Midweek Message: "Beginning to Come Out of Pandemic Hibernation?"

Week of Holy Trinity Sunday

Dear Christian Friends:

For those of us privileged to live in a region where a significant percentage of the population is vaccinated against Covid-19, experts are suggesting that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the pandemic. In fact, the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia issued Executive Order 79, effective May 28, which lifted state-mandated social distancing and capacity restrictions in accordance with recent CDC guidelines for vaccinated and unvaccinated persons.

Given these realities, our congregation’s Reopening Planning Group has been in conversation to make recommendations to our Congregation Council for their decision about returning to worship and other church activities indoors.

The long and the short of it is that in church and in the wider community, a return to a “new normal” beckons. After a year and more of physical distancing, social isolation, and truncated routines, what will this be like? What will we do and how soon? To what activities will we return? What discretionary things will we decide to no longer include in our routines?

Good questions, these. In the early weeks of the pandemic, I recall writing in these Midweek Messages about the opportunity in what has been our set of intersecting crises of the past year – racial injustice, the economy, the pandemic – to discern what is most important in our lives, and in our life together at church. A new normal should not necessarily be like our old normal if we truly claim the opportunities to assess what’s most important in our lives individually and communally.

And the transition to whatever will be is likely to be gradual – not like the on or off of switching on a light. A personal case in point: while I am fully vaccinated and have been for some time, I still wear two masks, not just one, to go to the grocery store – a matter of mere habit at this point. Also, one of my very favorite things to do in life is to dine at interesting restaurants, of which the DC area has an abundance. That said, I have at this point yet to venture much of anything except occasional take-out from a few trusted restaurants.

After fourteen months, we have gotten used to new routines. Some of the current routines are attractive. Many, though not all, for example, speak of a preference for working from home. Who needs to sit in traffic when you can spend more time with your family in comfortable surroundings? Other aspects of our current reality we would like to jettison sooner rather than later, such as the severe social isolation for many of us.

To state it again, it’s likely that whatever a new normal will be, we are not likely to go back exactly to things as they were. We’ve been having church administrative meetings via Zoom during the year and more of the pandemic. How many future, post-pandemic committee meetings will remain on Zoom? Or in hybrid formats, where some are present in person in the church, while others participate via Zoom? Likewise, perhaps for Bible Studies in our congregation. Numbers of participants in our Bible Studies via Zoom have been higher on that remote format than was the case when people met in person – at least according to the memory of some long-time members of our congregation. It may be that Bible Studies going forward will also be a hybrid format that will include a Zoom option.

All of this is to say that I hope and pray that in future weeks and months we fully and robustly claim the opportunity carefully to discern the particular ways in which we may be called to organize our life together in our congregation, informed by our emerging, shared vision statements to guide planning for our mission and ministry. What congregation activities, initiatives and ministries do we sense a call to reclaim with passion and appreciation? Which such initiatives and traditions might we set aside or lay to rest? What new things might we embrace? These are crucially important questions for our life together in this particular season. As your Pastor, I pledge to ground our coming, discerning conversations and decision-making processes in an understanding of what it truly and faithfully means for us to be and to do church, that assembly of God’s people gathered in the flesh by the Holy Spirit close to communal engagements with the means of grace. May God in Christ lead us in confidently faithful ways in discernment and decision-making in the power of the Holy Spirit.

With such prayer in Jesus’ name and for the sake of the ministry and mission which we share,

Pastor Jonathan Linman