best response is to offer them extra grace: love them anyway, and try to understand where they may be coming from. Moving out of the pandemic in a healthy, Christian, way is going to require extra grace. This is tough because living in the pandemic has already required us to offer extra grace. Our reserves may feel like they are running low.
Extra grace is required because things may not move as fast as you want them to. Or they may move faster than you are comfortable with. Expectations of things “getting back to normal” may never materialize in the way we envision. As I mentioned above, things (worship, people, relationships, etc.) will be different. People are exhausted. They are tired of living in a COVID world and this will not change even when we offer worship in-person again. Some people will choose not to return. Others will have contrasting opinions of what they want or expect. You might even become frustrated with yourself! We will need to meet all these challenges with Extra Grace.
So when someone gets on your nerves, or a new policy causes your hackles to rise, or something steps on your toes, remember to dig deep into that well of grace that is within you. Others are likely offering you extra grace at the same time. The transition back to “normal” may be just as hard as the transition from it.
Bring Your Patience. I mentioned above that everyone will have their own pace in feeling comfortable when resuming activities we used to take for granted. When we begin our multi-platform worship, a lot of the familiar elements of worship will still be missing. It is still recommended that we have no hymnals or shared items in the pews. It may be some time before we will be able to sing together inside. (Singing, like coughing, is one of the easiest ways of spreading the virus.) We haven’t yet decided how we will take the offering or celebrate communion. Our traditional way of passing these elements to everyone in the pews is strongly discouraged.
This idea of bringing your patience with you to church goes hand in hand with the Extra Grace already spoken of. In time, more and more of the familiar parts of worship will return. But it will take just that, time. And you may be ready or willing to partake of an activity that others aren’t. Part of being a community is respecting that other people are different than us and they are allowed to feel differently than we do. In fact, it is these differences that, when respected, make a community strong and vibrant.
Have Faith. This has stunk. The past 14 months has really tried and challenged us. Yet, we persevered. There are still challenges ahead. We need to hold onto the faith that God will see us through. Yes, things will be different and even frustrating. But we will weather this storm as we have others. Know that even though things will be different, they can still be meaningful. God will be with us whether we sing out loud or not. God will be with us if we take communion through disposable cups and prepackaged wafers. God will be with us if we don’t get to sit in our favorite pew or shake hands in Fellowship Hall. God has seen us through a lot worse and will do so again. Have faith, God will see you through.
I’m sure that some of this is not welcome news to some of you. I’m sure that some of this seems like common sense to others. Either way, know that this pandemic has been a difficult challenge for us all and that as much as we would like it to be behind us, it is not yet and may never be. We have learned a lot about the virus over the past year and are better able to mitigate its impact on our lives. Vaccinations have helped a lot. However, it is still a very real threat to our lives and our community. We did not have the option to move into the pandemic in a calculated intentional way. We do have that option when coming out of it. We will continue to be pragmatic and intentional in the way we move forward as a community.
Peace and blessings to you.