COVID-19 has presented challenges that seemed impossible. However, notes the Rev. Jerome DeVine, trust in a God who makes things new has helped congregations redesign for a new day.
Superintendent, Mid-Michigan District
Thus says the Lord, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)
In the film Entrapment, released in 1999, the two primary characters engage in a high-end caper. I know the film is dated but stay with me. Gin, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, presents Mac, played by Sean Connery, with a very challenging heist opportunity. Mac responds, “It’s impossible—but doable!”
Impossible—but doable. Have you ever been presented with a challenge that at first glance, seems so problematic or daunting that you just wanted to throw your hands into the air and cry out, “It’s impossible!”
On a recent vacation, I agreed to help my wife and her best friend work on a new business endeavor that they have undertaken. It is a home décor and gifts store that is in the haymow section of an old barn. The business had been in place for several decades, and, like many of our local churches, had aged in place. It was looking tired, and it had fallen into the pattern of only relying on existing customers, without seeking out new ones. For the business to thrive under new leadership and draw in a new generation, they would have to be willing to change the look, the patterns, and practices of the past.
As part of that fresh look, my wife and her new business partner located a massive chandelier, 66 inches tall by 42 inches wide. They then asked me to hang it in the center of that large cavernous space. My gut reaction was, “It’s impossible!” From the floor to the peak of the ceiling is about 30 feet. I had limited equipment, limited support persons to help, minimal knowledge in the task at hand, etc. However, I love my wife, and I care about the dream she and her best friend have for this new venture. So I gave myself to the idea that while it was impossible, it was also doable. I wish I had a video of the day and moment we finally got that massive light hung across the chasm. It would make for a good viral laugh online.
Impossible but doable seems to capture the many comments I have received from clergy and laity in local churches across the Mid-Michigan District as they have re-created themselves to do ministry in a pandemic-infused reality. While there are a few churches that simply shut down completely due to no capacity or desire to innovate, a majority took on the impossible but doable task of continuing to reach and connect their congregations. And, in many of those settings, they discovered that they were reaching double and triple their usual numbers of people in times of worship. In many cases, they did not have all of the equipment they needed; they did not have all of the support help that would make it easier; they did not have as vast knowledge about the task as they needed. Yet, while it seemed impossible, they had such a love for their community and for sharing the grace of God during an anxious time that they took on the doable task of connecting people.
While many of the stories that have been shared with me gave me great hope and encouragement, one comment stood out. The pastor and her team had worked hard at creating meaningful online worship experiences, even while facing some challenges. It all seemed worth it when she received an email from someone that had never been a part of their church or any church. The person shared their story of connecting online during worship and how it drew her in. She felt a sense of community and closer to God. She shared that while she would likely never come into the church building, this was now her church.
Clergy and worship teams across Michigan have challenged the impossible and found strength and creativity to make it the doable effort of sharing the love of God made known through Jesus Christ. Most of these same churches and clergy are now committed to continuing their newly found or deepened and refreshed online presence and development of faith community. They have heard the words through the prophet Isaiah in which the Lord proclaims, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
I give thanks to God for all of the clergy and laity who have “perceived” this new thing. I pray that the local church and the Church writ large will never look the same again. I don’t mean non-recognizable, just significantly redefined and redesigned for a new day.