At a recent small group gathering, a wise clergy leader reminded the group of these powerful and hopeful words of the prophet Jeremiah. The post-pandemic church is not the unique nature of what the church will be at some unknown point in time in the future. The post-pandemic church is the church of today and tomorrow. And while we are forever changed by a viral infection that has caused a forced period of physical distancing and isolation never experienced in the post-modern church, we have learned. It's true also, that we are forever changed by the continued challenge of racism and the violence directed at black and brown men and women, at members of the Asian communities. As we anticipate moving from a pandemic to an endemic time, we recognize that our journey of the last two years has necessarily and forever changed who we are as people of faith. And, there is hope. There are insights and there are new understandings to help us consider our present and future. We can begin by being intentional about how we gather in community, focusing on what will spark our mission, and reflecting on how it proclaims our vision, as we plan a way forward.
As we move ahead in these times, there are leaders with questions about planning for the future. These questions are voiced in a variety of ways:
- "How should we be planning for the post-pandemic church?"
- "How are we called to be the church in a liminal time?"
- "Can or will we recover hope?"
- "What will be the most impactful ways to gather post-pandemic?"
- "What should our priorities be in a culture of anxiety, fear, and division?"
- And the ever-growing uncertainty of, "Will they come back?"
Churches facing a changing population of active members and friends in the early years of the last decade wonder where their families have gone. Congregations who regularly gathered four or five generations now have only 2 generations remaining. We lament and concede that the old maps don't work anymore, as articulated by Tod Bolsinger in his 2015 volume, Canoeing the Mountains. Yet, clergy and laity alike who've been working twice as hard to hold space in this time are overwhelmed and burned out. These are the truths of our time.
We are listening and we hear you. We are grateful for those who reach out and begin a conversation, who share questions and name needs. We appreciate those who recognize that the moment for change is now and that we won't be returning to the past. It may be helpful to know that there are experienced, knowledgeable leaders in our midst who offer hope and help. These leaders are local and national. Tony Morgan of The Unstuck Group is one such leader. He offers a reflection here, "Why Church Leaders Can't Afford To 'Wait and See'.
The Center for Transformational Leadership is working diligently to listen and respond. We have programs and initiatives we currently offer and many in development. Programs like our Small Church Summit and Negotiating a Liminal Season with Susan Beaumont will offer valuable insight and ideas for navigating this time. Yet, we must remind one another that this is important work God calls us to do. No one program will offer 'magic'. What programs, books, articles, and conversation spaces offer is a glimpse or facet of the landscape. An element of the glorious whole.
How do we find our way to spaces where hope is generative once again? The journey belongs to each of us and to our individual churches who seek to faithfully live their unique call. What we can do is to heal and recover our agency. We can reimagine practices to deepen our faith. We can continue to build and rebuild trusted relationships. We can partner with those in our communities and forge new alliances. We can work on and care for ourselves without guilt. We can embrace the mystery of these times and look for signs of the new thing that God is doing. We can care for and support one another. We can resist fear and anxiety. We can embrace change in a way that respects the past and anticipates the future. We can do all this with gentle respect for our own humanity and the humanity of others. Each of us is called to forge a future, to share the hope of the Gospels. And, we are called to be in community.
The Center for Transformational Leadership offers you these questions (take our simple survey here) and our growing support. We hope you'll share your thoughts. Today we offer a curated resource list for you to review, one of many that will be offered on a new page on our website, Post-Pandemic Resources. It is visible beginning today, Thursday, February 17, 2022. It can be found at this link.
In the meantime, trust that we are not alone. Trust and recognize that we are better together. We are committed to a way forward with one another. Watch for tender shoots of new life and nurture them, and most importantly, hold fast to God's message from the prophet!
Karen Ziel is the Assistant Director of the Center for Transformational Leadership (CTL) at the Southern New England Conference. She can help congregations and their leaders with tools and resources for assessment and discernment. As a member of ...