The COVID-19 coronavirus will be with us for a while; that’s what the health experts are saying. What does this mean for our churches and communities?
A picture is starting to emerge of what life will look like in the coming months—what some have called the “next normal.” More of us are receiving vaccinations, public restrictions are lifting, and communities are examining their unique risks. Some Mennonite congregations have already launched into the next normal, returning to their indoor worship spaces with larger groups of worshippers. Some are taking baby steps by meeting outdoors or in small groups. Others are still doing church activities via the computer screen and discerning what is practical and advisable for the next stage of their re-opening.
Wherever we are in the process, the past year and a half has shown us the importance of staying connected with each other and with God. We’ve appreciated the ways in which our churches have remained present, despite the physical distances. We have been reminded of how hard it is to live as a disciple all by oneself, particularly in times of struggle. We long to be truly together again.
In this time of transition, let us:
- Cultivate habits of gratitude, mindful of the ways that God has been at work in the past months;
- Continue reaching out in love and kindness, recognizing that some of us are particularly vulnerable to illness, both physical and mental;
- Avoid a spirit of judgmentalism—of others and of ourselves—instead taking responsibility for our own actions and listening respectfully to those who are making difference choices;
- Pray for wisdom for the decision-makers, as they determine how to keep our communities and congregations connected and safe;
- Encourage each other to heed the advice of trusted health authorities and support each other in taking those steps;
- Lobby for access to health care for all—in our immediate communities and around the world.
Our pandemic experiences can inform the choices we will make for the church’s more distant future—the time when, God willing, the world is no longer living in a health crisis.
In the future normal, whenever that might come, we must avoid the temptation to settle back into old routines without evaluating whether they will serve us well. COVID-19 has offered the church—and all of society—an opportunity to ask what was not working well before the virus hit. Might some of our pre-pandemic priorities have been misplaced and, if so, how do we change our practices to cultivate a more loving and just life for all? Where might we need to invest our money and our energies so that the future normal will better reflect God’s love for the world?
One place to start is to ponder how we might address some of the problems that were already part our pre-pandemic life:
- The pulls of busyness in our personal and communal lives, and the impediments to deep times of rest;
- The tendency to depend too much on what happens in one hour of congregational worship on a Sunday morning;
- The temptation to focus on “us” and not enough on the neighbours outside the church walls;
- Our blindness to the racism and structural inequalities within our immediate reality and beyond.
As Christ’s disciples, how will we experience and share God’s love in the coming months and years? Now is a good time to dream and to begin shaping the future normal. Let’s seize the invitation and listen to the Holy Spirit’s call for us in that new future.
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