What did We Learn During COVID?
COVID has taught us the import of creativity, hospitality, and perspective.
Like so many, we have learned the value of technology. Simply employing Zoom has helped us in ministry and mission, whether it be online Session & Staff meetings, small group studies, ESL & Alpha programs, prayer meetings, or a weekly CoffeeTime to anchor our asynchronous online worship services. Digital technology has also helped us expand the ways we worship through tithes and offerings, encouraging pre-authorized giving, e-transfers, or even QR Codes in the pews on Sunday morning. We have also increased the ways we communicate, allowing us to move away from Sunday bulletins.
Beyond technology, we have looked for other creative ways to come together as a community, whether it be a Christmas walk-thru event, an outdoor Corn Roast, personally delivering small gifts or plants to people’s doors, or periodically making sure everyone receives a friendly phone call. Creativity has given us moments of wonder and joy, as if the Spirit were hovering over us like it did the waters in Genesis 1. “Necessity being the mother of invention,” the congregation gratefully remains open to creativity.
That said, one of our primary learnings is that there is no equivalent substitute for being the gathered body of Christ. There is an intangible energizing quality to a community gathered in-person, that empowers and anchors us in our scattered condition when we are apart. And so, we have made the effort to always prioritize in-person worship in accordance with public health guidelines.
The challenge of course, has been the widely competing interests at work within the congregation (and the wider church) around masks, vaccines, health restrictions and so on. It has been painful to witness, but the pain has led us to some fertile ground. We have rediscovered the gospel imperative of hospitality; how to care for each other (quite literally making space at times), despite our different opinions, practices, comfort levels and, frankly, degrees of weirdness. Pursuing community during COVID has revealed how holding the same attitude as Jesus, acting with humility in love, comes with grave discomfort and at times costly personal and collective sacrifice that has refined our character. By “Not insisting on our own way,” some have discovered their need to confess consumeristic “needs” and desires.
We have come to realize the need to recalibrate our gauges of success. As Rich Villodas has said, “Instead of measuring a church by it’s attendance and budget, here’s another idea; Let’s assess it by the quality of community life that disciples people to love well; a culture that equips individuals to have a first-hand life with God and a commitment to release people in their gifts.”
In one of the Harry Potter movies there is a scene when a whole troupe of people are about to enter a small pup tent to find rest for the night. The children, envious of the bigger tents, wonder how they will all cram into this measly little space. However, as they crawl in, they discover palatial accommodations; vaulted ceilings and room enough to run and play. The inside is bigger than the outside. This seems to be a good image for the spiritual life and God’s church.
COVID has revealed a need to pay closer attention to the spiritual and ecclesial insides of God’s people – to the presence of Christ, the character of God and the fruit of the Spirit growing within us. To this, James Baldwin adds an exclamation mark: “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving.” So this is one place we look to put our energies – to see God’s people grow larger on the inside, more free and loving. How so? By being ever more diligent in spiritual formation and transformation through a growing and deepening relationship with Jesus that is for the sake of others. Jesus has always been bigger on the inside than the outside. As Sharon Hodde Miller suggests: “When Jesus fed the 5000, he was foreshadowing the Lord’s Supper, His single body, broken, is enough to feed the whole church.” What a beautiful perspective!
Perhaps when we are a little further down the road, we will discover other learnings that are hard to see at present. Then greater joy will mix with our sorrow as we give thanks for all we have gained on the backs of all we have lost. But so the resurrection story goes . . . to the glory of God alone.
Bernie Skelding grew up in the faith at Cheyne PC in Stoney Creek Ontario, began congregational ministry at St. Andrew’s PC, Wingham, and now enjoys ministering at Coquitlam PC on the West Coast alongside a brilliant ministry team and a congregation willing to discover new ways to love God and neighbour in the midst of an unsettled season.