I embarked on a new call in August, moving to a new city during the depths of the pandemic lockdown. As I reflect on my first six months with the saints of Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, what strikes me is how much the process of starting a new call is the same, underneath the somewhat large differences we have seen since COVID-19 arrived.
People still want and need connection. When I arrived, I had a pile of cards from people who wanted me to know they had been praying for their new pastor and were looking forward to getting to know me. I’ve met people for walks in parks, coffee and lunch outdoors, Zoom meetings and in small, distanced backyard gatherings. This process takes longer than it has in other times, still I’m grateful for the kindness of church people reflecting God’s faithfulness back to me. I’m thankful for the deliveries of fresh loaves of sourdough bread, and for the promise of new relationships.
Sermons are still a work of the community. I love preaching. One of its gifts, over the years, has been to teach me to trust in the Holy Spirit. Each week a sermon shows up, and often the ideas preached had not been in my mind before their arrival. Writing a sermon is a team effort. (Thanks, Holy Spirit!) But preaching sermons is also a team effort. I may be the one in the pulpit, but the assembled congregation has always given their energy and imagination. I may not know what any one person in a sanctuary is thinking, but I can feel the response of the whole room.
These days, I preach midweek to a camera in an empty sanctuary. Dear reader, my jokes do not land well in an empty room! It has been a challenge to learn how to summon the same energy in front of a camera that the congregation has always given me. Some weeks are better than others.
When worship airs on Sunday, I get to experience the sermon as a part of the congregation. And as people respond in the comments on Facebook, or in emails after worship, I’ve realized the congregation’s connection to the sermon is still there, but now it’s on a time delay.
It is an understatement to say we live in anxious times. Even before the pandemic, congregations have faced anxiety as our identity in a post-modern, post-Christendom world was up for grabs. Because of this simmering anxiety, I’m reminded that the gift of coming alongside people as pastor is a sacred one, accompanying people through fear, loss, joy, celebration and struggle. That gift has not changed. God, who calls us to this task, is faithful, even when we anxious humans are not. God is our guide through it all.
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow, as the hymn goes. Morning by morning, new mercies I see. May we all see signs of God’s faithfulness in these days.
Marci Auld Glass is the pastor of Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. She is also the co-moderator of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, and the moderator of Planned Parenthood’s Clergy Advocacy Board. She blogs at marciglass.com.