The biggest takeaway in pandemic learning for the church is that we can adapt and change quickly.
I had just a few days’ notice to bring worship online instead of in the building — and now, a year later, it is part of our rhythm. In fact, the church’s online worship has reached new people and we hope to continue livestreaming worship for the foreseeable future. A year ago, I would have told you livestreaming worship just was not a priority for the congregation. But now, I have watched all sorts of churches adapt in amazing and unique ways. Do not get me wrong – I long to have people in pews again – but having to do this has taught us a great bit about how God can stretch us.
I did not grow up in the church. I made a choice to be Presbyterian. I learned a lot about many of our fellow denominations, but I never quite felt at home anywhere else like I do among my fellow Presbyterians. I love the way our polity works, that we use votes and majorities and that we listen to voices that are not our own (at least in theory, this may be a growing edge for all of us). Yet, our process, which is dear to my heart, sometimes slows down how we live into the call to be the church. Changes do need to be thought out well and prayed through, but they do not, perhaps, need to take years of meetings to accomplish. When left with the choice of not meeting at all or finding a way to do it online, we adapted quickly. I hope this memory can serve us well into the future.
I fear that sometimes we let the process slow us down out of our own fears and desires to stay comfortable. We can forget that God is always calling us to be the church in the here and now — and that the Spirit is always moving and equipping us with the gifts we need to meet the needs of our faith communities and the broader community. I understand that change is hard. I have my own preferences and fears — and I do not always want to embrace change either. It makes us uncomfortable, and yet we are still called to grow in our faith lives and our communal lives to be the church in our current context. I once sat through more than six months of meetings about a small, energy-efficient change that would not be visible, but would help reduce expenses and increase our care for creation. If we get bogged down in our own process, we sometimes miss the moment to make the change and we end up doing it too late and then the results just don’t turn out how we would like.
During this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have learned that we can absolutely embrace our process for decision-making and lead changes in a timely and effective manner. At the end of the day, it wasn’t just worship that changed this past year — the entire way we are the church in sacred community has changed, and there was not a single series of meetings to make it happen. Only regular monthly meetings where adaptations were dreamed up, tried, tweaked and lived into. For this I will be forever grateful. I hope we continue to live into answering the call without dragging our feet quite so much.
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.