Crossing the water to unfamiliar shores

June 18, 2020 by Maggie Harmon

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

In the first five months of 2020, life in our neighborhoods, our cities, states, and across the world things have changed thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. We aren’t just on pause, waiting for when we get to return to normal. What was normal is over; it’s time to make something new, whether we like it or not. How we move into that newness is up to us, but the necessity of doing it is real.

These are hard things to write from a Presbyterian perspective. We are not known as a people who react quickly – and there is much that is positive about being careful, thoughtful, and slow to jump on the latest trend. But these are extraordinary times, times in which steady thoughtfulness may serve us well even as we move fast and boldly into a transformed future. These are times when we assess which path is the safest across the valley; these are not times to debate whether we go at all.

A very long time ago the slaves in Egypt (in Hebrew Mitzrayim – the stuck space) cried out to God for relief, and God, with Moses, led the people into something new. But it wasn’t a quick transformation and it didn’t go from bad to good overnight. It went from bad to different to hard to scary to unsure to uncomfortable and finally to good. And even once the people got to good there were still ups and downs – it’s a journey, not a destination!

What I find remarkable in Exodus is the truth expressed about human emotions. The Israelites go from unbound joy, dancing and singing on the shores of the Red Sea celebrating liberation to despondency and a wish to go back to Egypt when things get hard. Freedom comes with uncertainty, with a lack of structure, with a not-knowing about how to fit into the new world. So they want to go back to being slaves where they understand how things worked. Sounds crazy, right?

Just a few months ago we were lamenting the fact that the number of people in worship was declining, that young people didn’t seem interested in church, that things weren’t as good as they had been. In many ways we were in a stuck place: wishing for what had been, anxious and not knowing what to do in order to move ahead.

Today, ready or not we are on the other shore and we find ourselves standing in a new place, not necessarily what we expected, what we wanted, or even somewhere comfortable. But this is where we are and the sea has closed in so we can’t go back. Now we get to pause, look around and decide what we can make of this new place. It’s right to grieve, it’s okay to be scared, but fighting for the old won’t change where we are and it means we lose the powerful energy available to build something new.

Across church communities more people are “attending” worship than before. We are reaching out and touching hearts not limited by time or geography and we have no idea how that might transform the world in years to come. Communities that said “never” to technology are finding technology that can bring us together, provide tools that let us reach out to those in need, and create new opportunities for spiritual formation. We are on a new shore. Something different is being asked of us. We are a transformed people.

As we journey through this new place let us not spend our time wishing to go back to where we were, or trying to know exactly what the promised land will look like when we get there. Instead let us journey together, one day at a time, focusing on where we are, what we can do with what we have right here, right now, and being open to the gifts that God provides each and every day so that we may continue to share that divine light in all that we do, wherever we are.


Maggie Harmon serves as the Ministry Relations Officer for the Southwest. She works with congregations to create a culture of generosity, offers seminars and workshops, develops gifts and fundraising plans for ministries and provides coaching to leadership, finance, stewardship and endowment committees. Maggie’s experience includes 20 years of legal practice, management consulting, and leadership coaching. She is a member of Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland, Calif. and serves as a Ruling Elder and coordinates the service team. Maggie holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California—Davis and a Juris Doctorate from the Santa Clara University School of Law. She also has certification in leadership, organizational growth, and social science from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.