Between Amens — A palpable longing for normalcy

Dr. Karen Shadle

Many months ago, I said a prayer of blessing over the family laptop. It’s a 10-year-old relic of simpler times, and the limits of its functionality were about to be tested by many weeks of working and learning at home.

Those who have an old but trusty computer know that they are like organisms. You begin to learn their distress signals and sense when they are becoming overwhelmed. When too many programs are running, mine occasionally freezes up. There is only one remedy. Press Ctrl-Alt-Delete and restart it. Get a fresh, new beginning. Maybe the most recent work has been saved, or maybe it is gone forever to the cyber graveyard.

This year has been unruly and dysfunctional. At times, I wish we could unplug 2020, plug it back in, and see if that helps at all.

For our churches, liturgies are back, sacraments are being celebrated and parish administrative functions are stabilizing. But not like before. So many of our ministries are still dormant out of necessity. I think of choirs and instruments that remain silent, Bible studies that are still waiting to meet in person, fall festivals that are cancelled, coffee and donuts that are on indefinite hold. The pandemic froze our proverbial screens, and we had to Ctrl-Alt-Delete church as we knew it. No one knows exactly when the crisis will end, but it will. It is time to start dreaming of what our ministries will look like after a fresh reboot.

For some parishes, this may be the first year in anyone’s memory that certain things did not happen as they always have. When was the last time we didn’t have a picnic? Who remembers a summer without Vacation Bible School? What is the first weekend of September without the ministry fair?

There is a palpable longing for normalcy. There is an almost gravitational pull to return to the well-worn mechanics of ministry as usual. But is that the right response? The loss of routine brings difficulty and even grief, but also great opportunity.

Often, particular ministries run their course as the needs and gifts of parishioners change over time. You don’t have to reload everything after the reboot. Maybe this is a great time to reshape the usual patterns of parish life. What have you learned about your parish over the last few months? Have any new gifts or strengths emerged? Technology has been an effective tool for meeting the demands of this crisis, but it can also severely dilute the experience of being the Body of Christ. What will be the role of technology moving forward? With increasing hours spent at home, do we look at the “domestic church” as a newly important venue for formation? I think these are excellent questions for parish leaders and volunteers to ponder over the coming months.

The opportunity to reboot the work of the church invites us to center ourselves in Christ. To that end, I might suggest that parish leaders spend significant time in prayer over how to restart their programming. Invest heavily in relationships, which are the foundational software of a healthy parish. And most importantly, be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in new and challenging directions.

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