The past ten months of pandemic can either be lost time or the time of our lives, or a mixture of both as we find ourselves embedded in the tragic beauty of this time. When we discontinued in-person worship at South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Centerville, MA, moving all our programs entirely to Zoom, many of us were both anxious and grieving. Community is important to our congregation and we didn’t know how we would keep our church together. We mourned the fact that we couldn’t meet together for Palm Sunday and Easter and chose to cancel our Easter Sunrise Service on Craigville Beach. We wondered how long we would be meeting online and how this would shape the future of our congregation.
The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead asserted that one aspect of creativity is to initiate novelty to match novel circumstances. We knew that we couldn’t stand still but needed to take the initiative in responding to the pandemic, doing new things to respond to the new world around us. As a writer and theologian/spiritual guide, I pondered how as pastor I could best contribute to our own congregation’s wellbeing as well as to the wellbeing of the larger community. I decided to immediately to initiate four new projects, based on my particular gifts, in addition to Sunday Worship on Zoom.
The first project involved writing a daily reflection that would be circulated to members by email and sent by snail mail to members who do not use social media or the internet. So far, I have written over 270 daily reflections. Congregants have commented that these reflections, usually accompanied by a link to a piece of music (sometimes a hymn, symphonic piece, contemporary song) have kept them connected with the congregation’s life.
Second, I began teaching our adult faith formation classes on Zoom. We have scheduled two courses each week, one of a spiritual perspective and the other more theological in nature. Right now, one class is reading through the Gospel of Thomas; the other is focusing on Christianity and the World Religions. We have had our regular congregational and neighborhood participants and also a handful from across the country joining us for these seminars.
Third, we initiated a Monday to Thursday informal Morning Prayer Service on Zoom. This time, usually no more than twenty minutes, of scripture, silence, reflection, and prayer has been an anchor for the small group that gathers.
Finally, as a theologian and writer, I often figure things out in the process of writing. At the beginning of the pandemic, I wrestled with how to nurture spirituality in a time of pandemic and penned the book Faith in a Time of Pandemic (Energion Publications). Later in the summer, I began looking at how our hopes for the future would shape our current commitments. This text came out under the title Hope Beyond Pandemic. Several congregations have invited me to share my insights on theology, spirituality, and ethics in response to these books.
In the course of these projects, including sharing in our congregation’s expanded outreach to the vulnerable in our community, done with safe distancing and masking, I discovered that as tragic and painful as this time is – as difficult as it is to communities that want to meet together for worship, fellowship, and study – this time of pandemic can be holy time. It can be time for creativity and reaching out in new ways. It can involve building community and promoting faith formation in new ways.
Our lives have changed significantly and will continue to do so, but when we hear God’s call and respond creatively, we can face the challenges of our personal and congregational lives in the spirit of Lamentations 3:22-23:
The steadfast love of God never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness.
Bruce Epperly is pastor of South Congregational Church, United Chruch of Christ, Centerville, MA and is author of over sixty books, including “Faith in a Time of Pandemic - Amazon.com: Faith in a Time of Pandemic (Topical Line Drives) (9781631994623): Epperly, Bruce G: Books and Hope Beyond Pandemic - Amazon.com: Hope Beyond Pandemic (9781631995293): Epperly, Bruce G: Books
Bruce Epperly is Pastor of South Congregational Church, UCC, Centerville, MA, and author of “Faith in a Time of Pandemic".