The challenges that face our congregations in this COVID-post-COVID era are multiple and complex. For example, now that it appears hybrid worship is here to stay, how do we cultivate, nurture, and include the online members? As society moves toward a cashless society, are we ready to take seriously online giving and its theological and liturgical implications? In addition to pledges and tithes, what role does planned giving, donor advised funds, IRA donations, etc., havein our overall stewardship program, especially with baby boomers? How do we approach the racial and class disparities that COVID has made bare? How do those congregations that are rich in resources help those congregations that are in need?
In his article, “Sacramental in Action and Being”, which can be found in the book, We Shall Be Changed: Questions for the Post-Pandemic Church, Greg Garrett raises three questions about the COVID church that I would like to share with you.
First, what does it mean to be the church? The time of COVID has been a time of quarantine for some. This unexpected and unwanted alone time could also be a time of prayer, meditation, and introspection. He asks, “How can the church direct our attention to our life of prayer?” Perhaps this is also a chance to do some reading that has been put off because of our busy-ness, take time to journal, or just take a nap!
Second, what does it mean to think like the church? We are all captive to the media around us. Much of what we see makes us react with anger or disgust. Garrett writes, “I’ve had to remember what the church teaches about how to respond to human events. I’ve had to remember that I am called to compassion and not to simply rage. . .” When I see the violence in our community and our nation, I am still learning what it means to think like the church and not be swept up with media pundits and social media influencers. This means seeking justice with righteousness and forgiveness with repentance.
Third, what does it mean to be the church in community? If we agree with Garrett that we discern best in community, we must conclude that being in our heads too much may not be a good thing! Online worship can be a community building experience, especially if it is done with people we know. Garrett rightfully observes, “I feel most connected online to those with whom I already feel connected, and least connected to those who don’t share a personal history with me.”We are challenged to faithfully seek community and be committed to people we know, and who knows us.
How to be? How to think? How to live together in community? While these are questions for the church in any era, they are especially important to us today.
Rev. Craig Howard