It was three years ago this Sunday that our Leadership Council made a decision shut down the church because of the novel coronavirus, which was just appearing in the United States. No one knew that the lasting effects of the pandemic would stretch to three years and beyond. I can say candidly that these have been the most difficult years in my ministry, and I am glad to see them in the rear-view mirror.
How about you? How has the pandemic changed your life? Have you lived through supervising your own kids (or students) learning on Zoom? Have you found yourself more comfortable with technology? Have you been affected by the Great Resignation? Do you long for connection with other human beings in ways you didn’t before? How has your experience of church changed over those three years? Are you worshiping from our “virtual balcony,” attending meetings via Zoom, wondering if it’s safe to come back?
Each one of us has been changed by the experience of living through the pandemic. Happily, none of our congregation died from Covid, but we probably all know someone who did. Yes, Covid is still with us (Feel better soon, Brooklyn!), yet fewer of us are contracting it and very few of us are winding up in the ICU and even fewer succumbing to the ravages of the virus. Covid seems to have become more like a slightly scary version of the garden-variety flu.
The other day, I found myself pausing and relaxing into the notion that now we can gather as a church community, share a meal, meet face-to-face. I found myself breathing a little deeper, appreciating the sunlight, and enjoying the present moment. The lovely retirement dinner for Jane Anne lifted my spirits through the lovely companionship of so many beloved folks and the amazing team that designed and helped with the event. It felt so wonderful to be in each other’s company, and if felt so normal. But while I used to take such gatherings for granted, I do no longer.
Earlier in the year, we had a small potluck with the folks reading Brian McLaren’s book, Do I Stay Christian? and it amazed me that in that relatively small group, we had people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. I cannot imagine another setting in our society where that kind of intergenerational community exists. We hear so much about the epidemic of loneliness, and one easy step (seldom suggested in most media) is to connect with a community of faith. For most Americans having intergenerational community is no longer the norm. We are glued to screens and behind windshields and don’t mingle. Connection and community are part of the genius of church: we have what other people can only dream of. It isn’t “normal,” but it is wonderful!
I think there is some sense of normalcy coming back to our congregation, but it is a new normal, with lots of new faces in the pews (and in the pulpit!), which may be momentarily uncomfortable, but they are signs of growth. So, when you see a new person or couple or family in the pew next to you or at coffee hour, please be sure to offer a warm Plymouth welcome.
Beloved Community takes intentionality and work. At some point in your past, someone welcomed you to Plymouth, and I invite you to return the favor by extending a friendly greeting when you see someone at Plymouth who may be a new friend in waiting. Better yet, think of someone who needs the gift of Plymouth and see if they’d like to join you on Sunday.
Welcome to the new normal! It’s going to be different, and it’s going to be great!
P.S. Please don’t forget to wear your name tag on Sundays! It helps all of our new folks to get to know you better, especially Marta!