If faith communities know one thing after experiencing the traumatic, disruptive, costly but enlightening year of 2020, they know that there's no going back to whatever normal was.
Now society in general, but religions in particular, must find new ways of holding on to what, at core, is vital to who they are and offering that to a deeply wounded and chastened world.
As Bishop Jeffrey D. Lee of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago writes in one of the essays in a helpful new book, "The bulk of current institutional structures and leadership models we brought with us into the pandemic will simply not be sustainable for long, and may even prove to be irrelevant to -- or an outright obstacle to successfully adapting for -- the post-pandemic church."
Lee's clear words are among many in the book, We Shall be Changed: Questions for the Post-Pandemic Church, edited by Mark D. W. Edington, bishop of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe.
Yes, many of the authors who have contributed essays here are from the Anglican tradition, but much of what they say is useful not only for other Christian churches but for houses of worship and governing bodies in other faith traditions as well.
In his preface, Edington notes the commonality between the pandemic and Floyd's murder. In both cases, people were and are crying, "I can't breathe."
In response to the Covid pandemic, he adds, "nothing could be less Christian" than not to wear a mask or observe social distancing because that is "a refusal to accept a basic minimum responsibility for the well-being of others."
So what ideas and insights can readers find here for faith communities looking to regather and find their sea legs once the Covid pandemic is behind us and we can focus not just on worship in person but on responding to all of the needs that 2020 has revealed to us?
A few examples from the book:
-- "(T)he church's new world will require a creative embrace of technology and new media -- not as substitutes, but as inspired and strategic vehicles of ministry and mission."
-- "In this new world, the church comes to the people, and it must be willing to change much of the 'culture' associated with the church."
-- "The pandemic has, in a deep way, invited us to remember that worship is everything we do in our lives. While we hungered for the gathered church, especially for our sacramental heart, many Christians expressed in social media and elsewhere that they learned much of worshiping God in other ways, including how to pray."
-- "The truth of the matter is racialized oppression and inequality has grown on the watch of those who claim to be church. Hence, calling ourselves church is aspirational. In many respects, therefore, the Covid-19 pandemic has called the church to account. For whether or not we live into the aspiration to be church has much to do with how we respond to those on the underside of justice. . ."
-- "The great rethink that Covid-19 is requiring of us is going to change the church forever, for bells are ringing that cannot be un-rung. One of those bells is the realization on the part of faith communities that they have a much bigger toolbox than they realized. . ."
-- Among the questions faith communities now must ask are: "Is our theology. . .big enough to engage the virtual world." And: "Are we courageous enough to leave our buildings once we return to them?"
In one of the 16 brief essays in this collection, Shane Claiborne, co-founder of Red Letter Christians, concludes this: "In this moment of groaning and pain, I believe a new world is being born. And we get to be the midwives."
Which is a way of recognizing that sometimes what feels like a tomb is actually a womb.
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MORE MISTREATMENT OF NATIVE AMERICANS
The National Football League team from Washington, D.C., finally has abandoned its long-held racist nickname and, at the moment, is simply known as the Washington Football Team. Which at least separates it from the Washington Reality Denying Team in the White House. But as the publication Indian Country Today reports, the team now has "dumped its foundation created to help Native people." The story adds this: "The team will no longer make contributions to the Original Americans Foundation and will instead focus its charitable efforts on the Washington Football Charitable Foundation, USA Today reported this week. The Washington Football Charitable Foundation will continue to assist Native communities, according to the newspaper, but it’s unclear how." As the U.S. has gone through this past year of racial strife, with protests often led by people of faith, it's hard to understand why a change like this one wasn't thoroughly thought through and presented to the public carefully so as not to seem to inflict more damage on Indigenous people, who have been on the brutal receiving end of things since the first European invaders landed here centuries ago. Here is a Washington Post opinion piece about how, with this move on charities, the football team's owner has messed up again.