What a peculiar phase of Pandemic Church we are in….although I guess that can be said about every chapter we’ve experienced! This phase may well be called Dipping the Toe. While we’re asking if we can reasonably go back to concerts or take trips, the Pandemic Church question is: Will we go to church this Sunday? Go, with our bodies, inside the church building, with shoes on and pants that zip? You know, GO to church?
Maybe you already tried it once or twice and it didn’t really… ‘work’. A teammate of mine was talking about her forays back to her local congregation, and she said, “I keep getting disappointed.” My heart reached out to her because I know what that’s like. As Rev. Katie Romano Griffin recently wrote for her newsletter, “We may want to go back to ‘before,’ but before is just not located in the same place that we left it.” Maybe when church isn’t exactly the same as we left it, it reminds us of what we’ve suffered. What we’ve lost.
It's true that our memories of how powerful, how fulfilling, how centering our in-person pre-pandemic congregational experiences were may not match what we experience in this peculiar phase – at least not right away. The congregations have changed in some ways, sure – but so have we. We can’t find the Before place. We’re in the process of finding the Now place, and the Next place. But that process is a tender one, and disappointment appears to necessarily be part of the path.
But so is delight. So is re-connection. So is the promise of our future together. With a little bit of practice we’re going to get the hang of this. Being together physically, when reasonably safe (and of course each of us has a different way to determine what is safe for us), will go back to being second nature. The new iteration of church will come together. You will help bring it with your presence. Together, with a bit of patience and effort, we will find the Now place where we are fed and sustained.
Rev. Amanda Poppei shares that every Sunday, people who have ventured into the building for church for the first time tell her that it feels good. Not the same, but good. That the first toe-dip is scary, or uncertain, and perhaps the first visit is overwhelming. “But that even with all of that...as they come through the receiving line, they tell me how glad they are that today, they made the effort to get out of pajamas and into the sanctuary. That it felt, actually, like a sanctuary.” My teammate found the same: after a time or two of being disappointed, there was the service that was just what she needed.
Is this the time for you to bring your tender heart through your church doors to rediscover and rebuild sanctuary? Is the time for finding our next chapter happening right now? I know we need you to build the best future we can, together. We can’t do it as well without you.