As Christians, we are supposed to believe that the impossible is possible, that life springs from death. Central to that commitment is comfort with letting old things die. If it doesn’t die, then we’re really just practicing rehabilitation, or worse, resuscitation. As the church comes out of COVID, as my campus comes out of COVID, I’ve found myself tempted to scrape back the missing pieces of my life as it was before, to resuscitate my former life.
The first year of the pandemic had a panicked energy that carried me along in its wake. The second year was about returning to normal life, only online. In our third pandemic year at my small liberal arts college, the omicron variant has caused us to pivot. Pastoral care sessions are in person. Advising happens on Microsoft Teams. We celebrate religious holidays with small in-person gatherings while our chapel service has shifted to Zoom. There are cookies in the lobby, therapy dogs on Tuesdays, student organization meetings late into the night and, of course, endless emails. All of this makes up a campus community, yet some mornings I wake up and wonder how we managed all these activities two years ago. The burden feels immense. I limp along, keeping all the balls in the air, but the meaning has been lost. I’m performing CPR.
I love the church, and I love my campus. Perhaps because of these loves, I believe in institutions. Perhaps all pastors do? We are the ones who hold together corporate worship. We tend to the needs of God’s people and equip others to do the same. By virtue of our calling, we see the good in people working together through forms and structures that provide meaning and accountability. But if I’m serious about witnessing to resurrection, then I have to admit that my love of institutions might cloud my vision, preventing me from seeing what God actually does in the world.
What would it mean to let the pre-COVID ministry die? What new life might God call into being? Will I allow that to happen or will I worry too much about membership loss and an empty chapel?
Wendell Berry’s poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” urges us to “Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.” I imagine a red fox leaping through snow, skirting around trees, diving into the hidden places of the forest. In my mind, the fox is joyful as he hops about, heading first this way then that. Can resurrection mean play?
My practice this season is to let the old, exhausting ministry die and disregard my anxiety about outcomes. Of course, there are pieces of my work that I can’t abandon, but there are many more that I can. I can play with new programs and new opportunities. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m committed to letting God do God’s work. I’m determined to practice resurrection, not resuscitation.