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Imagining post-pandemic changes for congregations

No doubt faith communities are going to look and be different once (and if) we get past this coronavirus pandemic. The question is not whether but how.

Church-doorsI've got a few guesses: Lots more meetings, study groups and other events will take place through the internet, especially using such tools as Zoom. No need to cancel worship just because of a big snowstorm, for example. Just move it online. And why make a six-member committee get in their cars and drive for miles to attend a 45-minute meeting when it can happen virtually?

But there will be other, much more surprising changes. And this RNS piece describes one idea -- moving houses of worship from inside to outside.

"In 2014," writes Jana Riess, "the Rev. Anna Woofenden moved to Los Angeles to try a bold experiment: to reenvision church as an outdoor community centered on a garden. As a church, the community would grow food, prepare it and eat it together, and share it with the neighborhood.

"What happened next is a story she chronicles in her beautiful memoir This Is God’s Table: Finding Church Beyond the Walls, out just in time for Earth Day."

I've been to quite a few outdoor worship services over the years, especially for Easter sunrise. But I've never considered the possibility of having a congregation permanently locate outdoors -- except, of course, for a little office space that needs to be protected from the weather.

Riess asks Woofenden this question:

"That sounds like it was a huge job. How did you make this a church?"

"I had to keep showing up every day. That meant talking to a lot of people, and partnering with a local farmer so we could work together to build above-ground garden beds and plant all sorts of seedlings. It meant figuring out how to do worship outside, with wind blowing over shade tents and the noise of traffic and sirens going by. And it meant stretching my heart to be ready to see the image of God in everyone who walked through the gate, no matter who it was."

Well, probably not a lot of congregations are going to opt to move outdoors. But I bet there will be lots of changes that will in many ways detach members from one particular building. Which is, of course, what should happen anyway. Although internal ministry to members is important, most religious traditions say ministry outside the walls of the building in which the congregation meets is even more important.

So thanks to this miserable virus for reminding us of that.

(The church doors you see in the photo above belong to the building that houses my congregation, Second Presbyterian Church of Kansas City. We try to remember that most ministry happens outside those doors.)

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I was in a Zoom meeting yesterday with Kansas City area clergy who are concerned about education issues, and it was clear that many of them are struggling in various ways to adapt to doing ministry in new ways in this pandemic. It's put enormous pressure on them as they seek to minister to their congregations. If you're part of a congregation, I hope you'll take a minute or two to tell your clergy thanks for what they do. Heck, send them an actual greeting card. Or text them your love. And be their eyes and ears while you and they are separated so they don't miss joys and crises in your congregations. That's all. Carry on.

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P.S.: For those you who may have missed my latest Flatland column when it posted this past Sunday, you can find it here. It's about an area man who creates events for people interested in contemplative spirituality.


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