The fourth in a series of reflections on life and faith during the COVID-19 era by District Superintendents of The Michigan Conference. The Rev. LuAnn Rourke shares how God and the Heritage District, have “figured it out”
Superintendent, Heritage District
When I think about the pandemic on the Heritage District, I see the faces of vulnerable populations made even more vulnerable by lack of access to desperately needed resources. I see children for whom a day at school was a safe place away from an unpredictable homelife life. Now, if they need an escape, they have none. The very real lack of access to the internet in some areas leaves students unable to access online learning, and some church members disconnected from online worship.
I see some people who are red-faced and agitated by politically fueled debates (to gather or not to gather; to mask or not to mask; to sing or not to sing). I see surprise on many faces because they have never imagined any issue would put such stress and strain on the valued relationships they enjoy within their loving congregational home.
I see the faces of people who continue to show up to serve, in whatever way they are able – the medical professionals, the teachers, the first responders, the preachers, the caregivers – all who determine to do what they can with what they have in the present moment to meet the needs they see around them. And I see clergy leaders who never learned to lead worship from behind a cell phone or a camera doing just that every week.
I see that we are all shell-shocked by how wide and long and high and deep the effects of this pandemic run. And yet – I pray that we who are rooted and established in love may have the power, together with all the Lord’s beloved people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of God toward us and that we engage that power in the sure and certain hope that it surpasses anything this pandemic can serve up.
Made of solid stuff
COVID-19 has laid us bare. It has revealed what we are made of. And for the most part, it’s pretty solid stuff!
I have heard story after story about how the pastor and the people just figured it out in the Heritage District.
It was uncharted water; it was a road not traveled; it was “we’ve never done it that way before” every day for a while as we discovered new ways to offer worship, study groups, and meet together.
Our budgets are taking a hit, and we’ve learned to talk about being good stewards and remind people of the need to support mission and ministry through the church financially. We’ve struggled with giving up treasured traditional activities, everything from passing the offering plate to robing the acolytes, to hearing the choir sing, to shaking hands after worship, and gathering to share coffee.
We’ve struggled with making courageous choices week by week, pressured by people who are tired and worn and who just want all this to be over. We’ve struggled to know what we can and cannot do, what we ought and ought not to do. We’ve struggled to accept decisions that are made without everyone being given a chance to weigh in.
Indeed, there have been frustrations and failures, and I’m certain some-finger pointing and fault-finding. At the end of the day, we’ve learned that grace is indeed sufficient, and we have figured out how to share resources and to ask for the help that we need.
As the awareness that Advent 2020 and Lent 2021 would once again find us out of our comfortable places in the sanctuary, it seemed to me that there was a collective sort of deep breath moment, followed by a long sigh, as if to say, “Okay, we can do this!” Many churches were counting on being able to continue to worship in the sanctuary, and some determined to hold on to at least some of the traditions.
In so many cases, I’ve seen the laity engage their passion and gifts in new ways. I’ve seen care teams and visiting teams rise to new levels, making phone calls, providing print copies of worship bulletins and the sermon text, reading together over the phone when the lack of internet access makes it necessary to do so. And this results in people inviting their unchurched friends to join in.
During Advent, I asked church leaders to consider how to display the season outside the building. Many churches provided at-home advent wreaths and resources, so everyone got to light the candle on Sunday.
Outreach teams got creative. From a prayer fence in the churchyard to providing a wi-fi hot spot so kids can come and do school work, to Christmas pageants re-imagined as drive-through stations in the homes of individual families, I have seen a great deal of out-of-the-box thinking displayed. Many dine-in fund-raisers have transitioned to drive-up food distributions, pay what you can.
As I said earlier, this has revealed what we are made of, and it is pretty solid stuff.
God teaches us
Isaiah 30:20-21 says: Though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left (ESV).
I’ve seen God teaching God’s people how not just to survive but to find hope and see a future even amid adversity and affliction. What a perfect time for us to be that voice crying out, preparing the way of the Lord! Every time we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ by making a phone call to a friend or volunteering to serve at a food bank; by preparing and distributing take home kids kits or listening to the frustrations and fears of our neighbor; by supporting a family working from home while home-schooling kids; by staying up late to get the worship edits done on time; by sharing what we have even when we think we might not have enough for ourselves, whenever I see these things I see God at work in the midst of the pandemic.
When I watch the worship presentations, everything from a simple message on a cell phone to a technology-enhanced production, I see God at work in the midst of the pandemic. I know that each person comes to make an offering each week, and like The Little Drummer Boy, we play our best for him. Pa Rum Pa Pum Pum.