The Spirit at work in the pandemic

Pentecost is one of my favorite celebrations of the church year. There is just something about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in all her marvelous ways that gets me excited. Perhaps it is because I am learning what it means to be led by the Spirit and trust that God works in those holy moments. On Pentecosts past, I have welcomed confirmands or thrown a birthday party for the church complete with cupcakes in worship. It is a time when that Spirit breath blows into my creativity and I run with it.

This Pentecost was different.

I had hoped to be back to worshipping in person, but instead we were worshipping via livestream. I did not have a confirmation class to welcome, nor a congregation to share cupcakes with. Something new wanted to happen here. It turns out the world in all its brokenness would show me something new. As we celebrated the birthday of the church universal, I pondered: What does it mean to be the church in the world today?

This pandemic could have easily shut us down. Yet, the Spirit in all her wisdom blew through church leaders as we found ways to move worship online and into our homes. The mission work of the church continues with some creativity and new cautions. In many ways the Spirit pushed my congregation into a new way of being church that we were not ready for. We have learned a lot along the way — like we need to consider keeping our livestream after the pandemic subsides because we are reaching people we wouldn’t have otherwise. We have added online giving, worked on copyright issues and awkwardly figured out how to hold meetings via Zoom. Throughout the pandemic, the Spirit has been working in and through us to be the church in a new way. It has been terrifying and exhilarating.

It turns out we really are the church that was reformed and is always reforming. We have seen the church change in our own lifetimes and throughout our long history. The call to be the church during a pandemic was just the warmup for this round of being reformed. In this day we are being called to be the church in the world as we find it, broken and hurting. Through the pandemic, the Spirit, has provoked us to be the church in a new way, even when we were not ready.

In 2020 our call into being the church reborn does not stop with adapting to life in a pandemic, something we had little choice about. The Spirit is reforming us yet again to be the church in the world because we can never go back to being the church we were three months ago. We are being formed and invited to follow the Spirit into the call and fight for racial justice in the United States. We can no longer be the church who adopts beautiful language into our confessions but keeps living in the same way. We can no longer allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the enormity of the brokenness in the world. We can no longer pray about the sin of racism in our midst without taking action to end it. We must stand together to be the church that demands this world changes. The church that works with activists to make real change happen.

This sort of reforming during chaos is not new to us, even though I know we love to be decent and in order. That first Pentecost when the indwelling of the Spirit came it was pure chaos: people suddenly speaking in all sorts of languages and understanding happing all while crowds were gathering. The church was born amidst disciples still grieving, in the middle of chaos and confusion. Our own reforming can really take hold in chaos, but we have to be willing to enter into the chaos and trust the Spirit is in this helping us come to new life.

This requires us to get uncomfortable, to unlearn old things and learn new things. It means we have to come in with humility and be ready to apologize when we get it wrong. We will get it wrong over and over again. Scripture laid it out in Micah 6:8: walk humbly, do justice. Our faith is one of action, look at how many times Jesus says, “Go!” In this season, the Spirit, is inviting us to be reborn as the church in 2020. To build upon the work that is already done and to raise our collective voices until everyone can live without fear, persecution and oppression.

Will we answer the call to live into the kin-dom of God, on earth as it is in heaven?

REBECCA GRESHAM-KESNER is pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church in Medford, New Jersey. Outside of church and family life, you can find her in nature, finding fun ways to be creative or asking awkwardly deep questions of people she just met.