Rev. John Boley, an extrovert, explores how the current pandemic is pushing the church to become something different. “Something powerful and faithful.
Clergy Assistant, Michigan Conference
I am writing this on Easter Saturday. So, here we all are celebrating Holy Week in pandemic isolation. Who would have thought, not so very long ago, that this could be happening? But in the words of one of our pastors, “Holy Week is as holy as it has ever been, and as needed as it has ever been.”
Consistent with Holy Week, here are some confessions and joys. And I am writing this as one who primarily identifies himself as a Social Holiness Methodist, and one who knows himself to be an extrovert.
- Worship and Liturgy. Worshipping online cannot match the power of physical community of faith presence in a sanctuary space that is understood as sacred. And yet, the work and creativity of our pastors, the good use of technology, the dedication of our other worship leaders, and the online virtual choirs are so, so powerful. All of it is allowing this extrovert to gain a new understanding of contemplative matters, a new appreciation that worship is worship in so many more forms than I had been accustomed to. And seeing more music and worship offerings on YouTube has heightened my appreciation for ecumenism and the depth and witness of followers of Christ everywhere.
It has also given me a new appreciation for liturgy. A rabbi friend of mine once said that “liturgy melts the polar icecaps of our lives.” I have found this to be more true than ever as liturgy, even in isolation, brings us to both the familiar and the transcendent.
- Personhood. We are seeing the true value of our most important human connections – it is a wonderful exercise in self-identity based on our heightened social awareness. Of course, social media is playing a critical part in our lives. But like so many, I am re-formulating and slowly going from “doing to being” for the basis of my personhood. The fun part is that I have pulled some books off the shelf that I have been wanting to read for years and am doing some serious theological study. Being in isolation supports the common good, but it also brings on plenty of guilt as the health care workers, grocery chain workers, and first responders are bearing the brunt of this epidemic. Empathy is increasing as everyone can identify common enemies, tragedies, and challenges.
- Social Holiness. This pandemic has brought out many truths concerning the social holiness of our lives. On the bad side, it has brought out: a) the racist policies and underpinnings of our culture which have made people of color more vulnerable to COVOD-19 and otherwise living on the edge; b) the inequalities of our health care system; c) the ultra-greed of the super-wealthy; d) the way the system is constantly rigged to punish the poor and unduly enrich the wealthy; and, e) the abuse of our planet.
On the good side, it has brought out: a) that social justice and political action really matter; b) the possible healing of the earth (the Himalayas can now be seen); c) the reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels; d) how a thoughtful combination of capitalism and socialism is always a better option (and the destruction of the rhetoric surrounding this); e) a new empathy for the marginalized; f) a new understanding of sustainability; and, g) a better understanding that there really is such a thing as the common good.
- Prophetic Imagination. God is making all things new, and we have a genuine opportunity right now. I often think of Walter Brueggemann’s discussion of the prophetic imagination and how it is essential to bring about justice and compassion. What can we do, as a church and as a society, to better the whole – to better the common good, to achieve a more just and compassionate society? Now is the time to imagine!!!! For more about prophetic imagination, listen to this conversation with Brueggemann.
- Appointments: The Appointive Cabinet is still making appointments and doing introductions, all by Zoom. There is as much joy as ever in doing this work – pastors and congregations are embracing this process, and it is so heartwarming to see how even now the appointment process is greeted by both pastors and congregations as being as important as ever. Local church leaders love their congregations, and everyone is working hard to make the appointive system work.
- Connectionalism: Despite the cancellations of all of the conferences this year, the networks are functioning well and together; the Council and College of Bishops, the Clergy Assistant network; the Board of Ministry network, the Treasury and Benefits networks, the Director of Connectional Ministry, etc. And even with a potential UMC split on the horizon, I believe that our denominational connections are appreciated as much as ever.
- Empathy for the Introverts. Church work and the normal flow of church life often favor the extrovert as our way of functioning most often works better in our social world. But I am hearing constant reports from my extrovert friends that Zoom is exhausting. We just don’t get the energy usually taken from gatherings of people in worship, small groups, and meetings. Now I see how introverts feel almost all the time. I have a new appreciation for what introverts always must deal with, and the tiredness that is present for them due to the ever-present social gatherings. Perhaps we can all become more balanced.
- The Emerging Church. I have long been a fan of Phyllis Tickle and her understandings of the Emerging Church. According to Tickle’s work, we are in a major transition as a new era is being launched in our understandings of authority and the work of the Church. This pandemic is hastening this transition. We are more quickly going through her “rummage sale,” and it will be fascinating to see what comes out of this as we reformulate our understanding of the Church. Gone is my church of the 1950s, and it is being replaced by something different, something powerful and faithful. And the good news is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its Church will exist until the end of time.