April 21, 2020

After the Plague

On Easter Eve, the United States of America passed a milestone: peak resource use as a result of COVID-19 infections. Every state has a unique peak resource use date. Some have already passed them. Others have yet to. But as a nation, we are starting down the mountain. This according to The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

There is no “on” switch to be flipped. Scientists and other health care professionals continue to warn us that restarting a nation as big as the United States will have to be done with great care, in stages, over time. Balancing health concerns and economic recovery from a pandemic will be one of the most extraordinary challenges that our nation, and, in fact, the world, will ever face.

But what about the Church? How will we “restart?” It’s not as if one day all the churches fill up and we’re back to “normal.” Vestries and clergy would do well to be discussing this issue now, while at the same time supporting their congregations.

Here are some questions to ponder:

  • What are you learning about the needs of your congregation during this pandemic?
  • If you’ve implemented online worship and education, what’s working, what’s not, and why?
  • What percentage of your congregation are you able to reach online?
  • What are the metrics for online viewing, and how are they changing over time?
  • If you do offer online worship, how has it changed who you consider to be your congregation?
  • Are you advertising the worship, education, and support opportunities available, and how effective has it been?
  • Are you doing anything to connect various ministries from your congregation, and, if so, how effective is that effort?
  • How are you supporting your leadership, both clergy and lay?
  • What are you doing to reach those who do not have Internet access?
  • In addition to worship and education, how is your congregation reaching out for support, e.g. via Messenger, in a Facebook group, via telephone, via Zoom, etc...?
  • What initial needs existed in your congregation and how are those changing with time?
  • What new needs are you anticipating, particularly as more people face financial hardship?
  • Who, if anyone, have you partnered with to better serve the needs of your community?
  • What have you learned about online giving?
  • What practices will you continue as physical distancing regulations are eased, for example, livestreaming or recording worship services?
  • What will you do to keep engagement high among those who do not live near your church, but have become part of your extended congregation?
  • Have you considered how your congregation will respond to the “intimate” moments of gathering for worship, for example, the Sign of Peace, receiving Holy Communion from a shared cup, having a shared table of snacks available at the coffee hour?
  • If so, what might you recommend, e.g. bowing to each other at the Peace, instead of a handshake or an embrace?
  • Do you have any plans to formally canvas your congregation, so you can learn from their experiences?

In the midst of our shared grief and loss, there is much to be gained. It is possible, if we navigate this well, that a kind of new renaissance may emerge from the darkness.

Finally, I’m doing a lot of soul searching and recommend you do the same. I’m someone who appreciates the drama which unfolds every Sunday. The high point of that drama, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and the Easter Triduum had to be experienced virtually this year.

I missed kindling the new fire at the Great Vigil of Easter. Smelling the incense while the Gloria in Excelsis was sung. Hearing the Pascal Homily of St. John Chrysostom proclaimed. Listening to the organ sound with full force. It was not the same this year. Not by a long shot.

But I learned something as well, courtesy of the last Easter Sermon of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend and Right Honorable Dr. Rowan Williams, preached in 2012. In it he stated that “...what we can do is make the space, the silence, for the act of God to come through.” I learned that I’m not very good at that, and have much more work to do.

May we all practice making the space, the silence, for the act of God to come through. Not just during the Easter season, but every day throughout the year.

Alleluia. Christ is Risen.
The Lord is Risen Indeed. Alleluia.