A familiar story, changed by grace
July 16, 2021 by Joseph Moore
As is often the case, I have been asked to write a newsletter article scheduled to be published many weeks from when I need to submit the article. It used to be easier to do this sort of thing. In June I could reasonably guess what would be happening in the life of the Church in August and September. It was safe to assume that the program year would be ramping up, many churches would be preparing for ‘Rally Day Sunday’ or a ‘Blessing of the Backpacks.’
Now there is very little we can assume in the life of the church. Many, but not all of us, have returned to some version of in person worship. Most schools will be open this fall, but few of us know exactly how the program year will play out. As preachers, some of us used to map out whole seasons of the church year, but even that act seems a little presumptuous given the fluidity of the last 65 weeks. The predictability and stability upon which our assumptions used to rest, well, that has all been gloriously shattered.
I recently attended my first in-person Presbytery meeting. And for the first time in a long time, I cried at a Presbytery meeting. It was held in a large midwestern city. At the start of the meeting a kind woman sitting in front of me turned around to introduce herself.
She began to tell me about her church. She described it as a small church in a tiny town 60 miles away. She said the church was old, the people attending were old, and they weren’t sure how long they were going to make it. It was at this point that I assumed exactly how the rest of the conversation would go.
I took a deep breath and prepared to hear a sad and familiar story of decline and despair. Presbyterians are all too good at telling that story. I assumed this one would be no different. But something unexpected happened. As I took a deep breath she said, “We aren’t sure how long we’re going to make it…” she continued, “but we’ve got people at the church making backpacks full of food for hungry children. The church is always looking for ways to serve our little community.” She said, “we successfully worshiped on zoom, and now we’re meeting in person, and our worship is a blessing to us and to God.” Then she added, “we have even partnered with a local church that needed a space to worship. Things are alright in our little congregation. Thanks for coming to our meeting.” She turned back around, and I began to cry. I cried because I assumed too much.
I assumed I knew how her story was going to end. I assumed despair and dismay had sunk their addictive claws into the psyche of her congregation. And I was wrong. Here, 18 months after the start of a pandemic I might finally be learning that the only thing I can assume is that God is not yet through with us.
As Presbyterians we have become quite good at telling stories of decline. Maybe after 18 months of COVID we can find ways to creatively tell the rest of the story. If your church is still here after all we’ve been through these last many months, then you have a story of resilience, creativity, and a story of God’s faithfulness to tell. The world needs to hear that story.
It is a new day in the life of our Church. We are weary, we can not assume the things we have assumed in the past, we might not know exactly where we are being led. But we know that God is not yet through with us. And we have a story to tell! Bless you as you tell that story.
Joseph Moore serves as the Ministry Relations Officer for the South Central Region. He works with congregations to create a culture of generosity, offers seminars and workshops, develops gifts and fundraising plans for ministries, and provides coaching to finance, stewardship and endowment committees.