Greetings in the name of God whose Spirit moves among us and through us!
The Pastoral letter this week comes as a supplement to the Reopening Committee (ROC) update you received.
As the Apostle Paul begins his letter to the church at Rome he reminds his readers of how thankful he is for them, how much their faith is making a difference throughout the world and how constant his prayers are for them. One of his prayers is that he may have opportunity spend time with them.
11 I desperately want to see you so that I can share some gift of the Spirit to strengthen you. 12 Plus I know that when we come together something beautiful will happen as we are encouraged by each other’s faith. (Romans 1:11-12 Voice)
It seems very clear in the context of this letter that Paul longs to be present with the church in Rome, to come together and see them face to face. Paul is writing this letter from Corinth over 2,000 km’s away! Paul knows that something beautiful happens when we can “see” each other, meet together and share deeply with one another.
To “see” is to perceive with the eyes; to perceive by any of the senses (which can include hearing); to turn the eyes, the mind, the attention to those we are with. But what do you do when you can’t be face to face in person, when we can’t gather together in our building or gathering place for worship, fellowship, faith nurturing, sharing and coffee? For Paul in the first century context writing letters was the next best thing; the next best possible way to connect. So Paul wrote letters! And he kept praying for those he loved and praying that the barriers that kept them apart would be removed.
What can we do when the barrier of Covid-19, the lock downs, the physical distancing guidelines and 30% capacity restrictions, keep us from gathering in person as a full body of believers? Our immediate answer to that was Zoom Church. And we have continued with Zoom for the last 6 months. And we plan to continue with Zoom until we can all be back together in person. We continue to make this choice because of what Zoom offers us. As pastors we believe it provides the most intimate gathering connection possible to the largest amount of people. We believe it allows us to do what Paul longed to do, “to see” each other. Granted the faces we see, or the voice we hear, are not as personal as we were used to before Covid-19, but at least we have a greater sense that we are gathering together. For us, Zoom Church has felt like a more personal connection than a recording which all can watch and listen to at random times throughout Sunday morning or the week that follows.
As we prepare for reopening our building we have begun to work toward a Zoom Hybrid model. We are taking our time to plan and prepare for this new Zoom model because as we begin to regather in some capacity in the weeks ahead it is important to us that we maintain the most intimate connection possible for both those who gather and those who need to remain at home on Zoom. We believe that worship and faith formation is so much more than the sharing of information, it is about sharing our lives, our gifts, and our faith with each other as Paul articulates so well in his letter to the Romans. We feel we can do this better when we listen carefully to each other, “see” each other and share together while gathered as one body over a Zoom connection.
As we continue to Zoom, and blend it with a gradual increase of people returning to the building, we encourage you to do all that you can to be seen and heard. Could we be more intentional about turning on our video whenever possible, at least as we gather and again as we scatter? Casual clothing is certainly very acceptable but being seen seems even more essential. And can we commit to sticking around for breakout rooms, and risk sharing our reflections, our faith journey and our stories with each other? As Paul said to the church at Rome. “I know that when we come together [even if it is over Zoom] something beautiful will happen as we are encouraged by each other’s faith.
Please feel free to reach out to us and name the challenges you are facing getting connected, and staying connected, by video or phone. We want to do our best to help resolve these challenges.
We name the formation of small groups in our update and the ongoing conversation around faith formation. Small groups and continuing faith formation certainly go together as we keep planning for ways to meet and share with each other. Christians through all of history have grown together in faith in relationship with others. To be together in nurturing relationships during this time takes an extra commitment. An extra commitment to tackle the challenges of technology, and an extra commitment to communicate on a phone or video when we would rather be in person, and an extra commitment to wear a mask when we need to be indoors and closer together. These challenging obstacles make planning difficult but we are committed to keep working at it as we envision new ways of being the church together in this time.
What we need from each of us in this moment is a commitment to step out of our comfort zones and keep trying new approaches to being together. We have done well and we encourage us to keep growing! What we need is a commitment from each of us to engage the opportunities in front of us and to become involved. What we need is a commitment to freely offer the gifts we have because being together in this time of restrictions takes extra energy, planning, and work. We need each other! And what we need from each other is patience and grace as we navigate life from the place we are and offer what we can at this moment in our lives. Each of us face unique challenges as we navigate this time and determine what is possible for us. Let’s keep on being humble, gracious and kind to each other as we work together to find our way!
Many of the ways we are planning to be together and nurture faith over the next few months are not our first choice and probably not what you had hoped for come September. Yet is it where we are so we invite us to seize the moment and opportunities we have. Letter writing was not Paul’s first choice, he would have rather been in Rome meeting the church in person, but his letters today continue to be a wonderful gift to the church and have done much to nurture faith then, and even now centuries later. Never underestimate what God can do when we embrace the place and context where we find ourselves, trust that God is with us in this place, and believe together that God wants to use this moment to nurture our faith. As we offer the gifts we have, to do what we can with the opportunities before us, we believe we will be all be strengthened, nurtured, encouraged and blessed.
As your pastors we are committed to continue discerning along with you what the next best thing is for us in this moment of our church life. As we do that we will keep writing letters, we will keep “Zooming” and we will keep working at ways to encourage “seeing” (and hearing) each other so that even in this time, “something beautiful will happen as we are encouraged by each other’s faith!”
We are committed to continue in prayer for you, as we invite your continued prayers for us, and for each other. And we invite you to pray with us, as you have been, that the barriers of Covid-19, and every other barrier that keeps us from “seeing” each other, would be taken away so that we can gather now over Zoom, and regather again in our church building in the weeks and months ahead, as one body together!