On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, I wrote the following email to members of our IT Team:
Can you advise the Worship Committee/Session on the possibility of streaming a modified Sunday worship service? I am feeling like we might be headed toward cancelling a week or two of worship, and I would like to be prepared…
Prepared for what?
I had no idea, but by Sunday, Music Director, Tom Lohr had modified the choir and Mark McCorry and Scott Woodall had the Sanctuary wired, connected and ready for streaming. Anna Richardson Raab was exploring Zoom and preparing the bulletin for electronic distribution. We asked some of our public health experts and ministry leads to serve on the Critical Care Team to advise the Session on building closure, help provide new protocols for the feeding ministry, the stream team, the staff and other essential activities. Within a few weeks, West Raleigh had the structure in place that has carried us through the last year. Oh, church, it is so hard to believe that a year has passed since we last gathered for worship, and yet, I do not feel like we have lost a year of being church. We have lost so much, yes. We have lost saints and delayed funerals; we have missed watching our children grow. We have lost singing Christmas carols together, and so many hallway conversations and hugs, but we have not ever, not for one day lost being church. In fact, in some ways, we have witnessed what it means to become the Body of Christ.
There have been a variety of beautiful reflections on the last year posted this week. I especially appreciated a series of articles that were printed in the News & Observer. I resonate with some of them and recognize others. Many of them name the grief and the gratitude, the loss and the learnings. They begin to wonder what this next year will bring; what will we relinquish as the season changes and what will we keep. They begin to dig out of the fog of isolation and climb back toward a new normal.
Although much of this last year has felt like Lent, now is truly the season of Lent, a time of reflection and renewal, a time to reorient ourselves to what is good and right, faithful and true. As we round the corner of Lent this year, we seem to be also rounding the corner of the pandemic. That does not mean that our habits need to change – we will still wear our masks and keep our distance – but the time is coming when life will shift into a higher gear, a faster speed, and our inclination will likely be to shift with it, but before we get there, before we don’t have time to think about it anymore, think about it. Take time to name the grief and the loss, knowing that you will carry it with you. Also notice the growth, the new connections, the ways that you have risen to meet the changes and the challenges. Tend to that growth as well so that, as individuals and as a community, we will continue to grow.
I often end emails and notes by saying, May the Spirit lead the way. Now, more than ever, I realize that we don’t always know where the Spirit will lead or what the Spirit will lead us through, but what I do trust now more than ever is the promise that the Spirit is with us, guiding, challenging, and holding us as we navigate this world as disciples of Jesus.
I do wonder what this next year will look like; what changes and challenges it will bring for the church, culture and community. I wonder what emails I will dig up this time next year to see where and how it all started; what losses we will bear; what new beginnings we will celebrate. I do wonder as we wander (thank you John J. Niles for that reference & image born of the Appalachian skies) where we will be in a year, but I do know that whatever happens and wherever the Spirit leads, we will go together and the promise of the living God will go with us and sustain us.