Pastor’s Newsletter Message – June 2020
~ All Seasons Are Good ~
~ Ecclesiastes 7:10
“Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.”
Dear Members and Friends,
I’d be lying if I said these days were easy. A part of me believed that they would be—these days of quarantine, pandemic, leading a congregation through a period of physical absence. What could be hard about doing church over the internet and telephone? It sounded almost like a mini-break amid the busy (and relatively routine) years of witness and worship and mission. But now that we’re in our third month of it, the novelty has worn off, a sense of fatigue has set in, and so has a new kind of worry. My worry is probably a little different from yours, but let’s compare: I worry that people will go so long without church that it will begin to slip out of their lives. In time, the comforts, and the sacrifices, and the wisdom of our faith will be lost to a generation. I worry that if I don’t navigate these waters carefully, then faithful souls will drift gradually away from the flock, tuning into our weekly broadcasts less and less regularly, getting more and more used to this new way of being. I worry that a sense of apathy and fatigue might settle over even the most dedicated of souls—too many Zoom meetings, too many emails, too little music and real human interaction. What are you worrying about?
Our church committees are still meeting online. Spiritual formation opportunities are being offered online. Session meets regularly, via the internet, and conducts all the same business as we did before the pandemic. Endless email threads, an inbox bursting with daily urgencies, phone calls, recording sessions, online meetings. Somehow being a pastor is not easier than before. The physical absences make it somehow harder, like carrying a loose bundle of precious objects uphill in the sand. Did I drop something? Are we ever going to reach the top? Why does it take twice the effort to get half as far?
I’ve long known that the beauty and the joy of being a pastor is seeing your faces, hearing your voices, being invited into your stories, walking alongside you as together we bear witness to One who is bigger and wiser than we are and who, in the end, makes all things new. But I know this now more keenly than I did when all was normal. I guess this is my preachy way of saying that I miss you. I miss hearing the church ring with the music of your voices. I miss shaking hands and trading smiles and being less than six feet apart. Church is not a performance for an unseen audience, but a big assortment of personalities and priorities that we bring together in service to a God whom we have all known in different ways, but who has a firm and mysterious hold on us all, a hold that no strange circumstances can ever shake.
But these days too are good. I write these words on my iPhone next to a placid brook in the Allegheny National Forest. This is my sacred place, a forest that healed my soul once long ago, and where I can always expect to find more of the same curative grace. Memorial Day weekend is drawing to a close. My newsletter article is due tomorrow, and the family has hurried home, leaving me to break camp and bid a slow farewell to my happy place. Like all vacations, this one has felt both long and unbelievably short. Rolling in and setting up camp, three days ago, feels like a distant memory. And yet it all sped by so fast. As I loaded heavy cast iron skillets into the back of the car, I caught myself musing, “I don’t want to go. What if I just stayed another day…or three?” It was a tantalizing thought for just a few seconds…until I remembered that it’s the idyllic days like these that make the ones I’m returning to possible. And it’s the days that I’m returning to that make these days so sweet. All seasons are good, if we have eyes to see it. Now I sit beside the stream, slow-typing into a phone with no cell service, and looking forward to getting home and back to work—which means that I had better get busy sweeping out the tent, and the awning, and rolling up the beds…
When we look back on these days, in future years, I wonder what we will recognize as their gift to us. Perhaps we’ll find that they helped us to more fully cherish our routines, to value human touch, and faces, and voices. We might come away from these pandemic days with a new awareness of the limits of our technologies. Maybe this season will straighten out our priorities and teach us to love what matters and let go of what does not. I do not know. But I know that these are the days God has assigned to us, and they too are good. Like all things in God’s wise and mysterious economy, they tend toward goodness and beauty. I’m glad to be making this journey with all of you.
In Christ’s Peace,