Central District Conference’s theme for this year is “Spirit, Bless Our Souls with Yearning.” Our yearnings have shifted as we’ve journeyed through this season of COVID-19. Most of us yearn to worship together again, in person, voices united in song.
That is my yearning as well. Part of me longs for the familiar. But I have another yearning. I yearn for a church recalibrated, transformed, centered on all that really matters.
So, before we go back to church (as usual?), I encourage three contemplative practices.
One ancient spiritual practice is the “consciousness examen,” or spiritual reflection on the day. How about a “pandemic examen”? Where did we see God in the midst of this chaotic season? How was our faith tested? How did we practice our faith? What were the surprises, good or bad?
One change I’ve felt personally is the gift of a daily rhythm. As a conference minister, about 25 percent of my time is spent in a car, traveling to congregations and meetings. There wasn’t much routine.
Lately I’ve experienced a routine that is life-giving. I get up at the same time. I have three meals and two walks a day with my spouse. My morning rhythm includes more Scripture reading. I hardly drive at all, and thus spew less carbon into the atmosphere. I am more rested and less stressed. I wonder how I might continue this gift on the other side of COVID-19.
A second practice is faithful reflection on accessibility and hospitality.
Many pastors have found that members who have been absent for a while are showing up for Zoom worship. In some cases, virtual worship attendance has surpassed physical attendance.
Some who have physically moved away or were no longer able to worship in person are enjoying reconnecting. Others who have virtually moved away (chosen not to worship with the community) are also re-entering through what seems like a safer way to connect.
What does this tell us about how we practice hospitality, about accessibility and about a desire for spiritual engagement when “traditional church” no longer suffices? What can we carry forward that will invite greater participation?
Jesus challenged the religious practices of his day around hospitality and accessibility. Perhaps this is our opportunity to practice a more generous hospitality as well.
Third is to acknowledge the brokenness within ourselves and our systems.
Like a veil torn away, our spiritual vulnerabilities and the socioeconomic disparities of our world are being exposed. Disparities between rich and poor are on full display. The virus of racism is evident as people of Asian ancestry are targeted with threats and violence. Our fears and assumptions are being put to the test.
The first step in transformation is awareness that something isn’t right. (We sometimes call this “repentance.”) The second step is partnering with others to bring about change.
Letting go of control, trusting the giftedness of all God’s people, offering resources but not forcing them on others — these are some things I’ve learned about myself and leadership during this season.
My brother-in-law shared with me a quote from novelist Brad Meltzer: “We are all ordinary. We are all boring. We are all spectacular. We are all shy. We are all bold. We are all heroes. We are all helpless. It just depends on the day.”
Claiming our vulnerabilities, insignificance and courage is a spiritual gift.
So, before we get back to church (as usual?), I yearn for each of us to use this season as both teacher and prophet. How might God’s Spirit be inviting transformation within us?
Doug Luginbill is conference minister of Central District Conference of Mennonite Church USA.