“Hello, who are you?”
“I don’t know; I’ve never met me before!”
This dialogue is from a comedy skit a friend and I wrote for an elementary school talent show. My comedy career never took off, but this dialogue resonates with me these days, as we collectively emerge from two years of rarely leaving home.
Sure, if you serve on your leadership board or re-entry team, you’ve probably been seeing church colleagues at least once a month over Zoom. If you’ve made it to online or hybrid Sunday worship you'll have seen some faces you recognize. You noticed Nika has let their hair grow out. And gosh, Sam looks tired! You noticed boxes with names of people who don’t turn their cameras on anymore.
Our churches are moving back into regular in person Sunday worship and religious education classes on a spectrum. Some have been back in person for a while now, with precautions in place and metrics monitored. Others are waiting, wary eyes on community numbers that still feel unsafe.
I imagine people all over New England walking into sanctuaries, looking around and wondering, Who even are we anymore?
Where are the children whose squeals and fidgeting used to punctuate our moment of meditation?
Where is that sweet couple who used to sit in the third pew on the left? The wife always brought a small notebook for the sermon words she wanted to remember.
Where are the families? A church needs families, doesn’t it? Didn’t our pews feel fuller with four or five people in a row instead of one or two?
And our choir! I haven’t heard a good Anthem in so long. We used to be such a Singing Congregation.
Who are we?
We don’t know; we haven’t met us before.
At least, we haven’t yet discovered who we are now.
Two years of covid precautions have changed us. How could they not? We’ve fallen out of the habit of being together. Children under five might not even remember being in our building anymore! As restrictions fade, anxiety may rise.
These are some worries we are hearing from congregational staff and leaders:.
- our RE program has dwindled - who are we without families?!
- we’ve lost two years of our favorite fundraiser - how will we support our ministries?!
- the nominating committee is running out of names to ask to be on committees — where are the volunteers?!*
These are natural worries. And we invite you to take a deep breath.
These worries have been building over these last two extraordinary years, but in truth the trends have been building for decades. It’s going to take some time for us all to find our way to ordinary time - whatever shape that will take.
Here are some things we can do in this time of re-emerging together.
Pastor to whoever is in front of you.
Attend to every face who shows up on the Zoom part of your hybrid worship the same way you smile and greet everyone in your sanctuary. When you find yourself wondering where “everyone else” is, gently send that to the back of your mind. Reach out to the people whose absence you are missing when you get home or during the week, but on Sunday the “everyone” who is present deserves all our attention.
Reacquaint yourself with your space, each other
It’s been a long time since you sat in your favorite pew. Maybe it will feel good to sit there again. On the other hand, we’ve all been changed by these last two years. Maybe take a tiny but faithful risk and sit somewhere new. Seeing your sanctuary from a different angle might open up imagination for other new ways our congregational lives might look and feel different for a while. We can help each other bring curiosity to this experience as we shape our next chapter together..
These two years of interrupted Sunday school is a significant percentage of our children’s lives! Consider setting up a non-Sunday time to open your building for families to drop in for an “Open House of Worship.” Play some music. Let the smell of baking cookies fill the halls. Wander around the building. Let the kids speak into the microphone on the pulpit. Let them tell the minister and religious educator how they are. See if they remember where the bathrooms are. Help them feel at home.
As we enter deeper into this time of rebuilding and reshaping, let’s keep asking, who are we?
We are a tired, grieving, relieved, anxious, celebrating, curious, seeking, overwhelmed, glad-hearted band of wanderers, and worshippers, but we are no caravan of despair. Let’s take our time getting to know who we are again.
*Next time: Where Are The Volunteers?