Making Time and Marking Time

August 24, 2020 by Kyle Nolan

When I started working for the Presbyterian Foundation in January of this year, it meant leaving the congregation I’d served for the last five years. Naturally, I expected some things to change. I knew it would take time to find a permanent congregation. I knew that my job would require me to travel, spending time away from home. Yet I looked forward to being more “present” at home and being able to join my wife, Amanda, more often in worship.

It’s pretty crazy the difference a couple of months and a world-historical pandemic can make. We’ve been fortunate to remain employed throughout the pandemic, and we both have jobs that allow us to work from home. Inevitably, our routines have changed. We stick close to home, which means we’ve gotten to know our neighbors and our neighborhood better. We’ve lost count of the walks we’ve taken with our Great Dane, Wolfhart—our poor, exhausted pup.

Kyle Nolan, Associate MRO

In March and April, we celebrated our friends in ministry who worked to eliminate the barriers to collective worship the pandemic both created and revealed. And we were excited to hear about the churches that saw their participation increase as we gathered around our computers on Sunday mornings.

In all honesty, however, we’ve found ourselves struggling to incorporate virtual worship into our new routine. I know we’re not alone in this. More than one of my pastor friends has mentioned the congregants who’ve sheepishly admitted that they haven’t joined in on a single Sunday of virtual church, and others have shared concerns that engagement will wane as the pandemic drags on.

One of our abiding memories from the pandemic has to be Palm Sunday. Amanda is Antiochian Orthodox (the Arab branch of the Orthodox Church), and their Palm Sunday tradition involves processing with palm fronds around the building singing hymns at the end of the liturgy. Since we were unable to do that, some of the younger families in our neighborhood persuaded the priest to gather at the local park and lead a procession there, complete with babies and puppies bouncing around. I imagine we looked bizarre to anyone passing by. We were socially distanced, but we were together. Though not in the sanctuary, or with the whole congregation, we marked the significance of the day.

Liturgical time is centered on Sunday, flowing from the previous one and toward the next. At the heart of the cycle, we are gathered, nourished, and sent out by the One who created time and gives it meaning—indeed, by the One who created us and gives us meaning. But when we spend the week on Zoom meetings and then worship in front of a screen, we can lose any awareness of ritual and sacred time. When worship is on-demand, we can lose track of who does the gathering and sending.

You’ll often hear us say around the Foundation that stewardship means offering your time, talents, and treasure to God. Some will add that the most important word in that definition is “and.” The implication is that stewardship is too often reduced to money, while it’s really about the conviction that our whole lives belong to God.

As we approach this particular stewardship season, I want to suggest that it’s more critical than ever to emphasize the “and.” In uncertain times, it’s tempting to fixate on dollars and cents. But purpose and presence matter just as much.

Absent the usual roles like ushers and nursery volunteers, how are your members creatively pledging their time and talents? What bizarre memories are they persuading you to make? How are you continuing to invent new opportunities for ministry and worship together? And how will you express your appreciation by saying thank you—to one another and to God?